The featured attraction of tonight's UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir lineup is a heavyweight title fight between reigning champion and perennial contender . The live pay-per-view begins at 10:00 p.m. ET and will follow the FX preliminary card at 8:00 p.m. ET and Facebook preliminary card stream.
Every once in a while, a young up-and-comer will consistently rise above, slaughter the competition, become the UFC champion and undisputed #1-fighter in his weight class and exude an aura of sheer invincibility. Enter heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos (14-1), who's obliterated all 8 of his UFC opponents, finishing 6 by TKO and battering the other 2 mercilessly in one-sided decision wins. He made his Octagon debut against Fabricio Werdum as a relative unknown, but served notice to the division with a skull-cracking uppercut that laid Werdum out early in the 1st -- which is still the only TKO loss on Werdum's record.
Wielding a pair of cinder-block fists and what is perhaps the most devastating boxing arsenal in the sport, "Cigano" is a mid-sized heavyweight (240-pounds) with the perfect medley of speed, power, strength and agility. Hailing from the vaunted Team Nogueira fight squad, the Brazilian trains with cherished icons like Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida and looks up to former heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira as his mentor. In the Octagon, there have been no slip-ups, indications of weakness or really even any moments where dos Santos didn't seem like he was in complete control. The only flaw on his rap sheet is a 2006 submission loss to Gracie Fusion grappler Joaquim "Mamute" Ferreira in what was dos Santos' 6th career fight and, as he was competing in a same-night tournament, his 2nd fight of the evening.
Other UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir Dissections
There are 3 specific reasons why veteran Frank Mir (16-5) poses an intriguing challenge to dos Santos. The only chink in the champ's armor is a submission loss and Mir has consistently pulled off incredible, jaw-dropping submission wins throughout his UFC career. Mir is also now the inarguable #1 submission grappler in the world at heavyweight and -- here's the kicker -- he earned that accolade by snapping the arm of Nogueira, the friend and mentor of dos Santos, with a brutal kimura at UFC 140.
Mir debuted in the Octagon way back at UFC 34 in 2001 at 22-years-old and with only 2 pro-fights under his belt. His opponent, Roberto Traven, was (and still is) a highly respected BJJ black belt who'd just won the ADCC Open Class tournament and the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in 1999. Mir knocked him around on the feet with aggressive Muay Thai before submitting Traven with a 1st-round armbar, and the hype exploded from that point forward.
Unlike dos Santos, Mir has not only endured tremendous adversity, but returned from each pitfall stronger than ever before. He was criticized for his Fight I.Q. when a mean and motivated Ian Freeman battered him with punches; Mir responded with a title run that ended with a bone-rending armbar on Tim Sylvia and championship gold around his waist. He suffered a horrible leg break in a motorcycle accident in Las Vegas that put his career in jeopardy; after a rocky start, Mir re-emerged as a top contender by knee-barring behemoth Brock Lesnar and becoming the first fighter to TKO Big Nog and, later, the first to submit him.
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Dos Santos vs. Mir is another match up with very clear and simple dynamics: Dos Santos is the best heavyweight striker and Mir is the best heavyweight submission grappler.
Of course, the telling description for Mir in that statement is "submission grappler" rather than "wrestler." While there's no question that Mir has bulked up his physique, continued to sharpen his under-rated Muay Thai and enhanced his takedown prowess, the key to unlocking his submission wizardry is forcing a ground fight. Otherwise, he'll be relegated to a stand-up shootout with the best in the business and his other proficiencies will be entirely irrelevant.
While Mir's scathing submission acumen embodies what seems to be the ideal weapon against dos Santos, the champion excels in the one aspect that's proven poisonous to Mir in the past, which is unruly punching power. Each of Mir's 5 career defeats were distinctly propagated by a steady stream of leather directly to his melon and, in what might be the most salient factor, dos Santos hits harder and moves faster than any of Mir's past opponents.
Therefore -- Mir doesn't want to get punched in the face and dos Santos doesn't want any limbs left hanging at unnatural angles. The entire thrust of the confrontation boils down to Mir's ability to impose his submissions -- which doesn't necessarily mean he has to out-wrestle dos Santos. Mir has always been an innovative submissionist, such as the crafty shoulder lock on Pete Williams that had BJJ geeks buzzing on the internet or his windmill kneebar set up on Lesnar. That ingenuity and creativity will be invaluable against dos Santos, who's laid out a rock-solid sprawl and brawl to stave off higher-credentialed wrestlers than Mir.
In addition to outside-the-box strategies and unexpected attacks, the way Mir sets up his advancements with his striking will be crucial. When he comes out fearlessly throwing his hands with scorching power like he did against Cheick Kongo and Nogueira, opponents tend to topple over in a heap. When he comes out tentative and either overly respectful (Mirko "Crocop" Filipovic) or curiously dismissive (Shane Carwin) of his foe's striking, Mir struggles to find his groove and seems out of his element.
Dos Santos is an incredible counter-puncher -- specifically with his left hook, which is one of the best in the game -- and he employs footwork, circling, angles and head movement like a spry middleweight. Because dos Santos surrounds himself with a maelstrom of whirling haymakers, Mir's location is imperative: he has to be either outside of striking range in the safe zone or locked in tight at phone-booth range where he can stifle the barrage with takedown attempts or clinch tie-ups.
Dos Santos will be expecting Mir to flash out some half-hearted combinations as a distraction to shrink the gap, so Mir should cater to that by mapping out an unpredictable attack angle -- either with set-up pivoting, quick level drops, faking the level drop and coming high with punches, or unloading massive power-shots that cause dos Santos to cover up and/or defend (rather than side-step and counter). The opposite applies for dos Santos: he'll have to use active cage motion to keep Mir centered in his wheelhouse while staying out of corners and prohibiting clinch entanglements.
Dos Santos is a ridiculous favorite on the betting lines at around -500 because he simply needs to do exactly what he's been doing. Mir is tasked with more burdening adaptations to impose his strengths and dos Santos' style exemplifies Mir's Achilles Heel. Dos Santos is an extremely humble and likeable guy, but I'd love to see Mir pull a rabbit out of his hat here. Unfortunately, from a logical standpoint, the match-up factors all point to the champion retaining his title.
My Prediction: Junior dos Santos by TKO.