Q & Anik is an article featured exclusively at MMAOddsBreaker.com that goes five rounds with UFC commentator Jon Anik offering his betting tips and picks on some of the biggest UFC cards of the year. 1st Round Q: Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez has arguably the best conditioning of any fighter in any division in the UFC, but are there any concerns with the long layoff (almost two years) and recovery from knee surgery heading into his title fight with interim champ Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188? Anik: This is obviously a particularly long layoff. Anytime you’re looking at nearly two years out of the Octagon, I think to dismiss it as a factor would be ignorant. The last time I talked to Cain Velasquez, he told me that as he gets older – he’ll be 33 next month – the major difference he notices is that he has to start his training a couple weeks earlier, he has to start his cardio routine a couple weeks earlier than maybe he did when he was 25 years old. So in one breath you might say that bodes well for the rest of the division because here is this guy who is starting to feel his age a little bit. Or you can look at it the other way, the way I look at it…that it’s downright scary for the rest of this division that this guy is starting his cardio routine a couple weeks earlier, and he’s already a monster in that department. I actually think the layoff could work to his benefit, just based upon his style and the way he fights. Obviously, he’s a very powerful guy, but the way he grinds you out and just the way he goes about neutralizing, eroding and weakening opponents, I don’t really feel like the layoff’s a big issue. I would also point to the fact that he hasn’t been the most active fighter really ever since he made his UFC debut. He only fought once in 2011, hasn’t fought three times in a year since 2010, almost five years ago. You look at this guy, his third pro fight was in the UFC in 2008, he’s only fought 14 times in essentially almost a decade. This has not been a very active champion. I think we’ll know pretty early on if there’s any rust, and Cain’s got 25 minutes in which to shake it off. 2nd Round Q: Werdum is a unique heavyweight as a two-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion and earned the interim title with five straight wins in the UFC, but do you think he is truly the No. 1 contender right now, and where does he have an edge in this title fight? Anik: I don’t think he kicks as hard, but I think he probably has more depth to his striking arsenal, certainly his offensive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is better than Cain Velasquez’s is. But I think the big challenge is trying to actually employ it because Cain Velasquez’s submission defense is outstanding, and he just is so adept at not putting himself into bad situations. But he is the interim champ, he is definitely the No. 1 contender. This is the fight to make in the heavyweight division. I think the Cain Velasquez-Stipe Miocic fight is a close second in terms of fights in the heavyweight division right now that people really want to see. The book on Werdum really has been that when he is motivated – as he was for Travis Browne and as he was for this first meeting with Cain Velasquez (which didn’t materialize) – so goes his performance. And both of his last two performances have been outstanding. People point to the Travis Browne fight, a fight that few expected him to win, just the fact that he was able to maintain that type of pace and pressure and out-strike Browne over 25 minutes was really just an incredible feat. I think when you look at the body of work, this is sort of a criminally underappreciated heavyweight, Hall of Fame-type resume. Werdum’s skills have improved tremendously under Rafael Cordeiro, there’s no denying that he is a poster boy, in a lot of respects, for the evolving mixed martial artist. There were times when he was sort of middling in his career when you wondered if he’d ever put it all together. Then he really did put it all together, but he was much more motivated I think for the Browne and Hunt fights than he was for the (Antonio Rodrigo) Nogueira fight. His preparation I think dovetails with his performance, and clearly for this fight, he knows what type of shape he needs to be in. As I said on our podcast this week, when you’re training for Cain Velasquez, it’s almost like you’re training for Hell Week as if you’re pledging a fraternity. You just have to put your body in position to just deal with the storm and withstand adversity as much as humanly possible. I have no doubt that if Werdum can keep himself in the fight with his cardio and his conditioning that at some point, his skills will have a chance to take over. From a betting standpoint, I feel like if you’re getting Werdum north of +400, I see value there. But just don’t be disappointed if a minute in, Werdum is already in a compromising spot because of the pressure that Cain Velasquez puts on you and how debilitated he makes you feel. One other thing I will say, I think heart is the No. 1 factor for Fabricio Werdum. If he’s truly desperate, and willing to be in harm’s way and deal with the firefight and try to rally through it. I really think he’s got an opportunity to come through and let his skills take over. But he’s got to be desperate. Anthony Johnson recently against Daniel Cormier, he just wasn’t desperate when the going got tough. If Fabricio wants it as badly as I think he does, we could be in for an outstanding fight that potentially goes into the championship rounds. 3rd Round Q: Gilbert Melendez vs. Eddie Alvarez is also a high-profile lightweight matchup in the co-main event between two top contenders and former champs in other MMA organizations. Melendez has already had two title fights in his first three UFC bouts – losing both – while Alvarez dropped his UFC debut against Donald Cerrone late last year. In what would have been a much bigger fight years ago, who do you like? Anik: At least on paper, in terms of the name recognition and overall value of the fight, this is about as big a lightweight fight as we can put on, with respect to the champion (Rafael) dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson. It’s interesting, we talked to Gilbert Melendez this week on the podcast…11 of his last 12 fights have been scheduled for five rounds with a belt on the line. It is so liberating for him to be able to just train for a 15-minute fight. Now I think in some respects you saw some of the pitfalls of a three-rounder in the fight against Diego Sanchez. Gil is just a true fighter, and I think the Sanchez fight is a cautionary tale of what he’s got to be careful to avoid against Eddie Alvarez. Because Alvarez has some of the best hands in the division, and he so badly wants to sort of stamp what has been a great legacy outside the Octagon with some UFC success, which he has yet to realize. This is about as big a spot as Eddie Alvarez has ever had. Unfortunately, I just don’t love the matchup for him. I think Gilbert Melendez has made a career of taking guys out of their game and just making them look really bad on Fight Night. He’s not a guy that “wows” you with technical brilliance or sheer power, necessarily. He’s just so smart and sound everywhere, and his ability to take the fight to his strong areas is really exceptional. I think if he really kills Eddie with pressure and just makes it a dirty, ugly, tiring clinch fight, I really think it’s his fight to lose. As far as Alvarez is concerned, I guess the big issue for me is the inactivity. He’s fought twice since 2012, and I think some of that lack of action really showed up against Donald Cerrone. He’s dealt with some adversity in his family life, he’s moved his family back to Philadelphia, and now he’s going down to Boca Raton to do 10-week training camps with the Blackzilians. He’s living in a fighter house there. All of that I think is a good thing in terms of his preparation, but all of this stuff has resulted in him competing just once in 2014, just once in 2013. Now here he is, making his first appearance of the year six months in. I don’t love having to fight Gilbert Melendez without being in regular competition, so that gives me pause when it comes to Eddie Alvarez. Now if Gilbert does trade with him on a napkin in the center of the Octagon, I think Eddie has a great chance to knock him out. But I think Gilbert’s too smart for that and just too well-rounded a mixed martial artist to fall into that trap. I think he learned a valuable lesson being finished for the first time in his career against Anthony Pettis. I see value on Gilbert Melendez, and I feel there is more value after talking to him here during Fight Week. He just seems to be in a tremendous place with his confidence. He is renowned for putting together great training camps. And this is a fight that he initially called for five years ago. He – not Eddie – has been the driving force behind this matchup, and I’ve just got to think you call a guy out enough, it’s because you really think the matchup favors you. I do think the matchup favors Gil. The only thing that gives me pause with Melendez is that he might just try to put on a show, his dad was raised in Tijuana, he really expects to have the crowd behind him. I think he could get caught up in the moment similarly to the Diego Sanchez fight, but short of that, I really do like him at that number. 4th Round Q: Speaking more about the venue, how would you describe it, and what other fighter(s) on the card do you believe will benefit the most from being in Mexico City for this event from a motivational perspective? Anik: It’s sold out…I haven’t been there but have heard, aesthetically, it’s an unbelievable venue, and it’s going to be a crazy show for sure. It’s just nice that they’ve been able to sell out after just being there recently for UFC 180…now for UFC 188 – eight Pay-Per-Views later – we can still bang out the place. That tells you all you need to know about how ripe the market is. I really think the crowd and atmosphere buoyed Kelvin Gastelum back at UFC 180 when he submitted Jake Ellenberger. That crowd went nuts for him and crazy for Ricardo Lamas, too. For Gastelum, he’s a guy who we have featured in this market and not by accident. And now for him moving up to 185 pounds, albeit reluctantly, he wants to fight at welterweight but clearly he’s proven that he can’t make the weight consistently enough. So now fighting at 185 pounds, where I think he’s going to be stronger and faster and fighting a guy in Nate Marquardt who is in the twilight of his career, coming off a loss to Brad Tavares where I think for the first time, he looked old to me. I think this matchup is custom-made for Kelvin Gastelum, and especially because it’s happening at 185 pounds, I like him to really take advantage of the spotlight and opportunity here. I think he’s worthwhile to throw into any parlays and probably see him as the real lock on the fight card. I think Gastelum looks at this matchup in Mexico City and feels like out-pointing Nate Marquardt at this stage of their careers maybe isn’t enough. I really like Gastelum to get it done inside the distance. 5th Round Q: Last but certainly least, who is your best underdog play for UFC 188 and why? Anik: I have not been super impressed with Cathal Pendred to this point in the UFC, but I see some value on him. In some respects, he has ridden Conor McGregor’s coattails. Obviously, his fight against Sean Spencer in Boston earlier this year, a lot of people look at it as one of the more baffling decisions we’ve seen in recent UFC history. But I was really impressed with his heart and physical strength in coming back against Mike King in his UFC debut. When I look at these lines, very rarely do I get the favorite and the underdog wrong. I thought Pendred, because he has slightly more UFC experience and is the bigger, stronger guy, would be the favorite here against Augusto Montano. Montano has power and will have the crowd. But when I saw Pendred at +140, I saw immediate value, especially given how motivated he’ll be after the (criticized) win over Sean Spencer. Disclaimer: Mr. Anik is contractually prevented from wagering on UFC events. His betting tips and picks posted here are for information and entertainment purposes only.