Let's just bypass the recycled, Vitor-esque assertion of "which Cro Cop will show up?" and acknowledge Mirko's obvious decline realistically. No, he is not booting craniums into the cheap seats via Cemetery Kick any more, nor is he a walk-through opponent for Nelson or anyone but the top-tier, new generation killers; and yes, he's still a dangerous striker and it doesn't just tickle gently when he connects.
I guess, let's follow suit for "Big Country": sure, his belly protrudes with third-trimester proportions; yes, he can and probably does indeed conceal a triple-decker P&J in the shadowy depths of his belly button; but of imperative note is that, yes, he could still toy around with you and half the UFC heavyweight roster on the mat while simultaneously devouring said sammich.
With that classy and professional intro behind us, let's get down to brass tacks. While curiously shoddy for a K-1 level kickboxer, Cro Cop still possesses the footwork and firepower to needle straight punches through the equally curious and shoddy standing defense of Nelson, who takes punches like everyday employees take coffee breaks.
Conversely, along with his top-notch grappling wit, Nelson's worthiest virtue is his authentic "warrior spirit" and the rugged never-say-die attitude that Cro Cop has wilted under in the past.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
There's no mystery here -- Mirko wants to stay elusive and cast power shots without getting clinched up when his feet are planted.
The ol' Cemetery Kick is in dire need of being set up instead of thrown singularly, but that's the way Mirko's always rolled and I don't expect a change now.
That's unfortunate because, even though it's a couple years late, CroCop has started to circle much more and use angles in the cage, even if it's only defensively.
The gist of the Pride era CroCop consisted of shuffling directly toward his opponent with a disinterested look -- irritably brushing off counter strikes and stuffing takedown attempts -- while timing the homerun swing.
It was phenomenally effective but a drastic departure from the elaborate footwork and creative combinations we associate with elite kickboxing, ultimately becoming painfully predictable and one-dimensional.
The reason this was so frustrating is because, even if CroCop was and will always be one-dimensional, it sure seems like that one dimension could be more effective.
Still, there's been some slight but encouraging signs of improvement lately, such as the hard right angle he cuts after the kick (above) and thwacking with short forearms and elbows while defending takedowns in the clinch.
The gif is relevant.
Roy Nelson defies every conventional image of a fine-tuned and talented athlete, yet that is unquestionably what he is.
Despite the spare tire, Nelson moves with the grace of a cat on the ground, where he is a technical professor and master of position knowledge.
Holding a black belt under Renzo Gracie since 2009, his grappling prowess is unique for a BJJ stylist because he achieves and maintains a dominant position rather than fluidly seeking out submissions.
This trait blends well with the thunder he carries in both fists, generally preferring to chip away with sharp strikes while disabling his foes from an advantageous perch.
Case in point: for Nelson, the quickest, easiest and most efficient way for him to out-class Kimbo Slice was simply to take him down, pass his best attempt at a guard into side control, trap one arm and belt a succession of unanswered and undefended blows to the head.
As much as we would have loved to see it, "Big Country" was unable to score takedowns against Mir and dos Santos in his last two outings, but didn't even need to rely on his ground acumen in the two crushing knockouts of Stefan Struve and Brendan Schaub to win TUF 10.
As is the theme with Nelson, he ratchets up no style points for his striking game but still finds a way to make it work.
Both Struve and Schaub fell victim to his searing overhand right, wisely set up in the animation to the left with a double jab while measuring and closing the distance.
This also depicts why footwork, circling and angles are critical for CroCop, as Schaub makes the rookie mistake of backing up in a straight line, which the veteran intelligently calculates and punishes him for.
It's not pretty but if it lands, you will fall down.
Despite having much more polished stand up qualities, Mirko can't afford to absorb any of those.
To the right we see how Nelson closes the gap to work takedowns and his clinch; his only other option besides dueling with CroCop from outside (which isn't without its merits).
It's a bit of a Diego Sanchez style of bull-rushing forward while winging ugly but attention-worthy punches with his head down.
Mir starts to key on his head position and responds with a short knee, then collides with him in the clinch to dispel his momentum before breaking free, none of which are bad patterns for CroCop to follow.
Nelson was able to steer Mir back against the wall of the cage on multiple occasions, but just didn't have the wrestling or strength to impose anything of worth.
In fact, Nelson vs. Mir played out just like CroCop vs. Mir in reverse, indicating that Mirko might have the underhooks, low center of gravity and upper body strength to stay on his feet in this same scenario.
I'm a little skeptical on CroCop's allegedly dramatic demise, but there's no question his resilience to punches has faded.
Actually, for perhaps the first time, beard strength will dictate my prediction. I'd say Nelson is tailor-made for CroCop to pick apart: his forward-lumbering style, lack of foot speed and shaky defense is a perfect target for a precise striker with solid takedown defense.
Unfortunately, Nelson has a kitchen sink for a chin and can probably absorb everything the modern era CroCop can throw at him. This will likely leave fifteen minutes for Nelson to shatter CroCop's jaw or trap him on the ground.
I was on the verge of picking CroCop for the upset here, but instead I'll expect a strong showing in the first round, a moderately reduced performance in the second and another heart-wrenching loss in the third.
My Prediction: Roy Nelson by TKO