UFC 146: Junior dos Santos v. Frank Mir
The UFC 146 main card on May 26th originally had five heavyweight fights slated. One failed drug test and several injuries resulted in every one of those matches being retooled. The heavyweight belt is now being contested between champion Junior ‘Cigano’ dos Santos (14-1), one of the most talented boxers the UFC has ever seen, and Frank Mir (16-5), a two-time HW champion and submission wizard. Both men possess oodles of character.
The challenger won his first UFC HW belt in 2004 by snapping the arm of 6’8” Tim Sylvia. With his winnings, Mir bought a crotch rocket and got T-boned at an intersection while spinning about Las Vegas. He broke his femur, nearly died, and spent a year and a half hooked on pain killers and alcohol. A gutsy wife and a serious gut check got him out of that tail spin.
Mir’s reentrance into the UFC was not anything to write home about. Especially frustrating was his KO loss to Brandon Vera, a capable fighter but one who had to drop to light heavyweight in order to continue a mediocre career. Mir stuck with it though, and since then has won many impressive fights, including becoming the first to finish Big Nog, twice (a KO and a submission), and finishes against Mirko Cro Cop and Cheik Kongo. Mir has travelled light years in his stand-up, a product of considering the fight game a lifestyle rather than a way of earning a living.
Like many Brazilian fighters and champions, Junior emerged from the kind of poverty we in Canada have difficulty imagining. In person, dos Santos comes off as the kind of guy you’d want in a crisis, a person who puts character and credibility first, a man who has seen the lowest of the lows, and has used his ascendancy not only to benefit him and his family, but to pay it forward through his efforts in the favelas (Brazilian slums).
I wrote more than two years ago that Junior has the best hands in the UFC---no small compliment with fighter’s like BJ Penn. Mixed martial artists need to train in multiple disciplines and so few possess world class boxing, but Cigano comes as close as you can get. He uses BJJ and wrestling to keep the fight standing, where his prowess is more than obvious. While Mir and others consider JdS one-dimensional, this is delusional. Like Cigano, Chuck Liddell also used high-level grappling to keep the fight standing, where he dominated for years. Few could get and keep Liddell down, and no one yet has taken and kept dos Santos on the mat.
Pundits say if Mir can’t get the fight to the ground, he doesn’t stand a chance. Mir counters by saying if dos Santos can’t keep the fight standing, the Brazilian doesn’t stand a chance. It’s safe to bet that both statements are true. Till MIr broke Big Nog’s arm, Nog was considered the HW division’s most accomplished and dangerous submission specialist. No more. Despite Cigano’s skills on the ground, and mentorship under Big Nog, he’d better stay off the mat.
Mir, however, is not a takedown specialist. He performs like no one else when rolling, but he needs either to clip an opponent on the jaw to put him down, or coax them to shoot in on him. Cigano is simply too fast on his feet for Mir to nail him down. The fight with Big Nog went to the ground when Mir was staggered by a combo and shot in, and Big Nog was more than willing to grapple with Mir. Junior won't make that mistake. In addition, Mir of late has shown a predilection to wobbliness when hit cleanly, and Cigano will hit him cleanly.
Frank Mir is a cerebral fighter with unequalled experience and extremely varied and high-level skills standing and on the mat, but he will not get the fight down against a fighter with Cigano’s footwork, athleticism, and heavy hands. Dos Santos will defend his belt successfully via KO in round one.
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