The Champ is here! Both of them. It’s time to unify the heavyweight title as Cain Velasquez makes his return to the Octagon against interim champion Fabricio Werdum. Let’s breakdown the stacked card for UFC 188.
Cain Velasquez ($11900) vs Fabricio Werdum ($7500)
Cain Velasquez has some eye-popping stats. He averages over 102 points per fight, backed by an hearty output of over six significant strikes landed per minute and over five takedowns per 15 minutes. He also absorbs very little punishment. Save for the Junior dos Santos fight where Cain was injured, he has dominated every fighter he has faced. On top of the barrage of strikes and takedowns, Velasquez has an unending gas tank. When Cain puts his hands on people, they go down. Werdum is the next to find out.
Pick: Velasquez by KO/TKO
Gilbert Melendez ($10300) vs Eddie Alvarez ($9100)
This has Fight of the Year written all over it. Two veterans that love to stand and trade, both with big chins and top-level cardio. Both also have excellent takedown defense. The difference here is that Melendez is a better defender than Alvarez, who is very hittable. Donald Cerrone nearly doubled the amount of significant strikes Alvarez landed during their bout, and Michael Chandler was able to score early and often with strikes in their Bellator battles. The durability of both fighters means this one goes to the judges’ scorecards, with Melendez getting his hand raised at the end. If that is the case, I’m not sure his point total will be worth his hefty $10300 salary.
Pick: Melendez by decision
Kelvin Gastelum ($11700) vs Nate Marquardt ($7700)
Gastelum takes a hop up to middleweight to take on former contender Nate Marquardt. Once upon a time Marquardt was a feared striker with knockout power, and a sweet ground game to match. But age has caught up with him, and he’s lost 4 of his last 5 fights, two by knockout. This is a horrible matchup for Marquardt. Gastelum has a tremendous speed advantage, and much better wrestling. Marquardt is showing all the signs of a fighter that is winding up his career. He could surprise with a well-timed strike as he did against Tyron Woodley back in Strikeforce, but the safest play is Gastelum to finish by round two, with my prediction being ground and pound until the ref steps in.
Pick: Gastelum by KO/TKO
Charles Rosa ($10800) vs Yair Rodriguez ($8600)
I really liked what I saw from Rodriguez in his fight against Leonardo Morales at UFC 180. He mixed up his strikes and kept Morales off-balance and guessing for much of their fight. But Rosa represents a different type of beast than what Rodriguez saw against Morales and the rest of the TUF: Latin America combatants he fought. Rosa was outstruck in his most recent fight against Sean Soriano, but he was able to score takedowns and pass Soriano’s guard numerous times. He eventually sunk in a d’Arce choke to end it. I see the same scenario taking place in this fight. Rodriguez will be the more dynamic striker, but Rosa will get this to the ground and eventually tap him out.
Pick: Rosa by submission
Tecia Torres ($11400) vs Angela Hill ($8000)
Tecia Torres is perhaps underrated in the UFC strawweight division. The American Top Team fighter is 5-0 with wins over Felice Herrig, Paige VanZant, Bec Rawlings and Rose Namajunas. Angela Hill, a contestant with Torres on TUF 20, is on the way up in her career, too. Both fighters work at a break-neck pace and this is sure to be a crowd pleaser. But Torres is currently the more refined product, and she holds edges in strength and grappling. I’m predicting this will go the distance with Torres winning via unanimous decision.
Pick: Torres by decision
Henry Cejudo ($11900) vs Chico Camus ($7500)
Cejudo never has problems with his opponents. The scale is his fiercest enemy, as he has missed weight on several occasions. But the Olympian with the gold medal seems to have that at bay, and he absolutely wrecked title contender Chris Cariaso in his last bout. The gold medal came in wrestling, but Cejudo showed his much-improved striking skills against Cariaso. Add to that his blazing speed and you have all the qualities of top-5 fighter. Cejudo will win, but Camus is a super tough and durable, so I expect him to make it to the final bell.
Pick: Cejudo by decision
Drew Dober ($10400) vs Efrain Escudero ($9000)
I was surprised when the UFC brought back Escudero for what is now his third tour of duty. He finally proved why he belongs in his last fight, a masterful performance against Rodrigo Goiana de Lima. He landed a whopping 94 significant strikes in that bout. Dober is somewhat of an enigma, and truth be told I don’t want to pick either of these fighters due to their unpredictability. All signs point to this going to decision, and it’s doubtful that either fighter will hit value on their salaries. I think Escudero will take it by decision, but I’m staying away from this one.
Pick: Escudero by decision
Alejandro Perez ($10200) vs Patrick Williams ($9200)
Both fighters make their second appearances in the UFC, and while Perez is a TUF: Latin America champ, Williams is a former collegiate wrestler from Arizona State, which also produced Cain Velasquez, Ryan Bader and C.B. Dollaway. Williams got caught by a flying knee in his debut against Chris Beal, but he showed his wrestling pedigree in that bout, as well as good movement and diversity of strikes. He has decent power to go along with his grappling, and I think he will have his way with Perez, getting his first UFC KO win.
Pick: Williams by KO/TKO
Johnny Case ($11300) vs Francisco Trevino ($8100)
Case is only 25 but already has 20 pro wins under his belt. He’s well rounded, 2-0 in the UFC and has a bright future ahead of him. He holds advantages in every facet of the game, and he shouldn’t have any problems with Trevino. He will finish Trevino in some fashion, either by submission or knockout. Look for 100+ points from Case. His salary is high but the return will be worth it.
Pick: Case by KO/TKO
Augusto Montano ($10400) vs Cathal Pendred ($9000)
Pendred certainly has the luck of the Irish on his side, being the beneficiary of some awkward (to put it nicely) judging. That said, he does have a three-fight win streak and is as tough as they come. His striking game isn’t that great but he can score takedowns and grind out rounds. It’s not the most fan-friendly approach but it works. Montano debuted with dynamite in his knees against Chris Heatherly, scoring a first-round TKO win in his UFC debut. Pendred will not be able to stand in front of him without paying the price. Montano will put Pendred to sleep with a right hand.
Pick: Montano by KO/TKO
Clay Collard ($11200) vs Gabriel Benitez ($8200)
Collard has an old school boxing mentality, and I think he loves being hit as much as he likes to give. In his UFC debut against Max Holloway, Collard came back to his corner after round one and told his coach, “He don’t hit hard.” That was after Holloway landed 49 significant strikes in the round. I love this kid, and I think he’ll get his first UFC knockout against Benitez.
Pick: Collard by KO/TKO