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UFC 160: Prelude to trilogy blockbuster?

The SportsXchange

If all goes according to plan, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will emerge from Saturday night's event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas with a blockbuster trilogy fight between its past two heavyweight champions: Current titleholder Cain Velasquez and former champ Junior dos Santos.

Of course, plans don't often neatly unfold in a sport as unpredictable as mixed martial arts, which adds intrigue to the double bill atop UFC 160. Velasquez defends his title against gargantuan Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in the main event; dos Santos, in his first fight since losing the belt to Velasquez in December, tangles with popular New Zealand brawler Mark Hunt in the co-feature bout.

At first glance, Velasquez vs. Silva is an odd choice. Last Memorial Day weekend in the same MGM Grand ring, Velasquez handed Silva one of 2012's most visceral beatdowns in a first-round TKO.

But Silva worked his way back into title contention, handing Travis Browne his first career loss in October, then delivering a devastating knockout of Alistair Overeem in February. And Velasquez (12-1) knows that no matter what happened last time, he has to respect his opponent's power.

"This is a whole new fight," said Velasquez. "Obviously we saw what ‘Bigfoot' can do in his past two fights. You can't take him lightly, he is a tough competitor."

For his part, Silva (18-4), a Brazilian now based in South Florida, clearly relishes his role as a spoiler. His third-round TKO of Overeem knocked Overeem from an expected title shot, and he hopes to carry the mojo into Saturday's fight.

"I like when people underestimate me," Silva said. "It's nice. I get to go out there and I get to show them wrong. There are no superheroes in this sport, nobody is invincible."

The big question for dos Santos (15-2) is how he responds from the worst defeat of his career. The Salvador, Brazil, native took a shellacking from Velasquez at UFC 155, but was never put away, as he stayed on his feet for the bulk of his fight and took everything Velasquez could dish out over five rounds.

It was a stunning reversal from the first fight between the two in Nov. 2011, in which Dos Santos tagged Velasquez with the first big blow of the fight and finished him in just 64 seconds to take the title. But for now, dos Santos doesn't want to think about Velasquez.

"Right now I'm focused on my fight against Mark Hunt," dos Santos said. "Mark Hunt is my next opponent, Mark Hunt is the guy I need to be focused on. It will be great to have a title shot again if I beat Mark Hunt, but it's not what I'm thinking about now."

The former champion's chin will be tested by Hunt. A slugger popular for his involvement in wild fights, win or lose, the 39-year old South Auckland native known as "The Super Samoan" carries a four-fight win streak into the bout, three of which have come by knockout.

Hunt was involved in a layer of intrigue leading up to fight week, as an unspecified 2002 legal issue delayed his entry into the United States. But Hunt is in Las Vegas and is ready to fight.

Like Silva, Hunt relishes a chance to play the spoiler. "If I can beat Junior it should put me into the No. 1 spot," said Hunt (9-7). "I don't see a reason why it wouldn't."

Regardless of how things pan out Saturday night, at least one half of the Velasquez-dos Santos duo anticipates further fights between the two.

"I'm sure Cain and I are going to fight each other many times throughout our careers," said dos Santos. "There are still going to be a lot of dos Santos-Velasquez and Velasquez-dos Santos fights because we are both at another level."
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