For the first time since mixed martial arts was in its infancy the Ultimate Fighting Championship presents a pay-per-view main card stacked from top-to-bottom with ten herculean, power-punching heavyweight goliaths.
The fight receiving top billing is Brazilian powerhouse Junior dos Santos in his maiden title defense against former two-time title carrier Frank Mir.
The UFC heavyweight championship has had 17 owners in the organization’s history and has had a ‘hot potato’ effect in recent times with pro wrestler turned MMA fighter turned pro wrestler Brock Lesnar being the last man to successfully defend it – Frank Mir will look to continue that trend.
Mir joined this sport in the early shades of the millennium – He grabbed eyeballs immediately being big, strong, and quick with great submission chops, within four months he was locked in on a contract with the UFC who had recently been purchased by Zuffa, LLC.
He got his first taste of championship gold in 2004 snapping the 16 fight unbeaten streak, as well as the forearm of Tim Sylvia but tragedy struck before he could defend it he suffered a career-threatening injury in a motorcycle accident.
The 33-year-old collided with a car and flew 90 feet through the air and landed on his head – He broke his femur and tore every ligament in his knee. As a result of being inactive for 21 months he was stripped of his title and most thought he would never reach the same level after his traumatic experience.
The Nevada-native’s career was revitalized and plucked from purgatory when he was paired with Brock Lesnar, spoiling the ex-wrestler’s coming out party with his kneebar submission hold which lead to their highly publicized rematch in the landmark 100th pay-per-view event in UFC’s history.
Over the past two years he has collected victories in his past three trips to the eight-sided cage, most recently breaking the arm of dos Santos’ hero and mentor Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira thus making him the first to knock the Brazilian out in 2008 and the first to submit him too.
Junior dos Santos is a special product – Six years ago he did no martial arts, now the Black House standout is the heavyweight champion of the world. In 2008 he made his UFC debut against submission magician Fabricio Werdum and wasted no time making an impact defeating Werdum at 1:21 of the first round en route to earning a nice $65,000 knockout of the night bonus.
This trend has continued with all of his opponents to date whether they were stopped early or survived to the final bell, he has looked impressive each time we have seen him.
In November the UFC made their debut on the FOX network by presenting a heavyweight title fight between the heavy handed Brazilian and consensus top-ranked heavyweight Cain Velasquez. They planned to hit their entire new audience bang on the jaw with their title fight but 64-seconds can’t have been what they had in mind.
When the challenger stepped into the cage that night in the Honda Center in Anaheim, California the friendly giant persona disappeared and an ice-cold killer emerged. After a brief feeling out process he connected with an overhand right that signaled the end of the Velasquez era.
It’s a tired cliché but every fight starts on the feet so let’s take a look at the striking regiment of both men heading into their main event clash for all the marbles at 265-pounds – Mir isn’t going to be releasing any kickboxing instructionals anytime soon but he is a good striker having finished Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and K-1 star Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.
The Kenpo Karate black belt likes to use his lanky frame keeping his jab active with the addition of leg kicks as he looks to either tie up his opponents in the clinch so he can punish their body with knees or take this fight to the mat.
But make no mistake about it Mir knows that he doesn’t want to be in a fire fight with this Brazilian bomber – In the striking department nobody has even come close to showing up dos Santos with crisp, technical boxing with the strength of a thousand bricks on his hand.
When Mir recently locked horns with dos Santos’ idol “Minotaro” Nogueira the Brazilian was getting the better of Mir on the feet so a younger, more explosive version of that fighter might put the former champion to sleep if given half a chance.
For that reason alone, Mir is going to be looking to take the Brazilian champion off his feet but he has only left his feet once in his career against NCAA Division II wrestler Shane Carwin and he wasn’t able to keep him down for longer than a minute.
Mir doesn’t have world-class wrestling credentials but he has been wrestling since the late-nineties and has shown an ability to really pressure his opponents to get the takedown or trip them from the clinch to get the fight into his wheelhouse.
If this bout is to hit the mat it opens up a whole new world of possibilities since dos Santos’ mat game has been something combatants have been looking to exploit for a long time due to his barely seen grappling abilities but a brown-belt under the Nogueira brothers, two of the best grapplers in the game would make most second guess that, but Mir isn’t one of them.
If this fight spends more than a millisecond on the mat there is a very real possibility that Frank Mir could tip over the champ’s apple cart – Learning the game from Abu Dhabi Combat Club champ Robert Drysdale he has collected more submissions than anyone else in UFC history with eight men forced to submit when he applies pressure and torques on a limb.
When “Cigano” walks to the cage this Saturday night in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Mir’s backyard all the pressure will be on his shoulders for his first title defense – Even great champions and future Hall of Famers like George St-Pierre and Randy Couture have stumbled on their first title defenses.
Not to mention, with Mir stepping in as a late replacement for former Strikeforce and K-1 champion Alistair Overeem both fans and media personnel alike expect him to make short work of the submission stylist.
Mir is a man that has seen it all and done it all in this industry who will come prepared and ready to tackle the seemingly unbeatable puzzle that is the champion but one wrong move or moment of hesitation and the jiu-jitsu back belt will have a fresh limb and another title on his mantle.
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