Exactly one year after the nastiest beatdown of his career, Brazil’s Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva will finally get his shot to avenge the loss he suffered at the hands of Cain Velasquez. The fact that this time is for the UFC heavyweight title is just icing on the cake.

Last Memorial Day Weekend, in the co-main event of the UFC 146: The Heavyweights card, Velasquez finished Silva with a bloody first-round TKO to get a shot to regain the title he previously lost to Junior dos Santos, a challenge he completed successfully in late December. In the rematch with dos Santos, Velasquez made a statement by brutally punishing the Brazilian for five full rounds.

Due to a significant wave of events in late 2012 and early 2013, including Silva’s wins over Travis Browne and Alistair Overeem, Silva is now back in line to challenge the California native to a rematch, and the stakes are higher than ever. Even more than redemption, Silva wants Velasquez’s belt, and at UFC 160 this Saturday night, he will get his chance.

Silva’s two wins came after losses, both by first-round knockouts, to Strikeforce heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier and UFC heavyweight champ Velasquez. He followed his pair of losses with his pair of wins, but the results of those fights have been considered somewhat controversial. Browne injured his hamstring in the beginning of the fight, which reduced his mobility and set him up as an easy target for Silva. At UFC 156, Overeem had taken the first two rounds on the scorecards before blowing it in the third. Overeem had verbally discounted Silva’s entire MMA game prior to the fight, and when he had his hands down in the third, Silva knocked him out. Although Silva earned his rematch with Velasquez, it was a combination of luck and Overeem’s immaturity that led to this rematch.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Stand-up Striking: Velasquez – 10, Silva – 9

Nobody can deny the fact that Velasquez is one of the scariest strikers in the UFC heavyweight division. However, his most dominant striking is not usually produced from his stand-up. As Velasquez has shown time and time again, he is most effective at finishing his opponents on the ground. However, Silva will still have his hands full if the fight stays standing.

Both Silva and Velasquez have hard, forward-charging stand-up, but Velasquez is much more elusive and possesses a better striking defense. Outside of the freak loss to Junior dos Santos, nobody has really been able to even stumble the Californian significantly. Velasquez is much lighter on his feet than the aptly named Bigfoot and has far superior lateral movement. They each have effective kicks, though rarely used, but Velasquez has a lot more power behind his feet, especially with his big leg kicks. But that’s not even what differentiates him on his feet.

Velasquez fights like an ocean predator. As soon as he smells blood in the water, he pounces like a man possessed. While Bigfoot does scramble in aggressively, it only works against damaged opponents, like Browne. Had he tried to rush Velasquez in the same manner as he rushed Browne, he would’ve ended up taking a nap.

On the feet, Velasquez’s smart and accurate striking will dominate.

Submission Grappling: Velasquez – 9, Silva – 10

If Silva has a chance anywhere in this battle with Velasquez, it’s in the submission game, but he has to make sure he is on top once it hits the mat to have any possibility of survival. Bigfoot holds three submission wins in his pro MMA career, compared to Velasquez’s zero by tapout. However, Silva will have a tough time getting position on Velasquez, who is very powerful and can get squirmy.

Silva is a big heavyweight and has black belts in judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He has trained with some very BJJ-heavy camps at Brazilian Top Team, American Top Team and Team Nogueira. He has never been submitted and is lanky for a heavyweight, and he is a powerful grappler. Velasquez, on the other hand, is at the brown belt level in BJJ, but he tends to avoid submission grappling in favor of wrestling and ground-and-pound. As long as Silva can avoid being on the bottom for an extended period of time, he should dominate in the submission game, but that positioning will be tough.

Velasquez does grapple efficiently, but Silva has the capability of using his size and superior BJJ training to put Velasquez into a precarious choke or joint lock.

Wrestling: Velasquez – 10, Silva – 9

The comparison of submission grappling is a great segue into the wrestling discussion. Wrestling dominance is what will keep the champ from being submitted by the challenger.

Wrestling is, by far, the most lopsided area of comparison between these two fighters. Although Silva may have a three-inch, 20-pound size advantage, his wrestling is nothing when matched-up against Velasquez. This mismatch became apparent even before their first fight when Silva faced wrestling champ Cormier. Every time Bigfoot rushed Cormier, the American avoided being handled repeatedly before knocking the Brazilian out.

Velasquez, who is a training partner of Cormier’s at the American Kickboxing Academy, is a NCAA Division I All-American out of Arizona State University who owns a pair of Pac-10 Conference titles. Velasquez’s entire game is built around his wrestling. Velasquez uses his superior wrestling to manhandle opponents of any size, and he did that very thing to Bigfoot in their first meeting.

The All-American will absolutely dominate the Brazilian in all forms of the wrestling game, including when they are standing against the cage. Velasquez almost always uses his wrestling at some point to set up his devastating striking finishes.

Ground-and-Pound: Velasquez – 10, Silva – 9

Tito Ortiz may take credit for having created a signature with his ground-and-pound technique, but nobody delivers the destruction on the ground like Velasquez. He is quite possibly the meanest person in the entire sport for an opponent to be physically underneath. His takedown defense is second-to-none in the division, and his takedown attack is highly accurate.

Combining his fast hands, superior wrestling and tremendous knockout power, nobody has ever emerged successfully from a vicious Velasquez ground-and-pound attack. Go no further than his current opponent, Silva. Silva received the bloodiest beatdown that has been handed out in recent history, courtesy of his current opponent. When it really comes down to the nuts and bolts of it, there’s no reason to believe that this will not happen again. There’s no way Silva could match Velasquez’s physical explosiveness.

Speed: Velasquez – 10, Silva – 9

If there’s one athletic ability that sets Velasquez far apart from the rest of the heavyweight pack, it’s his speed. Velasquez is an anomaly in the heavyweight division for nothing more than his lightning-fast attack. He doesn’t throw complicated combinations or fancy attacks like Anthony Pettis or Jon Jones, but he explodes like no other. Silva is a hard-charger, but he doesn’t have near the speed that Velasquez possesses.

Velasquez is known in the sport for his deep gas tank. Fighters like Vitor Belfort have tons of explosive power, but when not properly used, they can run out of energy. This is not the case for Velasquez. The medium-sized heavyweight just keeps going for an entire five-round fight with the same explosive and elusive speeds that he brings into round one.

Velasquez and his quickness will prevail once again.


As if Velasquez doesn’t have this one in the bag already, there’s one more factor to consider, one that truly is a game changer and was alluded to already.

Velasquez has a killer instinct buried somewhere in his DNA that is unique, even in MMA. It’s not something that shows up some of the time; it shows up every time he steps in the cage. In fact, in terms of pure technique, he really does keep it simple—no spin kicks, fancy submissions or odd-angle striking. He’s a strong finisher that swarms with deadly precision at the first sign of weakness, physical or mental. It’s this opportunistic burst of devastation that has won him almost all of his fights. It’s something that Silva can’t theoretically train for.

One can be certain that no matter what the outcome, it will be preceded by some form of wild attack by Velasquez.

Final: Velasquez – 49, Silva – 46

Verdict: It’s really hard to visualize a different outcome for this fight than there was for their first meeting. After seeing the way Velasquez bounced back after handing over his newly won title the first time, it’s hard to see him dropping his first title defense again. Velasquez is currently sitting in the class of unbeatables that includes Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre. His biggest difference is that killer instinct. At some point in the UFC 160 main event, live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Velasquez will hurt, he will swarm, and he will win. That will be all she wrote.

Photo: Cain Velasquez (top) punished Silva in their first meeting (Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator