Velasquez, fresh off his second claiming of the division title, is out to make his first successful defense, taking on Alistair Overeem-buster "Bigfoot" Antonio Silva in the main event of UFC 160, which will take place inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, this upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
In addition, murderous knockout machines Junior dos Santos and Mark Hunt will do battle in what has the potential to be a truly grand slugfest.
Yesterday, we previewed the first three under bouts that comprise the initial UFC 160 Facebook portion of the "Prelims" under card right here. Today, we share breakdowns of the remaining four that will air live -- and for free -- on FX before the pay-per-view (PPV) begins at 10 p.m. ET.
Let's get cracking:
170 lbs.: Rick Story vs. Mike Pyle
It has been a long two years for Rick Story (15-6), since consecutive defeats of Johny Hendricks and Thiago Alves, "The Horror" has found himself in the midst of a 2-3 stretch, with victories over Brock Jardine and Quinn Mulhern interspersed among losses to the likes of Demian Maia and Martin Kampmann. The Brave Legion-trained product, who strung together six straight wins after losing in his Octagon debut against John Hathaway, is a late replacement for Iceland’s Gunnar Nelson, who was forced out of the bout early in May because of a knee injury.
Story is nine years younger and three inches shorter than Pyle.
Knockouts as nasty as the one Rory MacDonald laid on Mike Pyle (24-8-1) tend to be less-than-conducive to a fighter’s confidence, but "Quicksand" has been an absolute wrecking ball since that 2011 defeat. Pyle, who had not knocked out an opponent since 2006, has blown out three straight opponents in the first round, raising his record to 6-1 in his last seven.
I've been waffling on this fight like mad. Pyle is just such a difficult fighter to pin down -- his destruction of Hathaway was fantastic, but the Ricardo Almeida fight was closer than it had any right to be and he was getting chewed up by Josh Neer before landing that big right hand.
Not a good sign against a smothering grappler like Story.
In both the Neer and James Head fights, Pyle was easily pressured before landing that big counter shot. The issue here is that Story's chin is concrete -- Alves hit him with a knee so hard that the teeth of his lower jaw made an imprint in his mouthguard and nothing happened. Even if Pyle locks up that vicious clinch of his, I'm not convinced he can make a dent in Story.
It might not be pleasant, but Story will do what he does best, grinding Pyle against the cage and ground, taking his best shots and staying out of the way of submissions for a clear decision win.
Prediction: Story by unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Dennis Bermudez vs. Max Holloway
It hasn’t always been a smooth road, but Dennis Bermudez (10-3) remains undefeated in the UFC since a nail-biting submission loss in his debut, dispatching Pablo Garza, Tommy Hayden and Matt Grice. While the Hayden fight was crazy enough, with Bermudez surviving a vicious knee in the first to all but crush his neck in a guillotine, the Grice fight was absolutely insane, with both fighters repeatedly damaging one another in a "Fight of the Night"-winning slugfest.
The 5’6" Bermudez will give up five inches of height to his younger opponent.
Max Holloway (7-1), the promotion's youngest fighter, has a nearly identical pattern, with a late-notice submission loss to Dustin Poirier giving way to three straight wins. Cringeworthy beatings of Pat Schilling and Justin Lawrence raised eyebrows, but "Blessed" had an unexpected amount of trouble with Leonard Garcia after stepping in once again on short notice.
Having debuted in 2010, Holloway picked up his first title in May 2011, defeating longtime veteran Harris Sarmiento for the X-1 title.
Holloway is an exciting, skilled young striker with atrocious wrestling. Bermudez is a big, strong young wrestler. Do the math.
Holloway has a huge advantage on the feet, but nowhere near the wrestling acumen needed to bring it to bear. He has some decent pop, especially in his body shots, but hasn’t shown enough to overcome the inhuman recovery of "The Menace" even if he does manage to put him on his seat. Expect something along the lines of the Garza fight, with Bermudez bowling over Holloway repeatedly before advancing to mount and locking up something unpleasant.
Prediction: Bermudez by first-round submission
170 lbs.: Robert Whittaker vs. Colton Smith (3-1)
Part of Team Australia on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "The Smashes," Robert Whittaker (10-2) carved out a path of destruction in the house, stopping Luke Newman and Xavier Lucas in just over 90 seconds combined. While he was unable to put away Brad Scott in the Finale event, his effective striking attack nevertheless brought him victory and the fabled "six-figure" contract.
Whittaker, 22, has stopped nine opponents, four by knockout.
He didn’t enthrall the audience, but Colton Smith (3-1) got the job done on TUF 16, scoring four straight decision victories to earn a spot on the Finale opposite the favored Mike Ricci. Despite the latter’s experience advantage, Smith’s powerful grappling once again won the day and earned him a sizeable contract.
Smith has just two years of MMA experience, debuting in 2011, and is on active duty in the United States Army.
Look, I don’t like it any more than you do, but let’s look at the match up: On one side, we have an effective striker with zero experience against powerful wrestlers. On the other side, we have a powerful wrestler.
Clear enough? If not scroll up.
Prediction: Smith by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Abel Trujillo
American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product Khabib Nurmagomedov (19-0) has emerged as one of the standard bearers for the ongoing Russian MMA invasion, picking up three consecutive wins in the UFC’s legendarily-stacked Lightweight division. After dispatching Kamal Shalorus and Gleison Tibau, "The Eagle" scored the most impressive victory of his young career this past January, blowing out Thiago Tavares in less than two minutes in Brazil.
Nurmagomedov, who owns a submission win over Bellator standout Shahbulat Shamhalaev, has finished 14 of 19 victims, split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
After expected opponent Tim Means lost a fight with a sauna, Abel Trujillo (10-4) was tabbed to face highly-decorated wrestler Marcus LeVesseur in the former’s debut. Despite LeVesseur being heavily favored, Trujillo turned in one of the more vicious debuts in recent memory, shrugging off a bevy of takedown attempts and constantly punishing Marcus before eventually stopping him with knees to the body.
"Killa," part of the currently-struggling Blackzillians squad, enters this bout on a five-fight win streak.
I’ll argue all day that Nurmagomedov should have lost the Tibau fight, but he should be too much for Trujillo. His striking, while wild, is quite powerful and his hands are deceptively quick. His stomping of LeVesseur was impressive, but keep in mind that the UFC career of "The Prospect" had been characterized by one disappointment after another.
Whether or not Nurmagomedov's monster double-leg takedowns can penetrate Trujillo’s takedown defense, the Russian has too many tools not to come out on top. It should be a quality scrap while it lasts, but Nurmagomedov’s speed and aggression will carry him to victory, as one of those funky tight hooks of his will put Trujillo’s lights out in the opening frame.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov by first-round technical knockout
A title fight, top contender bouts and knockout artists as far as the eye can see. UFC 160 sounds like a recipe for combat sports success this Saturday.
See you then, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 160 fight card on fight night, starting with the Facebook "Prelims," which are scheduled to begin at 6:35 p.m. ET, right on through the FX-televised under card bouts at 8 p.m. ET and then main card pay-per-view (PPV) action, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET.