The wait is finally over.
UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez returns to action for the first time in 20 months on Saturday, June 13, set to headline the UFC 188 main event. Coming off a pair of injuries to his shoulder and knee, Velasquez will attempt to unify the promotional title against interim champion Fabricio Werdum at Mexico City's Arena Ciudad de México.
Velasquez (13-1, 11-1 UFC) has long been regarded as one of the greatest to ever enter the Octagon. An All-American wrestler with tremendous cardio and athleticism, Velasquez first captured the UFC title in 2010. And after briefly losing the belt a year later, he has rattled off four-straight victories, most recently stopping Junior Dos Santos at UFC 166.
An equally decorated mixed martial artist, Werdum (19-5-1, 7-2 UFC) is in the midst of a five-fight win streak, and enters Saturday's contest after claiming the interim title against Mark Hunt at UFC 180. Werdum's strength has always been on the ground; he is considered one of the finest heavyweight practitioners of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and owns a notable victory over another all-time great, Fedor Emelianenko.
A matchup seven months in the making, after Velasquez was forced from the original November 2014 date, this contest has all the potential to be a classic. And while Werdum has shown phenomenal improvements on the feet and in the striking game, Velasquez's pace will prove to be too much. Look for Velasquez to score the TKO victory in the third round.
Co-main event: Gilbert Melendez vs. Eddie Alvarez
Another long-awaited matchup, the heated rivalry between Gilbert Melendez (22-4, 1-2 UFC) and Eddie Alvarez (25-4, 0-1 UFC) dates back to before the pair was even in the UFC.
Former lightweight champions with the Strikeforce and Bellator promotions, respectively, Melendez and Alvarez have had their eyes on each other for years. And after Alvarez finally signed with the UFC in 2014, the bout finally became a possibility.
For Melendez, his tenure inside the Octagon has been tenuous. Most recently losing his second crack at the title, at UFC 181, Melendez has struggled to find his top form, which relies on forward movement, boxing, and defensive wrestling against the cage wall.
An equally adept boxer, Alvarez possesses the stronger submission game of the two, but in his last outing, a loss at UFC 178, he appeared timid and unable to tie up the action.
Expect an action packed contest between these two, perhaps even the evening's Fight of the Night. And after three rounds, look for Melendez to take the decision.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Nate Marquardt
Last time the UFC went to Mexico City, Kelvin Gastelum (10-1, 5-1 UFC) turned in one of the top performances of the event, catapulting into the welterweight top-10 after his first-round rear-naked choke of Jake Ellenberger. But fast-forward seven months, and Gastelum is back fighting at 185 pounds, following a failed weigh in and split decision loss to Tyron Woodley at UFC 183.
His opponent, Nate Marquardt (33-14-2, 11-7 UFC), knows a thing or two about moving between weight classes. A former welterweight champion under the Strikeforce banner, Marquardt returned to middleweight a year ago and has gone 1-1 since. But in his most recent outing, a loss at UFC 182, Marquardt showed an inability to keep pace with younger and faster athletes.
Gastelum takes this one by decision on account of constant forward pressure.
Yair Rodriguez vs. Charles Rosa
A battle of striker versus grappler, this featherweight contest pits The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America winner Yair Rodriguez (4-1, 1-0 UFC) against Charles Rosa (10-1, 1-1 UFC), who fights out of Coconut Creek, Florida's American Top Team.
Rodriguez, a black belt in Taekwondo, is the lone Mexican national fighting on the UFC 188 main card. But he faces his toughest opponent to date in Rosa, who has finished all 10 of his professional victories, seven coming by way of submission.
And while Rodriguez will have the home crowd in his favor, Rosa will be too much, taking the bout by submission.
Tecia Torres vs. Angela Hill
Teammates on the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, Tecia Torres (5-0, 1-0 UFC) and Angela Hill (2-0, 1-0 UFC) represent two of the more promising talents in the women's strawweight division, especially in the striking department, where they both excel.
The more experienced of the two, Torres owns an impressive resume thus far, having already topped the highly touted Paige VanZant, Felice Herrig, and former title challenger Rose Namjunas. Torres relies on her karate background, keeping opponents moving backward and second guessing.
Hill, who comes from a kickboxing background, is an equally tricky fighter to time and counter. But her lack of experience in the ground game will play a major role in the fight.
Torres takes the decision.