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UFC 188 predictions

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC returns to Mexico with its second show, this time with their Mexican-American heavyweight champion defending his title against the man who has been using the interim title in his absence. The card also features a series of The Ultimate Fighter: Latinoamerica cast members as well as UFC fighters with Hispanic heritage.

Will Velasquez become the unified champ or can Werdum shock the heavyweight world once again? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.

What: UFC 188: Velasquez vs. Werdum

Where: Arena Cuidad de Mexico, Mexico

When: Saturday, the two-fight Fight Pass card starts at 7 p.m. ET, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 main card starts at 8 p.m. and the five-fight pay-per-view card kicks off 10 p.m.

Cain Velasquez vs. Fabrício Werdum

There are plenty of reasons to like Werdum's chances. He's good at keeping himself out of trouble. Whether that's staying away on the feet or even flopping to guard when hurt or tagged, it works. He's also quite the talent inside the clinch and, of late, a capable outside striker as well. His jiu-jitsu is obviously well known as a strength. This is not the skills of someone to overlook. That's especially true when Velasquez has been inactive for such an inordinate amount of time.

That said, I just have a hard time seeing how Werdum can control Velasquez long enough for his weapons to be fully used. Velasquez breaks people not just with his 'pace', but pure speed, too. That's true in positions as it is with launched bits of offense. This isn't to say Velasquez is the fastest guy on the planet, but it's also not fair to reduce his abilities to consistency over the long haul. He has that, too, but that doesn't fully explain it. He doesn't have the Thai clinch of Werdum, but can wreck you with a lightning-quick barrage of lefts and an underhook. He doesn't have Werdum's guard, but he does have scrambling to not make the guard even a relevant concern. And so on and son.

I'm not one to count out the Brazilian, but I'm even less inclined to count out the Mexican-American.

Pick: Velasquez

Gilbert Melendez vs. Eddie Alvarez

Perhaps I'm exaggerating the influence, but it appears like life's rigors are wearing on Alvarez a bit. Being a father and prizefighter simultaneously is not easy. I'm sure he trained well for this fight, but there's something to be said for priorities shifting and mentally pulling you in different directions. But let's exclude that for a moment. Even if we disregard those potential factors, I still like Melendez's pressure wrestling game to win out here. Alvarez showed tremendous resilience and defense against Michael Chandler, but Melendez doesn't need five rounds to work. He also only needs to control Alvarez enough to convince the judges. Alvarez could catch him on an entry like Anthony Pettis, but I'm not betting on it.

Pick: Melendez

Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nate Marquardt

I don't suspect Marquardt can beat Gastelum at welterweight or middleweight, the latter of which is where this fight is taking place. Marquardt's well rounded in terms of skills, but his ability to absorb damage isn't once what it was. Neither is his reaction time or physicality. Between Gastelum's ability to wrestle and probable speed advantage, Marquardt is going to be playing catch-up the entire time. I'm not sure if this ends on the feet as the striking defense of Marquardt is usually pretty good, as is his distance management. But by mixing it up with inside pressure and getting Marquardt's back against the fence, Gastelum can score where he's vulnerable while mixing it takedowns and top pressure scrambles.

Pick: Gastelum

Yair Rodriguez vs. Charles Rosa

Rodriguez is actually one of the Mexican prospects I'm a little higher on, but my guess is he'll wilt under the push and relentless takedown pressure of Rosa. And once on the floor, Rosa is very crafty, with all sorts of tricks to pass, recover position or even advance. If Rodriguez can keep it standing, things might get interesting, but that's a fairly big 'if'.

Pick: Rosa

Tecia Torres vs. Angela Hill

Torres somewhat underperformed on the reality show, but her upside is still real. She's obviously physically powerful and quick and possesses serviceable wrestling. Her striking isn't fight ending, but she moves forward and throws in enough of a wide variety of combinations to keep opposition guessing or off balance. Hill is improving rapidly in all facets. I suspect her clinch might give Torres some problems, but her positional control isn't quite where it needs to be. Torres' positioning in wrestling clinches is tighter and a bit more aggressive, which will help her take advantage of Hill's abilities that sometimes turn into inadvisable exuberance.

Pick: Torres

From the preliminary card:

Henry Cejudo def. Flyweight Chico Camus
Efrain Escudero def. Drew Dober
Alejandro Perez def. Patrick Williams
Johnny Case def. Francisco Trevino
Augusto Montano def. Cathal Pendred
Clay Collard def. Gabriel Benitez

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