If there was ever a perfect stage for Cain Velasquez to reignite his mixed martial arts career, it would be UFC’s highly billed bicentennial extravaganza. Thirteen months and 12 events removed from losing his heavyweight crown, former champion Velasquez re-enters the octagon against seventh-ranked and powerful Travis Browne at UFC 200 Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with hopes of earning another title shot in the near future.
In many respects, the 33-year-old Velasquez (13-2) is an obvious favorite over former 6-foot-7 Gladiator and VFC champion Browne (18-3-1, 14 KOs), however, another loss could spell disaster for Velasquez.
Odds makers at online sports book Bovada.lv have tabbed Velasquez as a -305 favorite and Browne as a +235 underdog, and rightly so. Before succumbing to now former champion Fabricio Werdum’s third-round guillotine choke at UFC 188 in June 2015, Velasquez was riding the best and most challenging string of bouts in his career, all while proving resilient in the face of adversity.
Over a three-year span, the California native cast aside a murder’s row of UFC heavyweights, many in the first round. Velasquez pummeled Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for a shot at the title and then took down Brock Lesnar for the crown in 2010.
He then lost the title in his first defense against Junior dos Santos one year and a month later, but would regain his form with a TKO over the legendary Antonio Silva and followed up with a championship decision over Dos Santos at UFC 155. Velasquez would meet both fighters again over his next two fights (both victories), before falling prey to Werdum.
Still, Velasquez finds himself in a similar spot as 2010 and 2011, with a chance to redeem and prove to himself, UFC, and president Dana White that he belongs atop the topsy-turvy division.
On the other hand, Browne represents an entirely different animal and may be unlike any opponent Velasquez has faced before.
Blessed with incredible size and knockout power, Browne too is gunning for the top of the heavyweight division and his first realistic title shot in more than two years. Fourteen of the 33-year-old’s victories have come by way of knockout, and he does own impressive wins over Brendan Schaub and current No. 3 ranked Alistair Overeem and No. 8 Josh Barnett.
Prediction: Rust and psychology are major factors for Velasquez to shake off. His power can’t be questioned, but timing, speed, and mental toughness will have to be rediscovered in the first round in order for a successful bout. A case can be made for Browne to pull off the upset, however, he’s prone to make mistakes early with all three of his losses coming by way of first-round knockouts. Look for a slugfest but for Velasquez to prevail with a knockout by the second round.