UFC 166 predictions, preview and analysis

Copyright: Martin McNeil

The UFC heavyweight division will undergo a major face lift tomorrow night in Houston, as a pair of titanic tilts featuring four of the top 10 265-pound fighters in the world unfold in earnest. Elsewhere on the card. "The Dream" looks to stay alive in the lightweight title chase, a "Magician" attempts to make his opponent's consciousness disappear and one of the most "Savage" prospects in the upper weight classes tries to leave his mark in "The Lone Star State."

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to pay-per-view (PPV) tomorrow night (Oct. 19, 2013) at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, for UFC 166: "Velasquez vs. Dos Santos 3," which is exactly what it sounds like.

This epic trilogy marks the rubber match between reigning UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez and former division kingpin Junior dos Santos.

Elsewhere on the card, Daniel Cormier will try to abandon the 265-pound weight class on a high note, beating the beard off Roy Nelson en route to a new career at light heavyweight. Speaking of hairy heavyweights, Gabriel Gonzaga wants to make it two in a row at the expense of "Savage" division prospect Shawn Jordan.

In lightweight action, former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez will be gunning for his first UFC win against the aggressive stylings of veteran nutcase Diego Sanchez, while John Dodson looks to get his name back into the 125-pound title lottery by giving the rudest of welcomes to ZUFFA debutant Darrell Montague.

Let's see how it all unfolds.

265 lbs.: Cain Velasquez (12-1) vs. Junior "Cigano" dos Santos (16-2)

Nostradubass predicts: I've been back-and-forth on this one over the past month or so, but as we draw closer to fight night, I'm leaning more toward Cain Velasquez as my official pick. Part of that has to do with some of the things I've been hearing from the Junior dos Santos camp in the build-up to their much-ballyhooed trilogy.

They're either trying to save face, or just in denial.

Watching them carry on during UFC "Primetime," laughing at Velasquez and claiming he "hits like a girl," is an unprecedented level of jackassery. In addition, it's simply not accurate. "Cigano" was one punch away from living the rest of his life as Mason Verger, which doesn't happen against a guy with pillow fists.

Imagine if Shane Carwin said Dos Santos hit like a girl because he wasn't able to finish "The Engineer" at UFC 131. Sounds retarded (because it is) as the Brazilian -- just like Carwin -- was beaten pillar to post by the better fighter. Now, whether or not you think that performance can be attributed to Junior's personal problems, which were as significant as his physical problems, will likely determine your pick for tomorrow night.

I don't think they played much of a factor.

Conversely, I also think it's unfair and perhaps a little disrespectful when people suggest that Cigano's knockout win at UFC on FOX 1 was a lucky punch, or came because Velasquez had a bum knee. Dos Santos had a leg injury, too, and stuffed a pair of takedown attempts before turning out the lights.

But Cain did what champions do: He went back into the gym, got better and didn't bore us with excuses.

Putting all that aside, I'm not sure the flaws Velasquez exposed in Junior's game at UFC 155 were corrected. Reconciling with your ex-wife does not change the fact that you're easy to hit. Nor does tailoring your camp so that you don't overtrain help you escape a bad position on the ground.

Dos Santos is a great striker and has enjoyed the luxury of duping his opponents into a stand-up war in almost every contest. If he thinks becoming a better boxer is going to change the fact that he couldn't adjust to his opponent's varied offense, then he's in big trouble.

Cain has more ways to win and knows how -- as well as when -- to use them. I don't think the challenger is going to sleep, but there will come a point in the fourth or fifth round when the referee invokes the little league mercy rule after deciding he's seen enough.

Final prediction: Velasquez def. Dos Santos via technical knockout

265 lbs.: Daniel "DC" Cormier (12-0) vs. Roy "Big Country" Nelson (19-8)

Nostradubass predicts: You'll have to excuse me for not being all gung-ho over this "test" for Daniel Cormier, but this match-up is silly. I understand that Roy Nelson is a fan favorite and I'm not immune to his charms. He says what he wants, eats what he wants and puts dudes to sleep on a regular basis.

What's not to like?

But we have to, at some point, accept the fact that he is not an elite heavyweight. Not only does he come up short against the best fighters in the division, he looks completely outclassed when he does. Think about how lopsided his losses were to Fabricio Werdum and Junior dos Santos.

And I'm not sure what the hell happened against Frank Mir.

But you don't even have to go back that far. Just look at his unanimous decision loss to Stipe Miocic last June. And in one of the most unintentionally hilarious post-fight interviews I ever heard, Miocic revealed his top-secret gameplan heading into Winnipeg.

"I knew he was going to throw the right hand, so I just made sure I wan't standing in front of him when he did."

It really is that easy, folks.

And the bad news is, Nelson is going to be facing an even better athlete in Cormier, who is not only a gifted wrestler, but a very cerebral fighter, as well. He's too fast and too in-your-face to be susceptible to a one-hitter quitter and if Frank Mir and Josh Barnett couldn't tap him out, "Big Country" is going to get it done, either.

Oh, and "DC" happens to train side-by-side with the best 265-pound fighter on the planet.

Nelson has made a career out of shredding paper tigers and crushing tomato cans. On Saturday night in Houston, he'll face neither, and it won't take long to prove that he's not on Cormier's level as he desperately uncorks a wild right hand every few minutes hoping to change the inevitable.

Not happening.

Final prediction: Cormier def. Nelson via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez (21-3) vs. Diego "The Dream" Sanchez (24-5)

Nostradubass predicts: This is a great fight for Gilbert Melendez and from what I've seen of "El Nino," one he desperately needs. It's not the win I'm concerned about, it's his approach to the fight game. He, like so many other fighters who fall in love with their own hands, has to stop trying to be like Floyd Mayweather and put the mixed back into his martial arts.

Diego Sanchez is the right man for the job.

These two have a lot in common. They're the same age, started fighting around the same time and came close to the big one, only to watch it slip away. To that end, you could say "The Dream" is a mirror-image of his former Strikeforce counterpart, but I'm afraid the similarities end there.

Whatever Sanchez can do, Melendez can do just a little bit better.

In addition, the former king of San Jose has been cranking out five-round fights like they were the rule, not the exception, so we can forget about Diego capitalizing with a late rally against a tired opponent. Takedowns are not impossible, but Melendez is too good in the scramble to stay grounded and his boxing is more refined than his opponent's rock 'em-sock 'em fists of fury.

But judges love "The Dream."

Likely because he always looks like he's winning a fight, even when he's not, which can explain some of his more questionable decision wins. I expect that same level of offense in this bout as well, but Melendez will welcome the onslaught, rather than run from it.

Unless Sanchez pulls a Gomi.

When all is said and done, we'll (once again) be talking about Diego's heart and tenacity. What we won't be talking about, is where he fits into the 155-pound title picture. He doesn't, a point Melendez will make tomorrow night in Houston.

Final prediction: Melendez def. Sanchez via split decision

265 lbs.: Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga (15-7) vs. Shawn "The Savage" Jordan (15-4)

Nostradubass predicts: Gabriel Gonzaga broke my heart when he killed Cro Cop back in 2007 and I've detested his existence ever since. You took away my Couture vs. Filipovic title fight you Brazilian bastard! Still, I have to remain somewhat objective in my breakdown of this weekend's fight against Shawn Jordan.

He's not making it easy.

It's hard to knock a guy who is 3-1 since making a triumphant return to the Octagon nearly two years back, especially when all three wins have been finishes, but his inability to play to his strong points -- or at least go a full round without gassing -- is maddening.

He's got the strength of a gorilla and can submit just about anyone at 265 pounds, but likes to bang it out on the feet unnecessarily. That earned him his walking papers following a dreadful run in 2009-10 and if he's not careful, history could repeat itself in "The Lone Star State."

That said, this is still a winnable fight.

Unfortunately, I think he gives it away by failing to execute an effective gameplan. Cheick Kongo sloppily laid the blueprint for beating Jordan and Gonzaga has the size, strength and experience to do likewise. But "The Savage" has knockout power and honestly, doesn't need to do much in the opening round (other than survive).

"Napao" will empty his tank and Jordan can take over in round two.

With 11 knockout/technical knockouts to his credit -- including a pair against Mike Russow and Pat Barry -- Jordan has shown the level of striking needed to make some noise at 265 pounds. He's also an accomplished collegiate athelete with a background in wrestling.

But none of that matters if he lands his lead uppercut.

Final prediction: Jordan def. Gonzaga via knockout

125 lbs.: John "The Magician" Dodson (14-6) vs. Darrell "The Mongoose" Montague (13-2)

Nostradubass predicts: This is one of those fights that you look at on paper and think, "Whoa, Darrell Monatgue is 13-2, I smell an upset!" Thennnnnnn you look at his record and see those two losses came against current UFC fighters. Indeed, sandwiched between a string of wins over middling regional talent is a submission loss to Ian McCall and a technical knockout drubbing at the hands of Robbie Peralta.

It hasn't left me overly optimistic about his Octagon debut.

Part of that has to due with the fact that he's competing against a bona fide star at 125 pounds. John Dodson blasted his way into UFC as a bantamweight, flattening T.J. Dillashaw at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 Finale before dropping down to a more natural weight.

The results speak or themselves.

He disposed of Tim Elliot and Jussier da Silva in back-to-back fights and you can make the argument he was close to trapping "Mighty Mouse" before running out of gas and giving away the second half of their title fight at UFC on FOX 6 last January.

And he hits hard. Not "hard for a flyweight," hard, period.

With nothing but an impressive record on the local circuit to go by, it's difficult to build a case for Montague in his Octagon debut. Forget about the jitters and all that other stuff. All things being equal, he's still fighting a much better opponent.

A first round finish would not surprise me.

Final prediction: Dodson def. Montague via knockout

That's a wrap.

MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 166 event on fight night, starting with the Facebook "Prelims," which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised under card bouts at 8 p.m. ET and then main card PPV action, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET.

For previews and predictions on the preliminary card fights click here and here. To see all the odds and betting lines for UFC 166 click here and remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of "Velasquez vs. Dos Santos 3."

What do you think? Now it's your turn ... let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for tomorrow night's event.

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