The UFC heavyweight title is on the line tomorrow night (May 26, 2012) as UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos takes on former two-time champion Frank Mir in the main event of UFC 146 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Dos Santos has had an incredible run through the heavyweight division, slicing through opponents like a hot knife through butter and his victory over Cain Velasquez last November to capture the division crown was a testament to that. He's hoping to start building a legacy and he can't do that without knocking off Mir, a dangerous foe at the top of the division.
Frank Mir is a two-time champion, having defeated Tim Sylvia back in 2004 and then knocking out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2008 to win it again. He's been on a solid run, winning three straight bouts to get right back into contention. He stepped up when there was a vacancy in the challenger slot and he's hoping to become a three-time champ.
Will dos Santos cement himself as the best heavyweight on the planet? Can Frank Mir play spoiler and potentially tap out "Cigano" on the big stage? What's the key to victory for both men tomorrow night?
Let's find out:Junior dos Santos
Record: 14-1 overall, 8-0 in the UFC
Key Wins: Cain Velasquez (UFC on FOX), Shane Carwin (UFC 131), Fabricio Werdum (UFC 90)
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Junior dos Santos made one hell of a first impression in his UFC debut with a tremendous first round uppercut knockout over Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90 back in Oct. 2008. The Brazilian proceeded to run the gauntlet of heavyweights from Stefan Struve, Mirko "Cro Cop", Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga, scoring stoppage victories in each fight.
"Cigano" was finally awarded a number one contender's match against Roy Nelson at UFC 117. Dos Santos laid into "Big Country" with everything he had for three consecutive rounds and he would go on to win a lopsided unanimous decision.
Dos Santos was all set to face Velasquez for the title, but the champ went down with a shoulder injury. Instead of waiting on the sidelines while the AKA standout recovered from surgery, he signed on to coach The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 13 against former champion Brock Lesnar with the intent on facing Lesnar in another number one contender's match.
However, when Lesnar pulled out of his fight with a relapse of diverticulitis, former title challenger Shane Carwin stepped up to face dos Santos in the main event. Dos Santos nearly finished "The Engineer" with strikes in the first round, but instead went on to win another lopsided decision.
JDS won the title this past November, knocking out Velasquez inside the first minute of the UFC's debut on FOX, and after some controversy with Alistair Overeem, he'll be looking to defend his belt for the first time against Mir.
How he gets it done: Dos Santos needs to keep this fight on the feet at all costs, only going to the ground if he badly hurts Mir on the feet.
"Cigano" has some of the heaviest hands in the division and his technical boxing is elite. Unlike many other heavyweights, he doesn't throw his entire body into his punches so he should be safe standing and trading with Velasquez without fear of overcommitting to a big strike and getting taken down.
Dos Santos needs to keep his hands high utilize his footwork to keep this fight in the pocket where he's most dangerous.
His uppercut might be the best in the heavyweight division and with the way that Mir tends to bring his hands up, that uppercut could be extremely lethal if he can throw it up the middle and crack the former champion on the jaw.
Record: 16-5 overall, 14-5 in the UFC
Key Wins: Brock Lesnar (UFC 81), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 2x (UFC 140, UFC 92), Roy Nelson (UFC 130)
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.
After some rough performances against both Lesnar and Carwin, Mir began showcasing his striking more in recent fights while looking for one more run at the title. He was dominant against Roy Nelson and after getting rocked in the rematch against Nogueira, he whipped out a beautiful Kimura and snapped the legend's arm, submitting Big Nog for the first time in his storied career.
When Overeem was removed from the main event, Mir campaigned for and gladly accepted an opportunity to challenge for the title.
How he gets it done: Mir cannot afford to stand in the pocket and trade strikes with dos Santos, no matter how much his punching prowess has improved. If Mir stands and exchanges, he's going to get hit and he's going to likely crumple.
What Mir needs to do on the feet is make it ugly, push dos Santos into the fence, work his knees and elbows and maybe even some dirty boxing while taking away the champion's biggest weapons, his punches from mid-distance.
If he can put dos Santos into the clinch, who knows, he might even be able to toss dos Santos over his hip like he did against Roy Nelson. If he can somehow put the champ on the ground, he can't afford to let that opportunity slip, aggressively diving for whatever submission presents itself.
Mir is an intelligent fighter, so he should know not to stand and trade against dos Santos, but everyone has known how good the Brazilian's boxing is for years and no one has been able to stop it yet.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is the first round. Dos Santos has finished nearly all of his fights in the first round while Mir has finished all of his submissions in the first round.
At no point in this fight will either man be as explosive, dangerous or powerful as they are in that first five minutes. If they can't finish the fight then, the fight could get ugly, real ugly. Speed, power, and finishing ability might be going out the window after that. The first round is by far the biggest factor here.
Bottom Line: There is potential here for some serious highlight reel finishes as long as the bout ends inside the first round. Dos Santos is a monster in the first round, having stopped Werdum, Velasquez, Struve, Yvel, Gonzaga and nearly Carwin in the first frame. The same goes for Mir as he's very lethal with his submissions in that opening five minutes. If the fight goes past five minutes, it could get ugly. Both men are champions or former champions so I expect everything to be high level, but the pace is likely going to slow down as the fight goes on, even becoming plodding if it actually goes the distance. Let's hope it ends early. If it does, it'll be because of something amazing.
Who will come out on top at UFC 146? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!