(again, cross posted from HKL)
With the advent of Crocop filling in for the Nogueira against Frank Mir in the main event of UFC 119, we're suddenly faced with another situation where Mirko has a chance to campaign for HW gold. A surprisingly brilliant matchup, made by happenstance, both men are faced with an opportunity to break back into the top of the division, and potentially vaulting themselves into a #1 contender fight, perhaps against Carwin or the loser of Brock/ Cain.
So- here's the million dollar question- can Crocop do it? Following his legendary career peak at the 2006 Open Weight Gran Prix win, Mirko's career has been wildly up and down; He's still shown that he can impressively finish lower- echelon HW's, by stopping guys like Eddie Sanchez, Tatsuya Mizuno, Hong Man Choi, Al- Turk, & Anthony Perosh. He also had a dramatic, inspirational victory over Pat Barry, in which he was dropped hard twice in the 1'st round, but was able to outlast him, take control of the striking, and finally finish with a vintage flurry of unbelievably precise punches, and grab an almost comical looking rear choke victory. That victory gives Mirko quite a bit of momentum going into this matchup, and it shows that Crocop still has some fight in him.
However, for those victories, he has suffered lopsided losses to better competition, including the headkick KO loss of the century to the mercurial Gabe Gonzaga, a decision loss to French Savate stylist Cheick Kongo (whether the groin shots was the deciding factor is a debate for another time), and a mugging at the hands of surging dynamo Junior Dos Santos. Also noteworthy is a NC against hulking Dutchman Alistair Overeem, in which 'The Demolition Man' beat Mirko up standing, in the clinch, & on the ground, but rendered the contest void by repeatedly kneeing Mirko's groin.
Frank Mir has had an equally turbulent last few years. Following his infamous motorcycle accident and devastating TKO losses to 'Pe de Pano' and Brandon Vera, Frank put together an impressive string of victories, including submissions over Antoni Hardonk & Brock Lesnar, as well as his unexpected blowout of Nogueira for the Interim title, where he showed up in great shape. After being mercilessly smashed by Lesnar in their rematch, Mir decided it necessary to bulk up and add muscle to be more physically competitive with the more powerful men of the division. It seemed to be a great idea, as Frank dropped Kongo with a punch (something noone expected to happen) and used his understated transitional abilities to lock up a guillotine that slept the ripped French striker; it turned out that the increase in muscle mass still wasn't enough for Mir to be able to physically compete with a lifelong wrestler & genetic freak like Carwin, who easily pressed him against the fence, and gradually turned up the pressure until he dusted Frank with a series of clinch uppercuts & ground strikes
Now, for the matchup. Historically, Mir's achilles heel has been strong grapplers who can control & beat him up on the ground, where his dynamic/ open guard leaves him open to strikes; he has a good track record (with the exception of Vera, where he still looked horrible following the motorcycle accident) against strikers such as Kongo, Hardonk, & Sylvia, whom he all submitted in the 1'st round. On the other hand, Crocop has done very well against submission specialists w/ decent striking, dominating guys like Sakuraba & Barnett; however, Mirko has looked quite hittable lately, getting outstruck by Gonzaga, Kongo, Overeem, Dos Santos, & Barry before his body imploded.
So the question is: Who wins the striking here? Mir has outstruck guys he wasn't expected to several times in the past, and Crocop has been outstruck by guys he was expected to best standing. Barry dropped Mirko twice by lunging in with power punches, and Mir was able to leap in and tag Kongo hard- so can he do that again? And if Mirko does take charge of the standup, can/ will Frank take it to the mat? I doubt he'll be able to straight take Crocop down, so he'll have to catch a kick, get him down in transition, or pull guard; and if he does pull guard, will he be able to snag a sub, or will Mirko play the role of Conan the Destroyer from half guard that Mir has succumbed to so many times?
Really excellent fight, and an impressive win should vault either man back into the title picture, considering how popular they both are.