On May 26 in Las Vegas, Nevada from the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the UFC Heavyweight championship will be on the line when champion and knockout specialist Junior dos Santos looks make his first successful title defense against former champion and submission specialist Frank Mir as the main event for UFC 146. Dos Santos will come into this bout riding a nine fight win streak that includes earning Rnd1 (T)KO stoppage victories over Geronimo dos Santos, elite veteran Fabricio Werdum, young star Stefan Struve, dangerous striker Gilbert Yvel, and former title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga, forcing former PrideFC 2006 Open-Weight Grand Prix champion Mirko Cro-Cop to verbally submit to punches, earning dominant Unanimous Decision wins over resilient heavy hitters Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin, and earning a 64 second Rnd1 KO over then undefeated champion Cain Velasquez to claim the division title. Mir will come into this bout riding a three fight win streak that includes a Rnd3 KO over Mirko Cro-Cop, a Unanimous Decision win over former IFL champion Roy Nelson, and Rnd1 Technical Submission finish over BJJ ace and former PrideFC champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira who is also the BJJ coach and mentor of Dos Santos.
The original bout was supposed to have Dos Santos defend the title against former Strikeforce/Dream/K-1 champion Alistair Overeem, but unfortunately Overeem was pulled from the title bout after failing a random drug test enforced by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Mir was pulled from his co-main event spot against Cain Velasquez on the same card to take Overeem’s place. With this new match-up of Dos Santos vs Mir many analysts look at the bout as a classic striker vs grappler match-up.
(Champion)Dos Santos: Height-6’4”; Reach-77”; Style-striker, Boxing, considered best boxer in Heavyweight division, sprawl & brawl; Notable wins-Fabricio Werdum (UFC debut; underdog to a veteran), Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro-Cop, Gilbert Yvel, Gabriel Gonzaga, Roy Nelson (1st fight to go to a decision and only 2nd fight to go past the first round), Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez (won title)
(Challenger)Mir: Height-6’3”; Reach-79”; Style-Muay Thai/Kickboxing, grappler, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, considered possibly best BJJ practitioner in Heavyweight division and even all of MMA, wrestling; Notable wins-Tim Sylvia (won title), Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 2x (1st to ever earn a stoppage victory over Nogueira via (T)KO and Submission/won interim title in first meeting), Mirko Cro-Cop, Roy Nelson
Stand-Up/Striking: In the stand-up the advantage for many analysts will go the way of Dos Santos, an unsurprising fact seeing his record and reputation. Believed to posses some of the best boxing in the Heavyweight division, Dos Santos is one of the most feared strikers today. For his technique Dos Santos packs so much momentum into a single shot planting himself perfectly and throwing punches with amazing agility. While Mir is primarily known as a grappler, he is no slouch himself when it comes to the stand-up game. With such a threatening BJJ game some opponents have overlooked his striking skill set in the past. One example of such was when credentialed striker Cheick Kongo appeared to show little respect to the striking of Mir, and was then knocked down hard with a single punch early in the first round. Although Mir does pack some power of his own, his defense when his opponent pushes the pace has been questionable. One interesting statistic looking at Mir is the fact that all of his five professional losses have come via form of knockout. Though the reach advantage is only 2” in Mir’s favor, he will need to make the best of that small advantage and try to keep Dos Santos at the end of his reach, but with the speed advantage Dos Santos will likely blow through the small disadvantage reach. Agreeing with many analysts and fans, I will give the advantage to Dos Santos in the stand-up.
Clinch: The clinch game for either fighter will likely be polar opposites. For Dos Santos he will look to pressure Mir against the cage with short punches that have been problematic for him in prior fights. Mir will look to tie up Dos Santos against the cage to pressure him trying to neutralize the striking and drag him down for the takedown. Seen in his last two losses, Mir has been beaten in the clinch by powerful hitters Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, and was in trouble early with Nogueira in their rematch; though Lesnar’s was technically on the ground I still count it as a clinch for this point. Against Carwin and Nogueira, they pinned him against the cage and started picking him apart with powerful dirty boxing, with Carwin earning the Rnd1 KO and was nearly knocked out by Nogueira. Training with Nogueira and watching prior fight footage including the Carwin fight, Dos Santos will undoubtedly include the clinch against the cage in his game plan. With this hole in his game clearly visible, Mir will look smother Dos Santos up close with a full body clinch and specifically want to tie him up with overhooks to isolate his arms, whereas underhooks could still leave him open to short shots that still pack knockout power. If he cannot score the takedown, Mir will need to at least do what he can to drain Dos Santos’ cardio imposing his will on him. With both competitors looking to utilize opposing game plans, I will see the advantage between the two competitors as even in the clinch.
Grappling: Opposite to the striking advantage, analysts and fans are undoubtedly giving the advantage on the ground to Mir. As Dos Santos is recognized as possibly the most feared striker in the division, Mir has earned the title of most feared grappler in the division following his shocking submission victory over Nogueira. Comparing the levels of both competitors, Mir holds the rank of black belt in BJJ awarded to him by 4th degree black belt Ricardo Pires, and Dos Santos holds the rank of brown belt under the tutelage of 3rd degree black belt Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. With rank and experience alone Mir stands superior to Dos Santos in the grappling aspect of the fight. Under his father’s suggestion Mir wrestled in high school so that he could learn how to avoid submissions after taking an interest in BJJ. After being bested by more credentialed and stronger wrestlers in previous bouts he has focused on improving his own wrestling game in recent years and putting on muscle to take on the new breed of “super-heavyweights”. Being a striker Dos Santos made it an objective to ensure he could defend the takedowns of strong wrestlers and grapplers in the division and has been successful rarely being taken down and getting back to his feet quickly when he is. As seen in his preparation for his last fight against Velasquez for the title, Dos Santos has been bringing in elite wrestlers to his camp in Brazil and thwarted many of their attempts to take him down as well. Should the fight hit the ground, Dos Santos may be less inclined to scramble for the stand-up as quickly as he has done previously. Against an elite submission grappler like Mir that is known to capitalize on even a small opening, it may be best for Dos Santos first focusing on collecting himself and be fully aware of even the smallest movements either he or Mir makes. Having improved both his offensive and defensive wrestling, and being one of the most elite BJJ practitioners in the division, I will agree with analysts and give the advantage to Mir when grappling.
X-Factor=Cardio: An x-factor for this bout could be who can maintain a constant pace in this fight. Being a Heavyweight bout, fighters in this division are notorious for gassing out even in the second round of an average bout scheduled for three rounds. In a bout scheduled for five rounds contested for the division title, cardio may be deciding factor in this match-up. Originally training to take on a championship level kickboxer in Alistair Overeem, it is no doubt that physical endurance was a key aspect of training with many analysts not even expecting the fight to reach the third round. This is in contrast to Mir who was originally slated to fight fellow former champion Cain Velasquez in the card’s co-main event, an opponent notorious for possessing an unbelievable amount of cardiovascular endurance as a Heavyweight able to go the full distance without tiring. Having already implemented a strong training regimen that involved preparing his cardio to take on that of Velasquez’s, Mir may be more prepared to go the distance in this title bout that the champion. Seen in three bouts that have gone past the first round and to a judges’ decision, Dos Santos has showed some questionable cardio. With one-punch knockout power Dos Santos is sometimes even surprised to see that some did not go down as easily as others have. When he fought Roy Nelson at UFC 117 Dos Santos landed powerful shots repeatedly to the head that had made quick work of all previous opponents but one in Mirko Cro-Cop who lasted till verbally submitting in the third round. Visibly going into the third round Dos Santos was tiring and was even leaving himself open to some powerful shots from Nelson at times. When he fought Shane Carwin at UFC 131 Dos Santos was on the verge of finishing the fight late in the first round landing rapid powerful short punches against the cage. Dos Santos landed so many power shots that he even yelled to the referee to stop the fight, not for Carwin but instead because he was tiring himself out landing so many shots that were taking a lot of energy. Even after winding himself at the end of the first Dos Santos still was the fresher fighter in the following rounds beating Carwin to the punch repeatedly, but showed that his intent for earning the finish could work against him when fighting an opponent that is capable of enduring even his power. With a head start on prepping for a cardio taxing fight and more experience in managing his own output, I will give the edge in this x-factor to Mir.
Written by @MMAFanHQ