The Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title is up for grabs this Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and in addition to vying for the distinction of "world's baddest man," challenger Antonio "Big Foot" Silva will be fighting to ensure the lasting relevance of the promotion's marquee division when he enters the octagon to face champion Cain Velasquez in the UFC 160 main event.
While the UFC has seen an increase in events in 2013, adding network broadcasts to their stable of Pay Per View fight cards, the promotion has staggered of late, as a lack of viable competition in the welterweight, middleweight, and light heavyweight classes, for longtime titleholders Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, and Jon Jones, has the world's number one MMA organization scrambling for new blood atop its ranks.
There is fear that the heavyweight division will soon fall prey to a similar monotony under the rule of current strap holder Velasquez, adding significance the May 25 headlining bout.
Velasquez and Silva previously met inside the octagon a year ago in a non-title fight, with the now-champion easily dismissing "Big Foot" at 3:36 of the first round, bloodying the Brazilian with a vicious ground-and-pound assault.
Since their previous matchup at UFC 146, however, both Velazquez and Silva have returned to winning form, with Cain reclaiming the heavyweight belt from Junior dos Santos in December, and Silva scoring a pair of knockouts over Travis Browne and Alistair Overeem, re-invigorating their rivalry. Still, this fight seems to heavily favor the champion, whose conditioning and wrestling base allow him to dictate the pace.
Silva backers will point out that the previous fight was his first with the UFC, and that many fighters experience anxiety and nerves in their promotional debuts, but despite his recent winning streak and improved striking, Silva will still need to find a cure for Velasquez's wrestling prowess.
The edge in this one goes to the champion, who's seeking his first ever title defense, and if "Big Foot" is unable to unseat Velasquez on Saturday night, the future of the heavyweight division looks bleak, with no other strong contenders to challenge the dominant Cain.
Let's now takes a look at the rest of the UFC 160 main card...
Co-main event: Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt
Brazilian dos Santos, a boxing specialist, is the former heavyweight kingpin and on the short list to challenge Velasquez for the title, but before he earns another crack at promotional gold, he will have to prove himself against New Zealand import Hunt.
Riding a four-fight win streak coming into UFC 160, Hunt is conceding a six-inch height and three-inch reach advantage to dos Santos, who also possesses superior Jiu Jitsu skills. Hunt has fought, and beaten, taller fighters, including the 6'11" Stefan Struve, who he bludgeoned with punches so punishing that they broke the Dutchman's jaw, but dos Santos is of a higher caliber than any athlete Hunt has previously faced.
Adding drama to the matchup are Hunt's recent visa woes -- he was only granted entry to the U.S. on Sunday -- meaning that he will have less than a week to adjust to Pacific Standard Time.
This fight favors the more well-rounded dos Santos, setting the stage for a third installment in his rivalry with Velasquez, but after suffering a demolishing unanimous decision loss at UFC 155, would Velasquez vs. dos Santos III even be close?
Glover Teixeira vs. James Te Huna
Another Brazil versus New Zealand matchup, this light heavyweight contest pits Chuck Liddell protégé Teixeira against Kiwi takedown artist Te Huna.
While Te Huna concedes only an inch in height to the fourth-ranked Teixeira, the Brazilian, who is 3-0 inside the octagon, possesses a more well-rounded skill set, and is likely to take this one either by submission or on account of his lethal right hand.
A win would propel Teixeira near the top of the list for a title shot against current light heavyweight champ Jon Jones.
Gray Maynard vs. T.J. Grant
The second most interesting fight on the UFC 160 card after the main event is the lightweight title eliminator between wrestling specialist Maynard and Grant, who is 4-0 since dropping down to 155 pounds.
Third-ranked Maynard, whose only professional loss came in a 2011 title fight against former champion Frankie Edgar, last saw action in June 2012, and is coming off a knee injury and surgery that forced him to withdraw from UFC 155.
Cage rust could be an issue for Maynard against fifth-ranked Grant, who possesses a superior submission game, but expect "The Bully" to land takedowns and the occasional elbow before laying and praying en route to a decision win.
Donald Cerrone vs. K.J. Noons
Despite suffering a first round knockout-loss to Anthony Pettis in his last appearance inside the octagon, "Cowboy" Cerrone remains one of the more spectacular athletes in the lightweight division.
A fan favorite with excellent submission skills, the sixth-ranked Cerrone will look to return to winning form against Strikeforce import K.J. Noons, who is making his promotional debut.
With eight of his 11 career wins coming by KO / TKO, Noons hopes to score his first UFC win, while ending a current two-fight skid, but Cerrone will prove to be too lofty a challenge.
Best of the undercard
Russian lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov looks to improve his professional MMA record to 20-0 when he squares off against Abel Trujillo. Nurmagomedov, a Sambo specialist, was last seen TKOing Brazilian Thiago Tavares at UFC on FX 7 in January, and a win would propel him into the divisional top ten.
Featherweight Dennis "The Menace" Bermudez is 3-0 inside the octagon since tapping out against Diego Brandao in the Ultimate Fighter Season 14 finale, and coming off his most recent "Fight of the Night" performance at UFC 157, he looks to run his win streak to four against 21-year-old Hawaiian Max Holloway. The winner of this fight will most certainly crack the top ten at 145 pounds.
Back in February, welterweight Nah-Shon Burrell embarrassingly failed to make weight for his UFC debut, conceding part of his purse to opponent Yuri Villefort, whom he defeated via unanimous decision. Burrell now returns for his second appearance in the octagon, taking on Stephen Thompson. Will Nah-Shon make 170 pounds? He better, because given the UFC's recent mass layoffs it already appears that he's receiving preferential treatment after his last showing.