The UFC's heavyweight division has been relatively inactive so far in 2011. At UFC 128 the fans will get a future vs. past match-up when Brendan Schaub meets Mirko Filipovic. The man known as "Cro Cop" was once the most feared heavyweight on the planet thanks to his devastating high kicks and unique ability to transfer a K-1 background into a successful MMA career. Time passes very quickly in this sport though and now he finds himself a +210 underdog against a man who was playing college football while Mirko was challenging Fedor for the PRIDE heavyweight crown.
When Cro Cop stepped into the UFC Octagon for the first time he was less than half a year removed from winning PRIDE's 2006 Open-Weight Grand Prix. Instead of a triumphant run in the cage, Mirko defeated Eddie Sanchez in an uninspiring debut before losing by shocking KO by headkick to Gabriel Gonzaga. He would go on to drop a decision to Cheick Kongo in his next bout and find himself back in Japan in an attempt to get his career back on track.
Cro Cop returned to the UFC at UFC 99 where he defeated Mostapha Al-turk by TKO. Junior dos Santos stopped him at UFC 103 but Mirko would manage to go on his first 2 fight win streak of his UFC career by defeating Anthony Perosh (a late replacement) and Pat Barry. The Barry win had fans hoping that the old Mirko was back. Instead, we saw Mirko struggle to do anything against Frank Mir before getting knocked out late in the third round.
In Brenden Schaub he faces one of the new breed of agile, well-rounded heavyweights. Schaub was the runner-up on the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter, losing by thunderous KO to Roy Nelson in the finals. Since that fight fans have seen Schaub grow his game every time out. A 47 second TKO of Chase Gormley helped Schaub gett back into the win column and he followed that up with a 67 second KO of the tough Chris Tuchscherer. The two wins showed enough progress for Brenden to have earned a shot at long-time heavyweight gatekeeper Gabriel Gonzaga.
While his fight with Gonzaga went to the judge's scorecards it was also arguably the most impressive of Schaub's career. Brendan was able to display good speed, footwork and striking in picking apart Gonzaga. The fight represented the first time that Schaub had ever been pushed to fight outside of the first round (his longest fight prior was 3:45).
Schaub had proven that he was ready to step up in class and expressed interest in fighting either Cro Cop or Frank Mir and while both fights were rumored at one point the Mirko fight is what we'll be seeing on Saturday.
Looking at their recent history it's easy to say that Schaub is the guy fighting with "more desire" but the striking of Mirko makes him a threat at any point in the fight. The edge goes to Brenden though, given his speed and Mirko's tendency in the UFC to get bullied and the fact that the once feared striker has been outstruck by a variety of fighters since entering the Octagon.
Mirko needs to find a way to take Brenden out of his game. If he can't change the pace during the early part of the fight with leg kicks or something along that line it is going to be a bad night for the legend.