Two of the brightest undefeated heavyweight prospects in the UFC will duke it out this Saturday night (May 26, 2012) as Stipe Miocic takes on UFC newcomer Shane del Rosario on the main card of UFC 146 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Miocic has quickly burst onto the scene in the UFC, winning his first two fights and notably finishing his last opponent via knockout inside the first minute of the first round. The Strong Style fighter has some serious power and is hoping to keep his momentum rolling against a fellow rising heavyweight.
Shane del Rosario was once the most talked about heavyweight prospect in Strikeforce, but a 2011 car accident left him with a serious back injury. He's been sidelined for over a year but is finally back and ready to make his UFC debut. Del Rosario possess elite striking skills, having been a former WBC heavyweight kickboxing champion and he should give Miocic all that he can handle inside the Octagon.
Will Miocic be able to put del Rosario away before the Californian can shake the rust off? Can "No Limits" halt Miocic's momentum? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Stipe Miocic
Record: 8-0 overall, 2-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Stipe Miocic is an athlete, plain and simple. He was a successful collegiate wrestler and baseball player while attending Cleveland State University. After becoming a fireman/paramedic, he was requested to help train with Dan Bobish to prepare the MMA pioneer for an upcoming fight and he never looked back once he'd gotten a taste of MMA.
The former Golden Gloves boxer started his professional career in 2010, winning by knockout in all four of his fights while competing primarily for NAAFS in Ohio. His 2011 got off to an equally impressive start, winning two more fights with his strikes before getting the call to the UFC.
The Croation-American made his promotional debut at UFC 136 on the preliminary card against brawler Joey Beltran. Miocic utilized strong kicks and overall technique while mixing in takedowns to earn a unanimous decision against "The Mexicutioner."
He was pitted against Philip De Fries earlier this year and after eating a few punches in the opening seconds, he knocked the English submission wiz senseless inside the first minute of the first round. Now, he's looking to hand his second consecutive opponent their first loss.
How he gets it done: Miocic will need everything in his arsenal to defeat del Rosario on Saturday, and it may come down to conditioning.
Expect to see him keep his distance early, working his powerful leg and body kicks and testing what the former kickboxer can bring on the feet. If he gains confidence, you'll start to see more punches mixed in. Most importantly will be his defense. He allowed himself to get tagged far too often against de Fries. He can't afford to do that against an accomplished striker like del Rosario.
If Miocic finds himself in trouble on the feet, he should be prepared to shoot in on the Team Oyama fighter and try to take him down. The Croation-American has some competent wrestling and should have some solid submission defense so if he can stay on top of del Rosario and drop some bomb while avoiding getting tapped out, he should go for it.
Shane del Rosario
Record: 11-0 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Lavar Johnson (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Shane del Rosario has had an incredible combat sports career already, and he's still just getting started. The 28 year old Californian got his start as a professional kickboxer and just seven fights into his professional career, he was the world WBC heavyweight kickboxing champion, the first ever American to do so.
During that time, del Rosario was already starting to transition to mixed martial arts. He started in smaller promotions like King of the Cage but quickly progressed to ShowXC, then M-1 Challenge and finally Strikeforce.
Del Rosario has finished every opponent he's faced, whether via submission or knockout and his submission skills have grown significantly under the tutelage of Giva Santana at the Team Oyama Gym.
After defeating Lavar Johnson last year, he was on the verge of the big leagues and was slated to fight Daniel Cormier, but a tragic car accident severely injured his back and sidelined him for a full year. He's just now getting back into a groove and will be fighting for the first time in over 15 months against Stipe Miocic.
How he gets it done: Del Rosario is equally dangerous standing and on the ground. He's already got the incredible striking acumen of being a world champion level kickboxer, but he's done a terrific job of mixing in some seriously nasty submission skills as well.
There aren't many heavyweights that can pull off an omaplata submission like he did against Brandon Cash in his debut with Strikeforce.
If the fight stays standing, expect to see del Rosario try to work his powerful kicks at a distance and his knees and punches if the fight gets close. His knees are especially lethal and he's very flexible, notably bringing them up and catching Lolohea Mahe in the chin while in the clinch in 2010.
The best path to victory for del Rosario might be to take the fight to the ground, where he's very capable of working submissions both from top and off his back. Don't be surprised to see him try to take Miocic to the ground where he won't have to deal with the Croatian-American's power.
Fight X-Factor: Obviously, the biggest X-Factor for this fight is the time off that del Rosario has had to take due to the car accident and whether or not it has changed him as a fighter. If he's not as flexible, doesn't have the same spring in his step, the same maneuverability or the same power in his strikes, he could be in serious trouble.
The old Shane del Rosario would likely have won a hard-fought battle against Miocic, but there's so many questions about the ex-kickboxer heading into this bout. There's no way to know the answers until he steps into the Octagon on Saturday night but if he's not fully back to his former self, Miocic could have a field day.
Bottom Line: Both of these fighters are capable of bringing it on the feet both with kicks and punches. Del Rosario has a much more highly credentialed background in striking, but Miocic is no chump either. He has some ground skills and is very powerful and athletic for a heavyweight as well. This is a very evenly matched fight between two very powerful and dynamic heavyweights. This should be a treat.
Who will come out on top at UFC 146? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!