UFC 146: Analyzing Frank Mir’s Chances

After Alistair Overeem was pulled from UFC 146 for elevated levels of horsemeat, the all-heavyweight main card underwent a drastic change. UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos’ new opponent was Frank Mir, a man with two victories over JDS’ coach and mentor, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. The story of the fight switched from technical battle of strikers to one of emotion and revenge.

Mir’s win weren’t just wins, either. They featured brutal and decisive finishes, as most of Mir’s fights do. At UFC 92, Mir became the first man to stop “Big Nog” with strikes, and, in the rematch at UFC 140, he became the only man to ever submit the Brazilian legend, snapping his humerus bone with a gruesome kimura. Frank Mir is not exactly a favorite among Team Nogueria.

[caption id="attachment_216" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Dos Santos and Mir face off at the UFC 146 press conference. Photo via MMAFighting.com"][/caption]

Another change in the UFC 146 main event was the odds. While fans and oddsmakers were split over Overeem’s  dos Santos’ killshot striking styles, many pundits have simply written off Frank Mir. He is currently a five-to-one underdog to the champion, which is extreme, but not without reason.

Looking at Mir’s ledger, you’ll see that all of Mir’s five losses have come by (T)KO due to punches in early rounds. Dos Santos is arguably the best puncher in the heavyweight division, and has finished all but three of his wins inside of a few minutes. That isn’t good. Furthermore, Mir mostly wins by submission (nine of his seventeen his have come by tapout), but Mir has never been an explosive wrestler. Dos Santos has outstanding takedown defense, too: he’s only been taken down twice during his eight-fight UFC run, by Gabriel Gonzaga and Shane Carwin, and in each instance he was back up in seconds. That also isn't good.

Mir can win this fight, though, make no mistake. At UFC 140, he expertly countered a guillotine attempt by Nogueira and viciously broke his arm moments later. Nogueira is the man who taught dos Santos everything he knows about jiu jitsu, so if the fight goes to the ground, Mir has a huge advantage. But he must get it there first.

The key to this fight, as it is with many fights, is distance. Shooting for takedowns from afar will only get Mir stuffed and countered, so Mir must use his footwork to close the gap and bully the champion against the fence, neutralizing the Brazilians speed advantage. From there, he can use his superior size and strength to work for trips, throws, or even guard pulls, as he has alluded to considering. He also has dangerous knees up and big power up close, as he showed in his victories over Mirko Filipovic and Roy Nelson.

The problem is, Junior will not initiate ground exchanges on the floor, and simply work to get up. That makes Mir’s window for catching a submission very small, especially considering how tiring takedown attempts and restarts can be. Avoiding drawn out exchanges in the comfort zone of their opponent will be essential for victory for both men.

There is one intangible factor in the fight, and although it doesn’t show up on a stats sheet, it can still be very important in the outcome. For all the strides Mir has made in his MMA game, he still operates on a jiu-jitsu mentality, which is generally to stay calm and wait for an opponent’s mistake. Sometimes, it seems like Mir is almost too relaxed in there. By contrast, dos Santos is an aggressive fighter, always pushing forward and looking to inflict damage as quickly as possible. With Mir’s history of fading under pressure, and dos Santos' one-shot knockout power, Mir’s chances for victory will grow slimmer by the minute as the clock ticks on.

At UFC 140, “Big Nog” made the mistake of hunting for a submission after he hurt Mir with punches, which allowed the Las Vegas native to recover and return the favor with a submission of his own. Dos Santos, who uses boxing as his main weapon, will not make the same mistake as his mentor. He will catch Mir with punches early on, but instead of going for the tap, he will swarm with strikes, forcing a referee stoppage in the early rounds. Junior dos Santos retains his title by KO.

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