Frank Mir is facing the same daunting task that Chuck Liddell's opponents did during the reign of terror that was "The Iceman's" prime. How in the hell, exactly, do you deal with an opponent who is far superior standing, with a magnificent stand up game and masterful control of range?
The answer may lie in Randy Couture's first bout with Liddell, because Mir is well-equipped to mimic that gameplan later tonight (May 26, 2012) against Heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos in the UFC 146 main event.
Using quick, high-percentage counters, closing the distance and forcing strength-sapping tie-ups, Couture allowed the fight to play out according to his advantages, assets Mir has in this match up, which will take place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. He's bigger and stronger than dos Santos, and might be able to muscle "Cigano" in the clinch; if Mir does tie up, it's critical that he plant dos Santos against the fence and work him over because the Brazilian slips off the cage as well as anyone in the game.
He simply refuses to let himself get caught in a bad position.
Dos Santos' tear through the UFC heavyweight division culminated in November's 64-second, title-winning wipeout of Cain Velasquez. Dos Santos' punishing right hand pretty much settled matters, with the brutal follow-up an inevitable formality. Now undefeated (8-0) in the Octagon, nobody's really come close to taking him down and planting him on the mat, which is a scary proposition considering his solid grappling credentials that are rarely if ever showcased.
That said, dos Santos will be giving up about 20 pounds against Mir, a dangerous submission artists whose last performance was an arm-breaking masterpiece against dos Santos' mentor and hero, former champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. It was a startling reminder of what Mir, an exceptionally gifted athlete prone to erratic performances, is capable of at his best.
Follow me after the jump for a complete breakdown of the UFC 146 fight between Junior dos Santos vs. Frank Mir:
Mir's stand up isn't going to win this fight outright, but it will have to play a functional role. Dos Santos excels at dictating the ranges of engagement with his nimble footwork, sliding in at good angles, exploding and them moving out, as necessary. It creates a kind of freezing effect in opponents, especially with his surging highlight-reel collection of knockouts. He also delivers some of the best pure boxing combinations in the game. Kicks are rarely if ever utilized, somewhat akin to the prime Liddell analogy, as he relies on spry hips and a grounded base to defend against takedowns.
Mir's got to exploit his advantages as a southpaw to be effective on the feet, by shooting a consistent jab, even if it's a mere rangefinder. His straight left is a solid weapon as well, and at some point he's going to have to force an exchange where he can change levels and shoot. This is a risky proposition against dos Santos, who excels in punishing people from virtually every position, but it's still a better prescription than standing around and hoping to land a fight-changing punch. Against dos Santos, that invariably leads to someone waking you up afterward with news you are the last guy in the world to know.
Also, Mir hasn't shown the kind of takedown burst necessary to catch a guy like JDS with a pure shot. He'll have to work from a tie-up position, or land a stiff counterpunch to open things up. Dos Santos enjoys the luxury of having the best hands in the division, and outstanding athleticism to allow him to escape takedown attempts. And his one-shot equalizer can settle matters quickly. There is very little room for error. However, Mir can always modify his approach and opt to pull guard. It's a grim plan B, but it's always a go-to if Mir is getting blasted on the feet. The problem is, by the time Mir learns this is the best course of action, it may be too late.
The fight presents some interesting prospects, specifically, ones that fall midway between the kinds of problems we'd hoped Brock Lesnar, and then Alistair Overeem, would present to the talented dos Santos. The only way he's going to be beaten is someone who can smother him with power wrestling, top control and ground and pound, or a massive striker to beat him at his own game. Style-wise, Mir is caught in the middle, and doesn't present enough of a threat in either sphere to have a realistic chance to win. His submissions are outstanding, but dos Santos' years of training with the Nogueira brothers will have him prepared -- his takedowns are also outstanding, as witnessed by the two blinding shots he unleashed in the last minute of his bout with Shane Carwin.
The guy is simply a phenom on a physical level.
Look for Mir to come out confident, relishing the underdog role, and dos Santos to light him up early. Mir's historical lack of conditioning doesn't help either -- he has to sense that this is his last realistic chance to win the title back. It wouldn't be the biggest upset in the world if the talented Mir pulled a stirring submission out of the hat, but it's not going to happen here. Dos Santos is too motivated, sharp and versatile, especially on the feet. He'll take away Mir's confidence in the opening round or two and turn up the pressure, delivering a brutal beating that ends in a third-round knockout.
Dos Santos via knockout
Be sure to join MMAmania.com this evening for LIVE, detailed UFC 146 results of all the "Dos Santos vs. Mir" pay-per-view (PPV) action. It will include blow-by-blow coverage of the Facebook video stream, FX "Prelims" bouts, and of course, the PPV broadcast. We'll start RIGHT HERE at around 7:00 p.m. ET and carry straight on through early Sunday morning.
See you later!
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst or firstname.lastname@example.org.