UFC 146 fight card: Cain Velasquez vs Antonio Silva preview

Cain Velasquez Antonio Silva

Two of the most terrifying heavyweights on the planet will be on display this Saturday night (May 26, 2012) as former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez takes on Antonio Silva in the co-main event of UFC 146 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Velasquez is over six months removed from losing his title to Junior dos Santos and is extremely motivated to get back on track. Once hailed as the potential future of the UFC heavyweight division, the American Kickboxing Academy product is out to prove that he still can be that guy.

Antonio Silva scored a tremendous victory in 2011, scoring a second round doctor stoppage against Fedor Emelianenko, but he was put down with authority by Daniel Cormier in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix semifinals. The giant Brazilian is being counted out in this fight so he's heavily motivated to prove his doubters wrong.

Can Velasquez return to form against an opponent who's had issues against AKA fighters in the past? Can "Bigfoto" stomp the former heavyweight champion? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?

Let's find out:

Cain Velasquez

Record: 9-1 overall, 7-1 in the UFC

Key Wins: Brock Lesnar (UFC 121), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC 110), Cheick Kongo (UFC 99)

Key Losses: Junior dos Santos (UFC on FOX)

How he got here: Velasquez, despite being undersized throughout his wrestling career, was able to become a two-time NCAA Division I All-American while competing at Arizona State University. When he was done with college, he immediately transitioned into mixed martial arts (MMA).

Trainers and other MMA fighters immediately began raving about his potential and he was signed by the UFC after just his second professional fight. He was built up slowly, earning victories over the likes of Brad Morris, Jake O'Brien and Denis Stojnić in his first year with the promotion

But, after a spirited effort against Ben Rothwell, it was time for the big dogs.

Velasquez battled Pride FC legend "Minotauro" Nogueira in the main event of UFC 110 for the UFC's debut in Australia, knocking out the former interim UFC champion before the midway point of the first round. This earned him a fight against Lesnar for the title. When they finally met, Lesnar blitzed Velasquez, who held his ground, weathering the early storm and then destroyed Lesnar with punches and knees standing, following it up with precise ground and pound to become the new UFC heavyweight champion.

After taking more than one year off to recover from shoulder surgery, he looked a step slow in his last fight, a first round knockout loss to Junior dos Santos in which he lost his title.

How he gets it done: Velasquez is incredibly athletic and has cardio for days. He has the speed and agility to present Silva some serious problems.

The key for Velasquez is to utilize his speed, dance around with terrific footwork and create an opening against the bigger, slower Silva. "Bigfoot" has been dropped by both American Kickboxing Academy opponents he's faced in his career thus far so it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Velasquez could catch him too.

Another key for the champion is to push a relentless pace. "Bigfoot" is very powerful, but if Velasquez can wear on him either in the clinch or on the ground, he'll be setting himself up for a highlight reel finish. Even if he can't get a takedown, he needs to make Silva work extra hard to fend them off, which will take up much-needed energy.

If Velasquez can drag this fight into the third round while really keeping on the pressure, it will almost be impossible for Silva to win.

Antonio Silva

Record: 16-3 overall, 0-0 in the UFC

Key Wins: Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva), Andrei Arlovski (Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery), Ricco Rodriguez (EliteXC: Street Certified)

Key Losses: Fabricio Werdum (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers)

How he got here: Of all places, Antonio Silva actually began his MMA career in the United Kingdom. "Bigfoot" began his training at the Wolfslair academy in the UK. After destroying everyone in his path in England, Silva branched out, losing to Eric Pele at Bodog Fight before settling at EliteXC.

He would shine in EliteXC, winning four straight over the likes of UFC veterans Wesley Correira and Ricco Rodriguez before winning the promotion's heavyweight title against Justin Eilers. He would be popped for steroids after the victory and never got a chance to explain himself or defend his belt before the promotion folded with the Kimbo Slice debacle.

After a couple easy wins in Japan, Silva signed with Strikeforce to compete against its stocked heavyweight division. Silva would drop a decision to Fabricio Werdum in his promotional debut.

"Bigfoot" has since found his stride, defeating the likes of Andrei Arlovski, Mike Kyle and most impressively of all, ground and pounding Fedor Emelianenko to oblivion this past February in the first round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix in a career-defining victory.

Silva would be upset by the eventual tournament winner Daniel Cormier, losing via first round knockout and before he'd get another opportunity to fight for Strikeforce, he was signed to the UFC's heavyweight division. When Frank Mir got a title shot, "Bigfoot" stepped up to the co-main event against Velasquez.

How he gets it done: Silva has been putting in the time to slim down and improve his speed so he's not as easy of a target, but he's still going to have a nice size advantage against Velasquez..

"Bigfoot" has a reach advantage over Velasquez which could give the American wrestler some serious fits if he can utilize movement and work his jab in the stand-up department. Look for the Brazilian fighter to try and pepper Velasquez with straight punches.

I think Silva's best chance against Velasquez would be to stalk him from the cage center and try to pin him against the fence. If he can force Velasquez into a situation where he can't escape, he'll be a lot easier to hit.

Cain has been hurt before, getting dropped by Kongo and knocked out by dos Santos so Silva definitely has a puncher's chance. If he rocks Velasquez, he can't let him off the hook. Silva will have to absolutely sell out working for the finish.

Fight X-Factor: There are a few notable X-Factors for this fight. How will Velasquez respond to his first career loss, a bout in which he lost the title? I've heard rumors that he's been an absolute workhorse in the gym and Daniel Cormier even said that Cain has been faster and stronger in the gym than he's ever been. If that's the case, "Bigfoot" could be in for a world of hurt.

The other X-Factor is how Antonio Silva is going to perform after dropping 20 pounds from working with Mike Dolce. Silva had previously been one of the largest heavyweights in the world, but is now walking around at about 270 in an effort to improve his speed and conditioning against a quicker, more mobile opponent. If he can actually match Velasquez at least for one round, he could present some problems for the former champion.

Bottom Line: Cain Velasquez is likely going to be pushing a tremendous pace in this fight. He always puts on a show, is very active and aggressive both standing and on the ground. He's not your typical heavyweight. I expect him to really push Silva to the limit and if Silva can respond and raise his level, we could be in for an extremely entertaining heavyweight fight. There's no way Velasquez gasses so if "Bigfoot" fades, he's going to be in some serious trouble and that's something the fans can get excited about.

Who will come out on top at UFC 146? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!

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