Armchair Matchmaker: UFC 166 Edition

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UFC 166 will go down as one of the promotion’s greatest events, with a plethora of exciting fights and jaw-dropping finishes.

Cain Velasquez retained his heavyweight title once again with a dominant performance over Junior dos Santos, battering the former champ for four and a half rounds until referee Herb Dean mercifully stops the bout midway through the final round.  Despite showing improved takedown defense since their last meeting, Dos Santos found his back against the cage for nearly the entirety of the fight, taking serious damage from inside the clinch. Velasquez would separate at times and land massive combos, then instantly re-engage in the clinch, never allowing Dos Santos much room for action of his own.

Former Olympian, Daniel Cormier cruised to another victory in a one-sided affair against Roy Nelson, showing off more boxing skills than usual en route to a clear-cut unanimous decision. For the second straight fight, Nelson wasn’t able to get anything going offensively. Cormier mixed in takedown attempts and cage clinches with his improved stand-up skills, to keep Nelson off-balance for three rounds.

Lightweights Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez stole the show in a three round, “Fight of the Year” candidate. While Melendez was the better fighter for the majority of the fight, he’d sporadically throw technique out the window and engage in epic exchanges, trading punches in flurries with Sanchez. To add even more drama to the fight, Sanchez dropped Melendez in one of their heated exchanges, but would survive and earn the deserved unanimous decision.

So what’s next for some of the fighters from UFC 166? Here’s my take:

Cain Velasquez:

Fabricio Werdum has waited on the sideline since June in hopes of getting the next title shot, and it looks like his wish will come true. Following the UFC 166 broadcast, Dana White said that Werdum is likely the next in line and that it “makes the most sense.”

Junior Dos Santos:

With another one-sided loss to Cain Velasquez, Dos Santos likely falls out of title contention for the foreseeable future. There are currently several rising title contenders that Dos Santos could be a challenging litmus test for, including Josh Barnett, Travis Browne, and Stipe Miocic.

Daniel Cormier:

Now that friend and training partner, Cain Velasquez has solidified his title as baddest heavyweight on the planet, all signs point to Daniel Cormier shedding more weight and heading to the 205-pound division. With Glover Teixeira up next and a likely rematch with Alexander Gustafsson on deck, an immediate title shot against Jon Jones is unlikely. There’s several meaningful, challenging options for him at light heavyweight including the Rashad Evans/Chael Sonnen winner or the Dan Henderson/Vitor Belfort victor.

Gilbert Melendez

Thanks to Anthony Pettis changing the 155-pound landscape with his win over Ben Henderson at UFC 164, Melendez finds himself once again on the short list of title contenders in the division. Likely he’ll need one more win against another contender, someone like TJ Grant or Rafael dos Anjos.

Gabriel Gonzaga:

Gabriel Gonzaga took another step towards entering the heavyweight division’s top 10 with a first round knockout victory over Shawn Jordan at UFC 166. He’s now 4-1 since returning to the UFC and will likely get a step up in competition. Antonio Nogueira, Roy Nelson, or Stipe Miocic are possible choices.

John Dodson:

Dodson proved once again he’s one of the top three flyweights in the world, with a stunning first round knockout win over Darrell Montague. Despite losing to champion Demetrious Johnson just last January, Dodson is clearly the most deserving title challenger after Johnson faces Joseph Benavidez in November.

Jessica Eye:

Widely considered one of the top women’s flyweight in the world before her UFC signing. Jessica Eye proved she can compete with the best at bantamweight with a decision victory over former Strikeforce champion, Sarah Kaufman.  The win skyrockets her in the top echelon of the division, and likely puts her in a title eliminator fight with the Alexis Davis/Liz Carmouche winner or Sara McMann.

On the Chopping Block: Dustin Pague, Jeremy Larsen, Mike Rio, George Sotiropoulos

UFC 166 Quick Results

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Main Card:

  • Cain Velasquez def. Junior dos Santos via TKO (Strikes) – Round 5, 3:09  – Heavyweight Title Fight
  • Daniel Cormier def. Roy Nelson via Unanimous Decision
  • Gilbert Melendez def. Diego Sanchez via Unanimous Decision
  • Gabriel Gonzaga def. Shawn Jordan via TKO (Punches) – Round 1, 1:33
  • John Dodson def. Darrell Montague via KO (Punches) – Round 1, 4:13

Preliminary Card:

  • Tim Boetsch def. CB Dollaway via Split Decision
  • Hector Lombard def. Nate Marquardt via KO (Punches) – Round 1, 1:48
  • Jessica Eye def. Sarah Kaufman via Split Decision
  • KJ Noons def. George Sotiropoulos via Unanimous Decision
  • Adlan Amagov def. T.J. Waldburger via KO (Punches) – Round 1, 3:45
  • Tony Ferguson def. Mike Rio via D’Arce Choke – Round 1, 1:52
  • Andre Fili def. Jeremy Larsen via TKO (Punches) – Round 2, 0:53
  • Kyoji Horiguchi def. Dustin Pague via TKO (Punches) – Round 2, 3:51

UFC 166 Predictions

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UFC 166 Predictions

Cain Velasquez vs Junior dos Santos

It’s not very often where I get excited for a third meeting between two fighters, but when they are the clear-cut #1 and #2 fighters in their division, you can’t help but get a little jacked up. It also helps that their first two meetings were the polar opposites of each other, with JDS dominating the first fight and Velasquez owning the rematch. Stylistically, nothing really has changed from their first two meetings. Dos Santos will once again have the obvious power advantage, and the ability to end the fight at any given moment against Velasquez’s sometime shaky chin. He is also a black belt under the Nogueira brothers, but we have yet to see what his ground game looks like other than the ability to get back to his feet in an instant after a takedown.  Other than that, Velasquez is better pretty much everywhere else. The wrestling, clinch game, smothering top game with vicious ground and pound all favor the champ. In their second fight, Velasquez mixed up his wrestling and striking to near perfection, in his five-round beatdown of the former champ, and I expect more of the same this time around. I see Velasquez using the clinch while looking to get the fight to the mat early and often wearing Dos Santos down, which will open up his striking game en route to late round TKO finish.

Pick: Velasquez by TKO.

Daniel Cormier vs Roy Nelson

Another heavyweight match-up puts former Olympian and blue chip prospect, Daniel Cormier against the fan favorite and ultra-tough Roy Nelson. Since the UFC’s heavyweight title is currently being held by friend and training partner, Cormier says this will be his last fight in the division before dropping to the 205-pound weight class. Cormier will look to use his superior wrestling skills to nullify the outstanding power of Nelson’s overhand right. While Nelson’s ground game is vastly underrated, his success comes from his top game and he’ll likely have serious problems off his back if Cormier gets him down. Nelson needs to land a big shot early, but I don’t see Cormier allowing much opportunity for that.

Pick: Cormier via Decision

Gilbert Melendez vs Diego Sanchez

Two former lightweight title contenders meet in a key match-up that looks to change the landscape of the 155-pound rankings. Gilbert Melendez is at his best when he’s able to work at his pace, mixing his striking with late takedowns to seal rounds in his favor. He has struggled against aggressive fighters in the past (Josh Thomson, Ben Henderson), and Diego Sanchez always comes in with a heavy offensive output. That being said, I’m not sure Sanchez has the skills to keep Melendez backing up and taking him off his game plan.  There may be a couple close rounds, but I like Melendez to get the better of Sanchez throughout.

Pick: Melendez by Decision

Gabriel Gonzaga vs Shawn Jordan

Since returning to the UFC, Gabriel Gonzaga has gone back to his jiu-jitsu roots which I feel has always been his best chance for victory in a division full of strikers. But after a 17-second knockout of Dave Herman, I’m afraid we might see the striking-heavy Gonzaga again at UFC 166. Even if he does try to get the fight to the mat, it won’t be an easy task against Shawn Jordan, who is one of the most gifted athletes in the division. Jordan is big, strong, has brain-mashing power, and continues to improve in all facets of the mixed martial arts game each time out. The longer this fight stays on the feet, the more it favors Jordan.

Pick: Jordan by KO

John Dodson vs Darrell Montague

Darrell Montague is finally where he belongs, in the UFC with the chance to face the division’s elite. That’s exactly what he’s getting when he makes his debut against John Dodson at UFC 166. Montague is incredibly well-rounded in all aspects of MMA, with strong boxing skills and a knack to find submission finishes on the ground. Dodson is also strong in all areas of the sport, but will likely have the advantage in speed, power, and pure athleticism. I’m expecting a close fight for a round or two, then Dodson landing a big shot and getting the finish shortly after.

Pick: Dodson via TKO

Tim Boetsch vs CB Dollaway

Since dropping to 185, Tim Boetsch has had a strength advantage over nearly all of his opponents, and that shouldn’t be any different heading into UFC 166 against CB Dollaway. Boetsch starts incredibly strong with explosive takedowns, suffocating top game, and an array of ground and pound strikes filled with knees to the body and hammerfists. As fights wear on though, his pace slows dramatically and at times nearly comes to an abrupt stop. That could be dangerous against a grappler like Dollaway, who has a great guillotine choke and could capitalize on a tired takedown attempt. Fortunately for Boetsch, I don’t see him needing to extend himself in the early rounds and can use his wrestling to secure a clear-cut decision victory.

Pick: Boetsch by Decision

Prelim Quick Picks

Nate Marquardt vs Hector Lombard – Lombard by Decision

Sarah Kaufman vs Jessica Eye – Kaufman by Decision

George Sotiropoulos vs KJ Noons – Sotiropoulos by Submission

TJ Waldburger vs Adlan Amagov – Amagov by KO

Tony Ferguson vs Mike Rio – Ferguson by KO

Jeremy Larsen vs Andre Fili – Fili by Decision

Dustin Pague vs Kyoji Horiguchi – Horiguchi by KO

Gilbert Melendez vs Diego Sanchez Slated for UFC 166

Gilbert Melendez

 

Gilbert Melendez

  • 21-3 MMA / 0-1 UFC Record
  • Won 7 of Last 8 Fights
  • Notable Wins: Josh Thomson (x2), Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri

Diego Sanchez

 

Diego Sanchez

  • 24-5 MMA / 13-5 UFC Record
  • Won 3 of Last 4 Fights
  • Notable Wins: Clay Guida, Takanori Gomi, Martin Kampmann

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UFC 166

October 19th, 2013

Houston, Texas

Toyota Center

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Gilbert Melendez came up just short of becoming the world’s top lightweight at UFC on FOX 7, dropping a closely contested split decision to UFC champion Ben Henderson. The loss snapped a seven-fight win streak for the former Strikeforce champion, which included key victories over Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and Josh Thomson.

Diego Sanchez was successful in his return to the UFC lightweight division with a hard-fought split decision victory over Takanori Gomi at UFC on Fuel TV 8. He returned to the 155-pound division following a 2-2 run as a welterweight. Sanchez fought for the UFC lightweight title in December of 2009, but was stopped by then-champ BJ Penn in the fifth round by TKO.

UFC on FOX 7 Quick Results

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Main Card:

  • Benson Henderson def. Gilbert Melendez via Split Decision
  • Daniel Cormier def. Frank Mir via Unanimous Decision
  • Josh Thomson def. Nate Diaz via TKO (Strikes) – Round 2, 3:44
  • Matt Brown def. Jordan Mein via TKO (Strikes) – Round 2, 1:00

Preliminary Card:

  • Chad Mendes def. Darren Elkins via TKO (Strikes) – Round 1, 1:08
  • Francis Carmont vs. Lorenz Larkin via Unanimous Decision
  • Myles Jury def. Ramsey Nijem via KO (Punch) – Round 1, 1:02
  • Joseph Benavidez def. Darren Uyenoyama via TKO (Strikes) – Round 2, 4:50
  • Jorge Masvidal def. Tim Means via Unanimous Decision
  • T.J. Dillashaw def. Hugo Viana via TKO (Strikes) – Round 1, 4:22
  • Anthony Njokuani def. Roger Bowling via TKO (Strikes) – Round 2, 2:52
  • Yoel Romero def. Clifford Starks via KO (Flying knee, Punches) – Round 1, 1:32

Ben Henderson vs Gilbert Melendez Targeted for UFC on FOX 7

Ben Henderson

 

Ben Henderson

  • 18-2 MMA / 6-0 UFC Record
  • 6 Fight Win Streak
  • Notable Wins: Frank Edgar (x2), Jim Miller, Nate Diaz

Gilbert Melendez

  • 21-2 MMA / 11-1 Strikeforce Record
  • 7 Fight Win Streak
  • Notable Wins: Josh Thomson (x2), Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri

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UFC On FOX 7

April 20th, 2013

San Jose, California

HP Pavilion

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After two controversial decision victories against Frank Edgar, Ben Henderson finally left no doubt on his status as UFC lightweight champion with a one-sided unanimous decision win over Nate Diaz at UFC on FOX 5. The win was his sixth consecutive victory inside the octagon since the WEC merger.

Strikeforce lightweight champion,  Gilbert Melendez will finally get his chance to prove he is the best lightweight in the world in MMA’s biggest organization. Melendez won the Strikeforce title in April of 2009, and successfully defended it six times, including notable victories over Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and two epic battles against rival Josh Thomson.

Strikeforce Adds Gilbert Melendez vs Pat Healy, Nate Marquardt vs Tarec Saffiedine Title Fights to January Event

 

Gilbert Melendez

  • 21-2 MMA / 11-1 Strikeforce Record
  • 7 Fight Win Streak
  • Notable Wins: Josh Thomson (x2), Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri

 

Pat Healy

  • 28-16 MMA / 6-1 Strikeforce Record
  • 5 Fight Win Streak
  • Notable Wins: Maximo Blanco, Caros Fodor, Mizuto Hirota

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Nate Marquardt

  • 32-10-2 MMA / 1-0 Strikeforce Record
  • 2 Fight Win Streak
  • Notable Wins: Demian Maia, Rousimar Palhares, Tyron Woodley

 

Tarec Saffiedine

  • 13-3 MMA /3-1 Strikeforce Record
  • 3 Fight Win Streak
  • Notable Wins: Scott Smith, Roger Bowling, Tyler Stinson

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Strikeforce: Melendez vs Healy

January 12th, 2013

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Chesapeake Energy Arena

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Strikeforce lightweight champion, Gilbert Melendez looks to continue his dominance over the 155-pound division and extend his winning streak to eight. He earned the interim-Strikeforce title in August of 2009 with a third round TKO victory over Mitsuhiro Ishida and became the sole champion when he unified the belts with a unanimous decision victory over Josh Thomson three months later. He has since defended the title four times, including wins over Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and Jorge Masvidal.

Pat Healy retained his number one contender status with a controversial unanimous decision win over Mizuto Hirota at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs Kennedy earlier this year. The win was his fifth consecutive victory, which also included key victories over Maximo Blanco and Caros Fodor.

Former UFC fighter, Nate Marquardt became Strikeforce’s welterweight champion in his promotional debut with a stunning fourth round knockout over previously undefeated Tyron Woodley in July of this year. The fight was his first since being the released from the UFC for testing positive for a banned substance just a day before his scheduled fight with Rick Story at UFC Live on Versus 4.

Tarec Saffiedine has earned a shot at Strikeforce gold on the heels of a three-fight win streak, which includes decision victories over Scott Smith, Tyler Stinson, and Roger Bowling. He’s won six out of his last seven fights, with his only defeat being a unanimous decision loss to Tyron Woodley in January of 2011.