Histories and past performances are mere abstract constructs that exist only in the mists of time. What is concrete -- and the only thing that matters -- is the physical being and his or her ability and/or desire once the cage door closes.
This is who will emerge from the corner and walk to the center of the Octagon, possessing the power and willingness to end a fight with one strike or submission.
For this reason, the traditional open media workouts are always a source of keen interest for me. These sessions can tell much about a fighter's physical condition, as well as his training focus, skill level and attitude. It's all these clues that indicate what will manifest on fight night, offering a more concrete factor in fight prediction than what he did in the cage six fights ago.
Unfortunately, fighters often don't go full-tilt at these sessions, perhaps because of the constraints of the format, their desire to conserve energy, or to mask their fight strategy from their opponents. But, it is still exciting to see what can be gleaned about their fight strategy and physical condition from this pre-fight tipping of the hand.
Accordingly, let's examine the open media workout videos of Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir from their recent sweat sessions at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dos Santos will put his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight belt on the line this weekend (Sat., May 26, 2012) in the UFC 146 main event for the first time ever against a very dangerous former two-time division in Mir.
Let's go to the video tape and see where the two are at just days before their Memorial Day weekend mash up:Junior Dos Santos (8.5 minutes, training starts at 07:30):
What he needs to do to win: To prevail, "Cigano" needs to out-box Mir. This means he has to beat Mir to the punch, while avoiding being taken down into Mir's Dungeon of Destruction. If he can introduce fast hands and agile footwork, he can rain Brazilian bombs on Mir's skull for the early knockout, or barring that, the late decision.
Can he do it? Definitely. His punches were fast, crisp and powerful, and he kept the pace up for the equivalent of 1.5 rounds without seeming even slightly winded. His lateral footwork and agility were superb, and he radiated confidence. No surprises here -- JDS will show up on fight night as a fast, deadly boxer with the footwork to baffle Mir and skip away from takedowns.
Weaknesses? It is no surprise that his boxing is so crisp because that is the Brazilian's bread and butter. JDS has a weak striking defense, meaning it is fairly easy to punch him in the face and kick his legs. Note that he practiced almost no slipping or blocking of punches. He has only one mode: Offense. His potency and risk level also tends to drop precipitately after the first round (all his finishes except a Mirko Filipovic surrender occurred in round one). And ground fighting is to him what crucifixes are to vampires.
Now let's see the man who is hoping to exploit those weaknesses.
Frank Mir (2 minutes):
What he needs to do to win: Mir needs to avoid stopping dos Santos' fists with his head. An impregnable striking defense is absolutely crucial. First, avoid losing, then pursue victory. Second, he needs to exploit JDS' weak striking defense by unleashing crisp head punches and quick leg kicks. If he can block JDS' head punches and land his own, he has a striker's chance. And when JDS slows down after the first and/or second round(s), and due the the leg kicks, he needs to close the distance, Judo throw him to the ground (shooting against JDS is almost guaranteed to fail) and mate with him in exotic Kama Sutra positions.
Can he do it? Note how Mir opens his workout by extensively practicing blocking punches to the head. This extremely intelligent fighter knows that an impregnable striking defense is the key to survival. This boy has clearly been drilling his defense against JDS' punches. This is a very good sign. Also, Mir looks leaner than usual -- another good sign. The old fat, lazy Mir would die a terrible death against the JDS witnessed above. A more agile Mir can stay away from the early deadly barrage and survive the first round, meaning his chances of victory (or at least of avoiding a knockout) will rise significantly. His punching combos were nowhere as fast or powerful as JDS,' but they were good enough to do the job of battering the champ. He showed nothing of his takedown and submission game, but we know they are top notch.
Weaknesses? Despite being leaner than usual, Mir was still much slower than JDS. He needs to be faster than this to weather the first round storm. This is a worrying sign. His bizarre tendency to break off his padwork after short bursts suggests he doesn't have the habit of pushing himself through anaerobic exhaustion. This could be a sign that he will show up with less than stellar cardio. In a 5 round fight against JDS, that could presage suicide by opponent strike.
There you have it. JDS is fast and strong, but still one-dimensional and vulnerable. Mir is leaner and crisper and has clearly been drilling the right tactics, but is still worryingly slow. Is he in good enough shape to pull off the upset?