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UFC 188 Velasquez vs. Werdum: Main Card Picks & Preview

UFC 188

By Josh Nason, WrestlingObserver.com

Cain Velasquez is a lot of things, but a consistent fighter ain’t one of them. Unless he slips on a pipe, he’ll defend the UFC heavyweight title for the first time in 21 months Saturday night in Mexico. 21 months. The last time he fought, GSP was still the UFC welterweight champion and Jon Jones was still somewhat the apple of our eye.

While he’s heavily favored to win against Fabricio Werdum, it all goes for naught if he doesn’t compete for another 12 months. The UFC needs a champion that can fight two times a year and if that isn’t Velasquez anymore, it’s been a painful few years to figure that out.

Our Panel:

Jack Encarnacao (52-18 | .742) Sherdog Rewind host, The Lapsed Fan podcast co-chair, Steve Austin impersonator

Steve Juon (47-23 | .671) AngryMarks founder, MMA Mania writer

Mike Sempervive (46-24 | .657) Wrestling Observer Live co-host | Big Audio Nightmare

John Pollock (45-25 | .642) Fight Network personality, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, The MMA Report host

David Bixenspan (45-25 | .642) Figure Four Weekly writer, Observer Daily Update writer, podcast host

Front Row Brian (42-28 | .600) MMA newsbreaker, Twitter personality, podcast host

Dave Meltzer (41-29 | .585) Wrestling Observer founder & writer, occasional cougher

Mike Sawyer (39-31 | .557)
 Tough Talk MMA, 2014 picks panel champion 

- Josh Nason (38-32 | .552) Wrestling Observer digital media and content guy, WON Twitter enabler

Our Picks: 

> UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez (13-1) vs. UFC Interim Champion Fabricio Werdum (19-5-1)

Mexico FINALLY gets that Velasquez fight they wanted months ago, and we all get a Velasquez fight we’ve wanted for nearly two years. For the first time since winning the title in a steamrolling of Brock Lesnar, the 32-year-old Velasquez fights a guy not named Junior dos Santos or “Bigfoot” Silva. The questions are obvious: does he still have it and if he does, can he stay healthy enough to compete twice a year? A win gives him his third successful title defense.

Werdum looks awful confident, doesn’t he? Smiling, laughing, saying Velasquez isn’t really ‘Mexican Mexican’. Then again, the 37-year-old submitted Fedor and is 5-0 in his second UFC stint with finishes in three of them. He’s the interim heavyweight title holder after a dominant win over Mark Hunt in November but he’s got a much different and angry looking animal in front of him Saturday.

Velasquez (big favorite): Nason, Meltzer, Encarnacao, Pollock, FRB, Sawyer, Sempervive, Juon
Werdum: Bix

> Gilbert Melendez (22-4) vs. Eddie Alvarez (25-4)
Lightweights

The fight we have waited years to see finally will materialize in front of our eyes Saturday. Who knows what might have happened back in the day if Strikeforce and Bellator had got together and made it happen. Now Scott Coker runs Bellator and Bjorn Rebney is in...Mexico! Cosmic coincidences, man.

As I said during JNPO this week, I think Alvarez has a lot at stake here. After the whole Bellator contract debacle, he finally got his UFC shot last September and was dominated by Donald Cerrone in a decision loss. His quality of competition over the last few years hasn’t been as good as that of Melendez, but the former Bellator 155-pound champion can reclaim his spot among the top of the lightweight rankings with a big win here.

The 33-year-old Melendez has done something he hasn’t done since 2007-08: lost two of his last three. The final Strikeforce lightweight champion is 1-2 in the Octagon with a tough defeat in a title loss to then-champion Benson Henderson and a second round submission loss to then-champion Anthony Pettis -- his first submission loss. There’s plenty of interesting fights ahead for both guys, but they really, really want to win this one.

Melendez (slight favorite): Nason, Meltzer, Encarnacao, FRB, Sawyer, Bix, Sempervive, Juon
Alvarez: Pollock

> Kelvin Gastelum (10-1) vs. Nate Marquardt (33-14-2)
Middleweights

Gastelum has already said he wants to return to 170 pounds, so this appears to be a one-time dalliance with not watching what he eats. Dana White ordered him to the weight class after he missed weight twice in his last two fights, a penalty he earned every bit of. He’s 5-1 in the UFC and is coming off his first Octagon loss, a dull January split decision to Tyron Woodley. He’s still a great prospect at 23 and has plenty of fun fights ahead if he can maintain his waistline.

Marquardt is a lot closer to the end than the beginning and has lost four of his last five. The 36-year-old is 1-1 since moving back to 185, but last was seen getting ground out by Brad Tavares in January. One bad loss here could be his curtain call in the Octagon and after nearly 50 career fights, I wouldn’t be shocked if he called it good with a defeat.

Gastelum (big favorite): Nason, Meltzer, Encarnacao, Pollock, FRB, Sawyer, Bix, Sempervive, Juon

> Yair Rodriguez (4-1) vs. Charles Rosa (10-1)
Featherweights

The 22-year-old Rodriguez won TUF: Latin America and is making his first appearance since November. He’s shown an early penchant for finishing opponents, but gets a tough test against the 28-year-old Rosa. The Peabody, MA, native is 1-1 in the Octagon and is coming off a January submission win over Sean Soriano.

Rosa (favorite): Nason, Meltzer, Encarnacao, Pollock, FRB, Sawyer, Bix, Sempervive, Juon

> Tecia Torres (5-0) vs. Angela Hill (2-0)
Strawweights

The 25-year-old Torres is being brought into here to win, carrying an undefeated record in front of a Mexican audience. (She’s from Fall River, MA, but who’s playing Carmen Sandiego, right?) She made her UFC debut with a decision win over the incredibly grating Angela Magana, and looks for her second straight over a woman named Angela. The 27-year-old Hill is just 2-0, but won her Octagon debut with a decision win over Emily Kagan.

Torres (favorite): Nason, Meltzer, Encarnacao, Pollock, FRB, Sawyer, Bix, Sempervive, Juon

To celebrate the occasion, Dave will be making margaritas at his house while doing live coverage, but he can't supply the tequila for everyone. Bring your own and some guacamole if you remember it.