SiriusXM Fight Club’s RJ Clifford and Ricky Bones break down UFC 166.

With a fight card as stellar as it is heavy, the octagon touches down in Houston, Texas, Saturday night at the Toyota Center for UFC 166:

  • Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos square off for the third time to decide, once and for all, who is the best heavyweight fighter in the world.
  • Before dropping down to light-heavyweight to take his shot at Jon Jones, Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier puts his undefeated record on the line against the seasoned Roy Nelson.
  • And Diego Sanchez, winner of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, takes on the last Strikeforce lightweight champion, Gilbert Melendez, in a match that will look like a couple of Tasmanian devils lost their minds.

The picks, based on Wednesday’s money lines on Sportsbook.com:

Cain Velasquez -220 (champion) vs. Junior dos Santos +170

RJ’s pick: Velasquez

We learned a lot more about these fighters from their second bout at UFC 155 than their first at UFC on Fox 1. Velasquez is just too dominant and overwhelming when he’s mixing in takedowns, punches, kicks and top control. JDS can knock out anybody, even the champ, but power punches are his only real finisher, while the All-American wrestler has several options. I think Velasquez will use that brand new Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and submit the Brazilian. Now that might sound far-fetched since JDS hasn’t been bad on submission defense and Velasquez has no submission wins. However, Velasquez attempted a flashy rolling armbar in their second bout, and JDS left his neck wide open while defending the wrestler’s top onslaught. A team as good as American Kickboxing Academy is going to catch on to that type of defensive lapse and take advantage.

Ricky’s pick: Velasquez

The third fight of this already-legendary trilogy is one that is difficult to pick. The big reason is that the first two outcomes were complete opposites. In the first fight, it took Dos Santos only 64 seconds to take out Velasquez and become the UFC heavyweight champion. Then, in the rematch, Velasquez reclaimed the title, punishing Cigano for all five rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory. This leads us to the third fight Saturday night. Dos Santos, who blames his sluggish performance at UFC 155 on over-training, has focused more on wrestling in the recent training camp. Velasquez has focused much of his training camp on improving an already-impressive cardio game. To me, this fight is going to come down to that, too: Cardio. Look for Velasquez to mix up his take-downs and strikes and wear down Cigano on the way to a unanimous decision victory.

Daniel Cormier -575 vs. Roy Nelson +375

RJ’s pick: Cormier

A lot of fans were disappointed in Cormier’s debut in the UFC when he convincingly, if sluggishly, controlled Frank Mir for three rounds at UFC on Fox: Henderson vs. Melendez. Well, if his worst performance is shutting down a former UFC champion, you’ve got yourself a pretty good fighter. Nelson has a highlight-reel’s worth of finishes over fine UFC heavyweights, but he struggles badly against top-tier fighters like dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum and, most recently, Stipe Miocic. Cormier is top-tier. The former Olympian’s hand speed, foot speed and overall athleticism are a tough nut to crack. “Big Country” can always fall back on that cushion — his overhand right — but one-trick ponies aren’t Rubik’s Cubes. Cormier will be well prepared for anything Nelson throws at him.

Ricky’s pick: Cormier

Both of these heavyweights come in with something to prove. Daniel Cormier, who burst onto the scene by winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix (after entering as an alternate for Alistair Overeem), is looking to erase the demons of his lackluster UFC debut — a unanimous decision victory over Frank Mir at UFC on FOX 7. The fact that Cormier took that much heat in victory goes to show you his already-high expectations. Nelson, meanwhile, is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Stipe Miocic at UFC 161. This will be Nelson’s 11th time in the octagon, with six of his previous 10 fights ending in knockout. But while this fight has the makings of a heavyweight slugfest, it’s instead going to come down to cardio. Nelson, who has had cardio issues in the past, looks as though he has made adjustments in his camp. (Recent photos suggest he has shed his excess weight.) It still remains to be seen, though, whether “Big Country” is acclimated to his new physique. In the end, Cormier’s Olympic-caliber wrestling will tire Nelson out and tilt the judges’ scorecards in his favor. Look for a tough fight, with Cormier using take-downs and strikes to earn a unanimous decision victory

Gilbert Melendez -575 vs. Diego Sanchez +375

RJ’s pick: Melendez

These two Mexican-American fighters are mirror images of each other in a lot of ways, which is why it is shocking to me that Melendez is as high as an 8-to-1 favorite on some books. Both are grapplers-turned-punchers who excel in the scramble and never seem to tire. But Melendez is just a little better at everything, specifically boxing. Sanchez has won his fair share of close, controversial fights by moving forward with swinging-and-missing punches, but Melendez is more accurate and doesn’t move backward. Both fighters are too tough to finish so this will go 15 incredible minutes.

Ricky’s pick: Melendez

It’s been a hard-fought career for both men competing in the only lightweight fight of the main card, and if one were to hang it up after Saturday, they wouldn’t have anything to be ashamed of. Don’t tell that to “El Nino” and “The Dream,” though, because neither of these fighters have any intentions other then making a run at the belt currently sitting atop Anthony Pettis’ mantel. Melendez’s last fight, a split-decision loss to Benson Henderson at UFC on FOX 7, is one that he would probably like to forget. A lot of media and fans, including me, scored the fight for Melendez, but in the end the belt went home with Henderson. Now, faced with staying in the mix in arguably the UFC’s most stacked division, El Nino must figure out a way to get past the perfect storm known as Diego Sanchez. Sanchez, a perennial contender at both lightweight and welterweight in his career, is dropping back down to 155 looking to make one last run at the belt in the division that made him a star. Look for Melendez to outwork Sanchez throughout the fight, eventually getting the stoppage. While Sanchez is good at pretty much every aspect of the game, Melendez is a little bit better. In what will be a fast-paced fight from start to finish, it will be Melendez who finishes Sanchez via TKO in the third round.

Gabriel Gonzaga +155 vs. Shawn Jordan -185

RJ’s pick: Gonzaga

Gonzaga-Jordan is the first of the three heavyweight fights on the main card Saturday. And like so many heavyweight matchups featuring sluggers, it is a coin-flip kind of fight. Both fighters are 3-1 in their latest UFC runs and both are coming off first-round knock outs. Jordan is the better athlete while Gonzaga is the more seasoned grappler. I’ll give the edge to the Brazilian and his fine submission base — as long as this fight doesn’t drag on, where Gonzaga tends to wilt.

Ricky’s pick: Gonzaga

The fight between Gabriel Gonzaga and Shawn Jordan is the classic “veteran vs. up-and-comer” match, where fans will either see a career re-invigorated, or a career jump-started. Recently on SiriusXM Fight Club, the main topic was the lack of depth and prospects in the UFC heavyweight division; perhaps Jordan can be the exception to that rule. A former college football standout at powerhouse LSU, Jordan is a product of Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts, where he has trained with top UFC talent including fellow heavyweight Travis Browne and light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones. From the look of his last two outings, back-to-back knockouts of Mike Russow and Pat Barry, it seems as if those sparring sessions with Bones and Hapa are paying off. The man standing in the way of “The Savage’s” UFC heavyweight ascent happens to be none other then the veteran, “Napao” Gonzaga. Gonzaga, who is coming off a 17-second thrashing of Dave Herman at UFC 162, is looking to bring the surging Jordan back to earth, and perhaps make one more run of his own. In the end, this fight comes down to experience. Look for Gonzaga to catch Jordan in the early going and put him to sleep. Gonzaga via second-round knockout.

Darrell Montague +260 vs. John Dodson -340

RJ’s pick: Dodson

Montague’s debut in the UFC is a tough one, as he might have bit off more than he can chew. The former Tachi Palace Fighting flyweight champion draws a fighter fresh off a failed championship bid against Demetrius Johnson. Dodson is fast, powerful, well-rounded, and susceptible only to opponents who can offset his athleticism with high fight IQs. Montague isn’t that guy. Dodson should be able to pick apart the rookie before finding his range and timing, leading to an eventual finish.

Ricky’s pick: Dodson

Speed kills. If you’re looking for a perfect example, look no further than the No. 2 ranked fighter in the UFC flyweight division, John Dodson. Dodson, who fights out of Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is as explosive as they come. His last fight, which was for the UFC flyweight title against champion Demetrius Johnson, ended in Dodson’s first loss in the octagon. Enter Dodson’s opponent, Darrell Montague. “The Goose” is making his UFC debut, and as you can imagine, his hands will be full when he enters the cage Saturday night. I am going to cut to the chase here: The flyweight division is still growing, and there are going to be a lot more fresh faces in the coming months. But there are three big dogs in the division, and Dodson is one of them. I’m not sure if Montague owes Joe Silva money, but the UFC matchmaker didn’t do him any favors giving him Dodson in his first UFC fight. In the end, Dodson’s speed and power will be too much for “The Goose.” He will hunt him down and finish him via TKO in the second round.


Start times:

Facebook/YouTube – 6 pm ET

Fox Sports 1 – 8 pm ET

PPV – 10 pm ET

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