The UFC 160 main event sees Cain Velasquez fight Antonio Silva on May 25th in Las Vegas. Velasquez is favourite to defend his UFC heavyweight belt for the first time since reclaiming it, against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Will Cain keep his belt? We look at a few fight indicators that may help you arrive at an answer.
It was precisely 364 days before UFC 160 that Velasquez (11-1 9KO’s) and Silva 6.500* (18-4 13KO’s) last locked horns. In that fight, Velasquez 1.149* looked to be returning to peak form after losing his belt to Junior dos Santos.
He scored early on his one takedown attempt and kept his larger opponent down by landing an astounding 53/84 strikes in the 216 seconds it took him to finish the fight. It was a dominant performance that acted as a harbinger of Cain’s dominant rematch with Dos Santos, in which he regained the title.
Judging this match-up exclusively on the basis of it being a rematch is difficult. UFC commentator Joe Rogan has said that rematches see a different decision than their initial installments 50% of the time, but little statistical work has be shown to the public in order to back this claim.
In the last 5 years, we’ve seen six rematch examples with title implications. While by no means definitive, this pie chart shows that in the last six title fight rematches, five saw a repeat winner, with the lone exception being Machida-Rua, whose first result was popularly panned as a questionable judging decision.
This may suggest that champions don’t fluke their way to titles and are more likely to win in a rematch than non-champion fighters, though the sample size is certainly too small to judge definitively.
The madness of heavyweight title defenses
While the recent history of title rematches favours Cain, the recent history of the UFC heavyweight championship does not. Have a look at the challenges to the heavyweight (and interim heavyweight) belts over the last 5 years:
*Interim Heavyweight champion
To summarise, in those nine fights, the challenger has won six times. Again, sample size is a factor, but it goes to show the volatility inherent in trying to withstand the best shots from heavyweight fighters on a consistent basis. In the UFC, no heavyweight champion has made three consecutive successful defenses.
Tale of the tape
Velasquez has made a career by using the size of bigger men against them, so it’s no surprise that Silva has a 3-inch height advantage and 5 additional inches of reach. Silva is also approximately 25 pounds the heavier.
The two fight at decidedly different tempos, as you can see in the table on the left.
Cain throws and lands far more punches than Silva and with greater accuracy. Furthermore, Cain’s striking defense is better than Bigfoot’s. With Silva’s jaw seeming questionable with his last two losses (to Cain and Cain’s teammate Daniel Cormier) coming by knockout, keeping the fight of the mat seems to work to the champion’s advantage. Silva’s knockout power is a legitimate threat though; he’s knocked out his last two opponents.
While Cain is the superior grappler, he has reason to avoid taking things to the ground too early, as Silva’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt means submissions are a threat. Of course, none of this stopped Cain from taking Silva down a year ago. That didn’t turn out too badly for him.
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