UFC 166 takes place tomorrow night in Houston, Texas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos
Truth be told the first two fights between these two heavyweight stars don’t necessarily give us a clear indication of how this trilogy bout is going to play out.
The first ended with a somewhat awkward punch early in the fight from Dos Santos that dazed Velasquez and deprived us of seeing these two men really go to war, while Dos Santos was rocked early in the second fight and never seemed to recover fully which I suspect left Velasquez looking more dominant on the feet than he might otherwise have done. Factor in significant injuries to the fighters in both encounters and that leaves us with more questions than answers heading into tomorrow night’s encounter.
More than anything, what it does establish that on their day either man has the ability to hurt the other on the feet. I also think we saw some evidence that Velasquez’s pressure-heavy style is somewhat problematic for JDS, but he’ll be more prepared for it this time around and if it does play out on the feet I think he’ll give a better account of himself.
What we haven’t really seen so far though is how things would go if the fight hit the mat for an extended period, and I think that’s something we’re likely to see on Saturday night from Velasquez as he looks to give his opponent a different look. The champion has been using his other tools more these days, but wrestling is still his bread and butter and I believe it’s his best route to winning the fight.
If Velasquez can land some takedowns, perhaps mix in a little ground and pound while staying competitive in the stand-up exchanges then that sounds like a solid route to a decision victory over the course of five rounds. Alternatively, JDS could keep out his clutches and outstrike the current champ, perhaps even land a fight-ending punch at some stage, but the former theory sounds like the safer bet to me.
Cain Velasquez to win by decision
Daniel Cormier vs. Roy Nelson
There’s a reason that Nelson was never particularly keen to fight Cormier, and that’s largely due to the fact that he’s just not a good match-up for him.
While he doesn’t show it much these days, Nelson is a fairly decent wrestler with a good BJJ when he’s on top, but Cormier’s wrestling is on a completely different level so the chance of Nelson landing a takedown or being anywhere other than flat on his back if the fight hits the mat is extremely unlikely.
Nelson does wield some very heavy hands though and that looks his only real route to victory here. Cormier’s striking has improved considerably since he first came into the sport and he too can pack a punch and also likes to throw kicks. This fight will be something of a novelty for him given that for a change he’ll not be at a major height and reach disadvantage compared to his opponent. That being said, even if he can land more than usual, Nelson has a chin of steel so he’ll have a hard time putting him away.
As we saw in his UFC debut against Frank Mir, Cormier is also strong in the clinch and isn’t afraid to play spoiler if it’ll win him the fight, so if things aren’t going his way then that’s always a strategy he could employ. I expect him to mix it up more though and show off more of his wrestling en-route to a decision victory.
Daniel Cormier to win by decision
Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez
This should be a good fight, though I’ll say straight off the bat that I favor Melendez significantly. Part of the reason for that is that I feel Sanchez has gone off the boil over the past few years since a tough title fight defeat to BJ Penn which lead to an uneven spell in the welterweight division.
He did pick up a win over Takanori Gomi in his return to 155lbs earlier in the year, but it was far from his best performance and continued a general feeling that while he’s still got plenty of heart, he relies on that a little too much these days and doesn’t seem to be the same fighter he once was.
Melendez on the other hand is a very reliable competitor who always delivers and has improved over time. Also, even putting aside the misgivings regarding Sanchez, I feel the former Strikeforce champion has the better skill-set, particularly with his boxing, while he’s unlikely to be overwhelmed on the mat.
Melendez has been in a number of wars with Josh Thomson over the years which should serve as good experience for Sanchez’s high-tempo, brawling style and the fact that he’s used to fighting five rounds means there’s little chance that his cardio won’t stand up to the test. Overall it just looks like a good fight for Melendez – not necessarily to dominate, but to get the better of his opponent over three rounds.
Gilbert Melendez to win by decision.
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Shawn Jordan
Heavyweight action here with Jordan being the better athlete of the two and offering up a significant threat on the feet, while Gonzaga has a distinct advantage on the floor with his high level BJJ skills.
More often than not since returning to the UFC, Gonzaga has focused on his grappling and that would certainly be a smart strategy here. Especially so since his chin is a little dodgy these days and Jordan has the speed and power to test it frequently.
I expect we’ll see Gonzaga looking to close the distance quickly, using the clinch against the cage as a route to initiate takedown attempts, and then hunt for potential openings to lock in a submission – eventually finding a way to finish the fight in the second round.
Gabriel Gonzaga to win by submssion in Rd2
John Dodson vs. Darrell Montague
Montague is a highly touted new challenger in the flyweight division, but he’s got a tough first assignment against the former No.1 contender, Dodson.
The newcomer brings plenty of experience to the Octagon and is well-rounded, offering good striking and a potential submission threat too.
That being said, he’s never faced anyone quite like Dodson who’s speed, athleticism, power and striking versatility are a major problem for anyone in the division, and I think while this one might be fairly close in the early stages, Dodson will gradually take hold of the fight and perhaps even find a late stoppage via strikes.
John Dodson to win by TKO in Rd3
C.B. Dollaway vs. Tim Boetsch
Nate Marquardt vs. Hector Lombard
Sarah Kaufman vs. Jessica Eye
George Sotiropoulos vs. K.J. Noons
T.J. Waldburger vs. Adlan Amagov
Anthony Ferguson vs. Mike Rio
Andre Fili vs. Jeremy Larsen
Dustin Pague vs. Kyoji Horiguchi