Although Cain Velasquez is a heavy favorite in his heavyweight title defense at UFC 160, the champion says there’s no chance he would ever take Antonio Silva lightly.
The last guy to do that was Alistair Overeem, and the man-mountain known as “Bigfoot” knocked him out and seized this title shot Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas.
“I don’t see this as anything less than a hard, grueling fight, and that’s what I’m expecting,” Velasquez said.
Yet Velasquez (11-1) realizes almost everybody expects him to wreck Silva (18-4) just as thoroughly as he did one year ago in a first-round knockout at UFC 146, leaving the 6-foot-4 Bigfoot in a bloody heap with hideous cuts on his face. Velasquez’s first bout since losing the heavyweight title probably deserved an R rating for violence and gore, and he followed it up by reclaiming his belt in December with a dominant rematch win over Junior Dos Santos.
“To me right now, it’s the most important thing to defend (the belt), just to hold on to it itself,” Velasquez said. “This is the position that I want to be in, so I have to go out and perform.”
Earlier on the UFC 160 card, former heavyweight champion Dos Santos returns to the octagon against surprising Mark Hunt and his late-career run of stunning knockouts, while light heavyweight contender Glover Teixeira angles for a future title shot against New Zealand’s James Te Huna. Gray Maynard will face T.J. Grant in a lightweight bout, with the winner likely getting the next shot at champion Benson Henderson this fall, and Kailua-Kona’s K.J. Noons makes his UFC debut against popular lightweight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.
Silva knows he’s in an unlikely position, getting a rematch against a champion who thrashed him on the last edition of the UFC’s annual heavyweight-centered Memorial Day weekend show in its hometown. But the well-traveled Brazilian veteran rebounded from consecutive losses to Daniel Cormier and Velasquez with stoppage victories over Travis Browne and Overeem, improbably earning another shot at Velasquez.
“Obviously in the first fight, I made a big mistake,” Silva said through a translator. “But there were a lot of things that I did right going into that fight, and that, unfortunately, (fans) didn’t get to see. So much of that has been maintained, and overall the main strategy is just not to let his elbows get near my forehead. That would be the change.”
Silva realizes the UFC probably would have preferred to see Velasquez against Overeem, the touted Dutch kickboxer who still can’t stop stumbling on a path to title contention littered with doping woes, upset losses and injuries. But Silva is confident he can improve on last year’s showing against Velasquez, saying he won’t get the same case of nerves he had before making his UFC debut.
And if nothing else, the bout is an intriguing contrast in sheer physics: The outsized Silva towers over the 6-foot-1 Velasquez but can’t match the champion’s uniquely well-rounded athleticism.
“I would have to be born again to become faster than Cain Velasquez,” Silva said. “I’ve got 30 pounds on him. He’s going to be faster than me, so I need to work with what I have, and what I have is very, very heavy hands. … The heavyweight division is a division where anything can happen. One punch lands, and the fight is over.”
Although Silva sometimes appears gangly and awkward in the cage, his physical curiosities mask a solid range of mixed martial arts skills.
The 33-year-old’s career began in England and Japan before moving through various minor-league North American promotions, eventually leading him to Strikeforce and the UFC. Silva only got his first shot at Velasquez after a series of injuries scuttled an original bout against Roy Nelson.
But in February 2011, Silva proved why nobody should doubt he’s got a shot against Velasquez: He stopped Fedor Emelianenko, the Russian star once perceived to be even more unbeatable than Cain is now.
“I like when people underestimate me,” Silva said. “It’s nice. I get to go out there, and I get to prove them wrong. There are no superheroes in this sport.
“Nobody is invincible.”