The heavyweight-laden UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir card will host a battle between a pair of undefeated prospects in Croatian-American Stipe Miocic vs. new Strikeforce entry Shane Del Rosario. Anchored by a total of 5 heavyweight match ups, the show's featured attraction is UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos defending his title against the limb-wrenching Frank Mir. The live pay-per-view begins at 10:00 p.m. ET following the FX preliminary card at 8:00 p.m. ET and the traditional Facebook preliminary stream to lead off the evening.
Stipe Miocic (8-0) was a D1 wrestler at Cleveland State University and a former Golden Gloves boxing champion, giving him a diverse foundation to build upon for MMA. Miocic spent his entire pre-UFC career in the NAAFS organization where he finished his first 6 opponents by TKO within the first 2 rounds. His wrestling was only employed defensively and to keep the fight upright, where he slashed away with low kicks from outside and unleashed heavy leather at close range. In his Octagon debut against Joey Beltran, Miocic fell back on his wrestling when he lost steam in later rounds.
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Shane del Rosario (12-0) was in a horrendous car accident in April of 2011 that left him with various injuries and a herniated disc in his back. This will be his first taste of action since an armbar victory over Lavar Johnson in February of 2011, and the hazards of a 15-month layoff could play a factor. Del Rosario started off as a pure kickboxer and holds the distinct honor of being the first American WBC Muay Thai heavyweight champion. His Thai game is sizzling and replete with cleaving low kicks and brutal clinch knees, which made it all the more impressive when he wheeled for an omoplata to finish Brandon Cash in the 1st round of his Strikeforce debut.
Size-wise, Miocic clocks in at 6'4" and 240-pounds where as del Rosario is 6'3" and 248-pounds, so the duo represents the smaller class of heavyweight who rely on quickness and agility more than brute strength and power. Both have shown an exceptional grasp of striking and grappling, though Miocic's game is wrestling based and del Rosario has adopted a BJJ flavor.
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Though both fighters are undefeated, there are a lot of unanswered questions because they've yet to be tested in certain areas. In that regard, Miocic's submission defense and del Rosario's takedown defense could be key aspects in their confrontation, but there's just not a lot of evidence to analyze. Del Rosario was taken down by Johnson once and Cash twice while Miocic hasn't spent any time on top of legit submission grapplers.
I would imagine that del Rosario's takedown defense will be emphasized the most, as his Thai background will likely grant him the edge standing and Miocic would be wise to threaten with takedowns. Despite his strides in sub-grappling with Team Oyama, guard play is still a fairly unfamiliar environment for del Rosario. He's definitely utilized offensive submissions more often than Miocic, but it's much easier and quicker for a longtime wrestler to be effective in "anti-Jiu-Jitsu" and shutting down submission attempts than it is to be a force off your back. Here's BE wrestling analyst Mike Riordan on Miocic's credentials:
Mike Riordan: Stipe Miocic's notable D1 wrestling achievement is that he was a NCAA qualifier. I also beleive that he was a teamate of Gerald Harris while at Cleveland State. His bio says that he was nationally ranked at the same weight as Lawal and Bader but this is misleading. Lawal and Bader were top guys, in the top 8 at all times, Miocic was in and out of the top 20.
The ability to rifle for takedowns could be Miocic's sharpest weapon. Del Rosario will be hard to match standing but will become hesitant to plant his feet and commit to combinations under the looming threat of double-legs. As always, even if the wrestler scores a takedown but is unable to prevent the escape, improve his position, mount any offense or capitalize what so ever, he generally receives credit on the score cards and steals that chunk of the fight's momentum.
Durability and cardio are also question marks with both, as Miocic faded hard in rounds 2 and 3 against Beltran and del Rosario has finished all 11 of his opponents -- 10 in the 1st round -- and has only seen 1-minute of the 2nd round ... ever. As far as fight I.Q., Miocic was wise to change up his normally striking-centric strategy against Beltran and make the on-the-fly adjustment to pull out the win. Del Rosario allowed himself to get wrapped up in the clinch by Johnson, which led to the takedown, but it's hard to criticize an undefeated fighter who's destroyed every opponent he's faced.
This is another closely matched contest and, on paper, I think del Rosario has the better striking and submission grappling. However, wrestling can be the great equalizer and I think Miocic will exploit that on Saturday. Wrestling can throw a wrench into an opponent's striking, clinching and grappling; it can disrupt everything. Miocic's striking defense looked questionable against Philip De Fries, who wobbled him with punches early, but his boxing is sharp and I think his takedowns will negate del Rosario's weapons, specifically the kicks he uses on the fringe and his knees in the clinch.
Miocic comes in as a narrow favorite at -155 with del Rosario hovering around +155. Del Rosario has a great shot to win this if he uses dynamic footwork and strike selection, such as his stiff 1-2 and carefully timed high kicks. If Miocic can take away or discourage the rangy tactics, del Rosario will be left with close-quarters combat, which I feel favors the wrestle-boxing style of Miocic.
My Prediction: Stipe Miocic by decision.