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Take Five:

Ultimate Fighting Championship

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Sam Morris

James Irvin unwinds after a media workout event this week in advance of his UFC light heavyweight bout tonight against Anderson Silva at the Palms.

UFC Preview

Anderson Silva, left, grapples with sparring partner Rafael Custodio Thursday, July 17 before his light heavyweight fight against James Irvin in their UFC bout at the Palms on Saturday. Launch slideshow »

Silva vs. Irvin Preview

Saturday night at The Pearl at The Palms Casino Resort, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva jumps up a weight class to fight James Irvin. Here is a preview of the fight.

Sun Special Coverage

1. Showcase night

When you think of counterprogramming, you think of stunts such as the Lingerie Bowl, so it’s easy to see why the UFC is avoiding that term. But this edition of UFC Fight Night at the Palms, to air on regular cable TV, does have some competition on a big night for MMA: a $39.95 pay-per-view event presented by upstart Affliction from Anaheim, Calif., featuring Fedor Emelianenko vs. Tim Sylvia in a heavyweight main event. The promotional push behind that card has been so strong that even Donald Trump, who owns a chunk of the company, was talking it up on Howard Stern’s radio show this week.

2. Main man

Tonight’s show at the Pearl can be viewed as a star vehicle for Anderson Silva, and with good reason: the Brazilian jujitsu and Muay Thai expert has proved himself to be one of the most talented MMA fighters in any weight class. The reigning UFC middleweight champion who has done most of his damage at 185 pounds, Silva moves up to light heavyweight for the first time to face James Irvin. His motivation, Silva said, comes from pursuing the biggest fights possible in either weight class rather than immediately chasing a championship belt at 205.

3. The challenger

Irvin gained acclaim by knocking out Houston Alexander eight seconds into the first round of a fight in April, tying the UFC record for quickest knockout. He sees the fight against Silva as a win-win situation, and he has a point: An upset victory would stand as perhaps the most significant of the year in the sport, and a good showing in defeat should ensure a chance at any number of future attractive matchups at light heavyweight. Irvin’s best hope is that Silva will lose a modicum of speed as he steps up in weight.

4. Co-features

The unbeaten Cain Velasquez, hailed as a potential force in the heavyweight division, meets Jake O’Brien in a clash of former college wrestling standouts. O’Brien is coming off a stoppage by former champ Andrei Arlovski, who coincidentally fights on the Anaheim card tonight. Brandon Vera steps down from the heavyweight division to face Reese Andy, but it’s uncertain how long he’ll stay at 205, as Vera undoubtedly wants another shot at Fabricio Werdum after losing by first-round TKO last month.

5. Betting odds

Silva is heavily favored to prevail against Irvin at minus-600 (risk $6 to win $1), up from an opening line of minus-550, with a takeback on the underdog of plus-450 (risk $1 to net $4.50 on Irvin). Johnson is favored at minus-300 against Burns (plus-230). In a competitively priced match, Edgar is minus-140 against Franca (plus-110). Vera is minus-500 against Andy (plus-400), and Johnson is minus-300 against Burns (plus-250). By the way, on that other card to the south and west, Emelianenko is about a minus-500 favorite to beat Sylvia.

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