Count me among the people that are drinking the Cain Velasquez kool-aid. A former standout wrestler at Arizona State, Cain quickly became a celebrated prospect early into his professional MMA career. Rumors spread quickly about Cain's performance in the gym at American Kickboxing Academy and, by word of mouth, many in the industry became familiar with the name of Cain Velasquez before ever having seen him compete. This 27-year-old fighter has shown an ability to takedown and control opponents on the mat and has also demonstrated some striking ability. Cain did display some vulnerability in his decision win over Cheick Kongo in Germany back in June, being noticeably rattled by some heavy punches that Kongo landed. Let me be clear: I'm not asserting that Cain will go undefeated or dominate the division. He will have slipups along the way. But I do believe that, with the right gameplan, he has the tools and ability to become a world champion in the heavyweight division. I could very well be wrong, though. Saturday should provide an interesting look at how he deals with a competent, tough veteran. Velasquez has a professional record of 6-0 with five wins coming by way of knockout and no wins coming by way of submission. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced so far in his career is 68.5%.
Ben Rothwell has had an eventful career. He has fought on small cards all over the Midwest. He's competed in the now defunct IFL and he's also fought on pay-per-view for Affliction. Now this 36 fight veteran (an impressive amount of fights considering he's only 28-years-old), a guy that has paid his dues, finds himself with an opportunity to not only compete on a UFC pay-per-view event in Los Angeles, but fight just before the main event. And trust me; he doesn't plan on letting some 6-0 prospect spoil this hard earned opportunity. I'm expecting Ben to come into this matchup in the best shape of his career. He's had months to prepare in a real training camp. Ben is a brawler that has fairly heavy hands and throws some nice knees. He's also no slouch on the ground, with nearly a dozen victories by submission to his credit. And you can bet that he's spent the past few months doing nothing but preparing himself to keep this fight standing to try and test the durability of his young opponent. Rothwell has a professional record of 30-6 with seventeen wins coming by way of knockout and eleven wins coming by way of submission. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced so far in his career is, just like Velasquez, 68.5%.
Some observers think that this fight has upset written all over it. It's true that Rothwell is a fairly good heavyweight striker and that Cain might not have as easy a time taking him down if he gets in trouble. Such points are valid. Still, I've got to go with what I see as the probability here. A win here would officially start the "Cain Velasquez for a title shot" campaign. Cain is a very driven athlete and I believe he'll come in more focused than ever on Saturday night. And with Zuffa making business moves to gain visibility for their product in Mexico, you can bet that Velasquez knows the potential financial rewards of continuing to ascend the UFC's heavyweight division. I think we'll see the guys at AKA put together a good gameplan for this one. My prediction: Cain Velasquez by decision.