This upcoming Saturday night (May 28, 2011) at UFC 130: "Rampage vs. Hamill," two of the best UFC heavyweights will take each other to task in Las Vegas, Nevada, in what many expect to be one of the most evenly matched fights of the evening.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 10 winner, Roy Nelson, looks to get back on track after taking hard-hitting Junior dos Santos to the judges scorecards (albeit in a losing effort) for the first time under the Zuffa banner. Nelson has already derailed top prospects Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve in his burgeoning UFC career and he's looking to get back into the title picture by taking out a two-time UFC heavyweight champion.
Frank Mir isn't satisfied with being a two-time titleholder, he wants another, even if it means fighting a friend. Mir and Nelson both live in Las Vegas and have trained together and have even dined in each other's homes. He said in the pre-fight press conference that he'll flip the switch and have no problem taking on his portly pal on Memorial Day weekend.
Will "Big Country" get back on track with what would be the biggest victory of his career? Can Mir regain his form and win two in a row for the first time since 2009?
Follow me after the jump to find out:
Record: 15-5 overall, 2-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Brendan Schaub (Ultimate Finale 10), Stefan Struve (UFC Fight Night 21)
Key Losses: Junior dos Santos (UFC 117), Andrei Arlovski (EliteXC: Heat)
How he got here: Roy Nelson made his mark outside the UFC, most notably as the inaugural IFL heavyweight champion. After defending the strap twice, the promotion folded and "Big Country" stepped in on 10 day's notice to take on former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski under the Elite XC banner. Nelson would get stood up by the referee despite going for a submission from side control and "The Pitbull" took advantage of his gassed state, knocking him out for the only time in his career.
The beer-bellied brawler would redeem himself on TUF 10, easily grappling his way to the finale where he would blast Brendan Schaub in the first round of the championship fight to win the show's title. He followed it up by taking out "The Skyscraper" Stefan Struve with another first round knockout.
Nelson earned a number one contender fight with Junior dos Santos at UFC 117 for his efforts and would give his best Homer Simpson impression, absorbing enough punishment in three rounds to baffle physicists. After losing a unanimous decision to "Cigano," he went under the knife for minor knee surgery and then patiently waited on the sidelines while potential opponents like Antonio Nogueira and Shane Carwin fell through. Finally, after 10 months of rehab and training camp, he's ready to step in the Octagon again.
How he gets it done: Nelson has some serious power and surprising endurance. At 6'0," he's one of the shorter heavyweights in the division, but that can sometimes be an advantage as it's easier to connect cleanly even on a tucked chin when punching up.
Nelson doesn't have a very big reach, but he's become increasingly proficient at using proper spacing to connect with his big ham hocks. Nelson also has displayed a tremendous chin, only ever having been knocked out when taking a fight on short notice. Don't be surprised one bit if "Big Country" stands in the pocket and goes toe-to-toe with Mir because he's got confidence in his ability to take a punch.
The corpulent combatant is also a Renzo Gracie black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), having defeated Mir in a grappling tournament in 2003 via decision. Don't expect Nelson to submit Mir, but there's a very real possibility that he could shoot for a takedown and try to work his excellent top game like he did in TUF. Mir has had difficulty against solid top control guys in the past so there's a very real possibility Nelson tries to put his big belly on top Mir and keep him down.
Record: 14-5 overall, 12-5 in the UFC
Key Losses: Brock Lesnar (UFC 100), Shane Carwin (UFC 111)
How he got here: Frank Mir was on a roll in his initial UFC run, culminating in a heavyweight title-winning performance against Tim Sylvia where he infamously broke "The Maine-iac's" arm with a first round armbar. Before he could defend his belt, Mir would get in a horrible motorcycle accident in which he broke his femur and tore multiple ligaments in his knee. He would be stripped of his title and returned to the Octagon more than 18 months later, a shell of his former self.
The brash fighter finally started to get back on track and scored one of the biggest wins of his career in Brock Lesnar's UFC debut, defeating the ex-WWE star via kneebar in the first round. The victory earned Mir an interim title shot against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira where the ex-champ showcased his newfound boxing skills to knock "Big Nog" out for the first time in his career.
The Mark Dellagrotte-trained fighter hasn't been able to string two wins together since, losing the rematch to Brock Lesnar and getting pummeled by Shane Carwin, while crushing both Cheick Kongo and Mirko Filipovic. Mir has been showcasing his striking more in recent fights and he's looking for one more run at the title.
How he gets it done: In the early parts of Mir's career, the answer would have been easy ... jiu-jitsu; however, Mir has been adding plenty of extra weapons to his arsenal as of late. He bulked up with a ton of muscle thanks to a power-lifting program in the end of 2009.
While six of his first nine UFC victories came by way of submission, Mir has actually either won or set up his last three UFC wins with his striking. He clobbered Nogueira with punching combinations, dropped Kongo with a huge left hand and put Cro Cop's lights out with a killer knee. Mir will try to hurt Nelson standing either with his much-improved boxing or some Muay Thai knees if "Big Country" gets too close.
Mir is also very adept on the ground. He's finished six opponents with five different submissions in his UFC career. He's going to have his hands full with Nelson on the ground as both men are experienced black belts in BJJ. If the fight goes to the canvas, it'll be more likely to be about positional dominance than submission attempts.
Mir is incredibly patient if he needs to be. Don't expect him to rush out and try to finish Nelson early. He waited nearly three full rounds for an opportunity to strike at UFC 119 against Mirko "Cro Cop" and didn't let the crowd's boos effect his decision-making. He will gladly wait until Nelson gives him an opening.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" here is the chin of both men. Nelson has been knocked out once, but that seems more like a fluke now in retrospect. Mir, on the other hand, has been knocked out in all five of his career losses. Sure, he's been in there with some of the heaviest hitters in the division, but he's had his brain rattled a few too many times. "Big Country" has a significantly better chance of putting Mir down with strikes than Mir does of finishing Nelson. If the former IFL champ gets too close, he'll work his Muay Thai to keep him at bay and look for his lunging hooks when he's got him at a distance.
Bottom line: This bout "should" be a very entertaining scrap that can take place anywhere. Expect anything from a technical grappling exhibition to an all-out brawl to a staring contest. This is anyone's fight.
Who will come out on top at UFC 130? Let us know in the comments section below!