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Sunday, May 20, 2018

UFC 121 Preview: Lesnar vs. Velasquez

Brock Lesnar is the perfect UFC heavyweight champion.  His popularity is due in large part to his incredible size and speed, his WWE background and his charming personality.  Something that goes under appreciated, and what makes Brock Lesnar so compelling among casual and die-hard MMA fans, is the quality of competition he continually faces and the vulnerability he has shown at every stage in his career.

He is the perfect villain, facing one tough “good guy” after another, looking beatable, and keeping his opponents hungry.  To say that he will be beaten is a whole different story.

At UFC 121 Lesnar will square off with another world-class challenger in Cain Velasquez.

Where Lesnar’s last opponent, Shane Carwin, posed a hypothetical and apparently very real threat of prodigious power, Velasquez poses a very different threat: the ability to potentially neutralize Lesnar’s wrestling and take Lesnar to places he has never been — into the championship rounds in grueling fashion.

Velasquez (8-0, 6-0 UFC) will take on the role of title contender for the first time in his career, as potentially the first Mexican-American heavyweight champion in any fight sport.  As a two-time All-American wrestler at ASU, Velasquez is known for his incredible, grinder work ethic and cardio, which represents the main threat to Lesnar. While Lesnar has only appeared to be gassed in one fight — briefly against Randy Couture — many see this as a major advantage for Velasquez.  Velasquez can make use of this advantage by clinching with Lesnar early in the fight and stuffing Lesnar’s take-down attempts throughout the fight.  He can also attempt take-downs of his own against the cage.  This advantage may be critical if the fight goes beyond three rounds.

Velasquez has also shown improved striking, culminating in his first round knockout of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 110.  Having said that, Velasquez’s striking represents a big unknown in the fight as he has shown very little boxing or kick-boxing in his career, beyond the brief tangle with Nogueira. While Lesnar’s striking is improving, many will point to Shane Carwin’s success against Lesnar as well as Couture’s success against Lesnar, to a lesser degree.  If Velasquez is farther along in his striking than Lesnar, so much so that he can overcome a significant weight (and power) disadvantage, this will force Lesnar to focus on take-downs, making his attack predictable.

Due to the 20-30 pound difference in the two heavyweights’ size, Lesnar should hold the advantage in wrestling.  If he can take Velasquez down — and I believe he can — he will be able to make things very difficult for the title contender and wear on Velasquez’s famous gas tank.

Many, many experts see this fight going in favor of Velasquez (by that, I mean closer to 50% than in most cases).  I see this as being a product of the emphasis on Cain’s cardio and him being the best wrestler Brock has ever fought, suggesting the ability to neutralize Brock’s best tool.  I believe the significant size advantage will allow Brock to secure enough take-downs (even one per round) to do the damage he needs in order to win the fight. I believe Lesnar will win inside three rounds by KO or TKO but Velasquez will provide Lesnar with his greatest challenge to-date.

Larry Brown and I will be in attendance that night and will let you all know how it goes.

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