In the second heavyweight tilt featured on the UFC 130 main card on Saturday evening, two-time UFC heavyweight title contender and former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir (14-5) will square off against The Ultimate Fighter season 10 contestant and IFL veteran Roy Nelson (15-5). The bout has served as one of the focal points of the card after a lightweight title bout between Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar fell through due to injuries, and Thiago Silva was pulled from a bout with Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson due to an impending suspension from a failed pre-fight drug test at UFC 125.
Mir enters the contest following a knockout victory over Mirko Filipovic at UFC 119 in September. He was previously crushed by the hands of Shane Carwin at UFC 111 in March of last year in a bout to determine the UFC interim heavyweight title holder. The loss put some doubts as to whether Mir would ever be able to attain a status as a contender again, and the lackluster performance against Filipovic only furthered those concerns for fans.
Nelson is in a similar situation. After knocking out both Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve in quick fashion in his first two appearances under the UFC banner, Nelson was dominated by Brazilian striker Junior dos Santos at UFC 117 in August. While he proved that he had the chin to withstand the punishment of dos Santos' onslaught of strikes, at no point did it look hopeful that Nelson would somehow pull out a victory.
Both fighters' most recent performances convey a message that neither fighter is a clear cut elite level talent, and perhaps that's exactly why they've been pitted against one another at this stage in their careers. Both Nelson and Mir possess black belt level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills, although Nelson does hold a victory over Mir in a no-gi grappling tournament. For many fans, this has served as a basis for giving Nelson an edge on the ground.
History doesn't always repeat itself. Nelson may have bested Mir at that point in time, but Mir has made changes to his physique and improvements in his grappling skills since the loss. In my mind, MIr has the edge on the ground based on sheer strength and his offensive submission skills. Nelson can be effective, especially when he puts his rotund frame on top of an opponent, but I'm finding it hard to convince myself that Nelson will be able to work similar techniques that he did against The Ultimate Fighter season 10 contestants against a knowledgeable and experienced grappler like Mir.
The stand-up game is a different story. Nelson's striking has always had the capability to end the night for his opponents quickly. He's relied on his knockout power to amass eight of his fifteen victories in the sport. Mir has only punched out three of his opponents, and all five of his losses came by way of knockout.
Normally, that would be a clear indication that Nelson should have the edge in this fight. If he can hang on the ground with Mir and Mir has an obvious deficiency in his stand-up game, it should be the easy pick, right?Fortunately for Mir, his striking has improved from the abysmal attempts to look like he knew what he was doing on the feet a mere two or three years ago. He still tends to strike in a robotic manner, but we've watched him become a bit smoother with each fight.
I do believe Nelson is an enticing underdog pick in this fight. In reality, it's a toss-up without any clear cut favorite. I think Nelson could expose Mir's stand-up game early and often, but I also think Mir may surprise some people by taking down Roy and trying to stifle him from top control. Most fans are banking on Mir's reach advantage to score points against the shorter reaching Nelson, and that has a high probability of being a gameplan Mir may utilize. It's a tough call, but I'll go with Frank Mir via decision.