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UFC 166 Preview

The Ultimate Fighting Championship will put on one of its best cards of the year Saturday night in Houston at Toyota Center where Cain Velasquez will defend his heavyweight strap vs. former champ Junior dos Santos in the main event at UFC 166.

As of late Thursday afternoon, most betting shops had Velasquez (12-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) installed as a -200 favorite. Dos Santos is +160 on the comeback (risk $100 to win $160). For ‘over/under’ wagers, the total for rounds is 3 ½ (‘under’ -125, ‘over’ -105).

Velasquez first won the belt with a first-round knockout of Brock Lesnar at UFC 121 in Anaheim. However, in his first title defense against Dos Santos at UFC on Fox 1 in Anaheim, Velasquez got KO’d in only 64 seconds.

Dos Santos (16-2 MMA, 10-1 UFC) successfully defended his belt with a second-round KO of former champ Frank Mir at UFC 146. On that same card in Las Vegas, Velasquez destroyed Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva with a first-round KO to set up a rematch with Dos Santos at UFC 155.

In the second meeting, Velasquez dominated the heavy-handed Brazilian striker for 25 minutes. The former Arizona St. wrestler stayed on the attack for all five rounds, smothering JDS with his wrestling and striking. Nobody had ever taken Dos Santos down in the Octagon, but Velasquez scored takedowns in bunches for the entire bout.

Velasquez regained his title by unanimous-decision victory as a +160 underdog (risk $100 to win $160). Since then, Velasquez has defended his strap once with another first-round KO of Silva.

On that same card at UFC 160, JDS set up a trilogy battle with Cain by defeating Mark Hunt by third-round KO via spinning wheel kick. Dos Santos hooked up his betting supporters as a -450 favorite.

Prediction: This fight could go so many different ways. JDS certainly has the one-punch power to finish Velasquez early like he did in their first confrontation. Even if Cain controls the fight with his wrestling and striking like in the second meeting, I can’t imagine Dos Santos gassing out so quickly. I’m not suggesting laying the -200 price, but I’m picking Cain to prevail. But from a gambling standpoint, I think ‘under’ 3 ½ rounds is the way to go at a reasonable -125 price.

In the co-main event, Daniel Cormier will take on Roy ‘Big Country’ Nelson in a heavyweight showdown. Most books have Cormier heavily favored in the -600 range. Bettors can back Nelson for a +450 payout (risk $100 to win $450). The ‘over/under’ is 1 ½ rounds (‘over’ -290, ‘under’ +230).

Cormier (12-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) will be making his second UFC appearance after beating Mir by unanimous decision at UFC on Fox 7. Since he and Velasquez are training partners, the former Olympic wrestler is planning on dropping down to light heavyweight following this fight.

Cormier won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix with wins over Bigfoot Silva and Josh Barnett. He is a world-class wrestler who has rapidly developed outstanding striking skills.

Nelson (19-8 MMA, 6-4 UFC) saw his three-fight winning streak snapped his last time out in a unanimous-decision defeat to Stipe Miocic as an enormous -350 ‘chalk.’ Nelson, as he is prone to do, absorbed a ton of punishment but was too slow to mount any sort of offensive attack.

Nevertheless, the 37-year-old heavyweight contender was able to ink a nine-fight deal with the UFC that begins with this bout against Cormier. Nelson hasn’t been an underdog since losing a decision to Fabricio Werdum at UFC 143. ‘Big Country’ is winless in three Octagon appearances as an underdog.

Nelson’s best wins in the UFC have come by KO against Matt Mitrione, Cheick Kongo, Mirko Cro Cop, Stefan Struve and Brendan Schaub.

Prediction: Cormier most likely wins, but there’s no way I’m turning down a chance to take ‘Big Country’ and his one-punch KO power as a +450 underdog.

Gilbert Melendez (21-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) will return to the Octagon for the first time since making his debut against Benson Henderson for the lightweight belt at UFC on Fox 7. Melendez lost a split decision that many felt should’ve gone his way.

The former 155-pound champ in the Strikeforce organization will face Diego ‘The Dream’ Sanchez. Melendez is the biggest favorite (-650 to -800) on the entire 13-fight card, while Sanchez is available for a generous +500 return (risk $100 to win $500). The total is 2 ½ rounds (‘over’ -280, ‘under’ +220).

Sanchez (24-5 MMA, 13-5 UFC) hasn’t been a stranger to controversial decisions lately, either. But his last fight went his way from the judges in a split-decision triumph over Takanori Gomi. It was Sanchez’s first fight at lightweight since losing a title shot to B.J. Penn at UFC 107. Sanchez failed to make weight against Gomi, hitting the scales at 158.

Therefore, bettors should take a long look at Sanchez at Friday’s weigh-ins to see if he had an easier time cutting weight for this bout.

Prediction: I’ll pass on a wager. I think Melendez wins unanimous decision.

In another heavyweight showdown, Shawn ‘The Savage’ Jordan (15-4 MMA, 3-1 UFC) will take on Gabriel Gonzaga. Most spots have Jordan as a -215 favorite with Gonzaga as the +170 underdog. The total is 1 ½ rounds (‘under’ -145, ‘over’ +115).

Jordan has been impressive in posting back-to-back wins in KO fashion over Mike Russow and Pat ‘HD’ Barry. He is a former football player at LSU.

Gonzaga (15-7 MMA, 10-6 UFC) once fought for heavyweight gold against Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture at UFC 74, but he retired in 2010 after back-to-back losses to JDS and Schaub.

Since coming out of retirement, Gonzaga has won four of five fights (3-1 in the UFC) with his only defeat coming against top-five contender Travis Browne.

Prediction: I love the value with Gonzaga, who has equal power when the fight is standing and better jui-jitsu when they go to the ground. I’m not opposed to a ‘under’ 1 ½ rounds wager, either.

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