In UFC 146 you have a novel event (a main card consisting of all heavyweight fights) that has been diminished more than a little in stature by multiple big-name fighters dropping out for one reason or another. Originally, this was slated to be a really great card. Take a look, just in case you forgot what this Frankenstein’s monster of a show started out as:
Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem (UFC Heavyweight Championship)
Frank Mir vs. Cain Velasquez
Roy Nelson vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva
Stefan Struve vs. Mark Hunt
Shane del Rosario vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
Overeem, Hunt, and Gonzaga are out, which slid Mir and Silva up one slot in the card, forced Lavar Johnson to come in on short notice to face Struve, and Stipe Miocic to face del Rosario. And I’m sorry, but I prefer every single one of the originally-announced fights to their current counterparts, with the possible exception of the del Rosario-Miocic bout.
That’s not to say it will be an awful card, but even during the injury-plagued year we had in 2011, we have never seen ALL five main card bouts get changed for an event. Now, the two “co-main events” are still pretty decent fights, and it’s nice to see Roy Nelson fight someone (Dave Herman) he could actually beat, but man, what a card that would have been. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is this card’s undeniable lack of Mark Hunt. This card needs more Mark Hunt, people. Whatever. On with the show!
Lavar Johnson (17-5) vs. Stefan Struve (23-5)
Of the main card contests, this fight is the closest to reaching my original anticipation level for the bout that was originally scheduled, as the hard-hitting Johnson steps in for the injured Mark Hunt against “The Skyscraper”.
Johnson will fight fairly similarly to Hunt, at least to the casual observer. The difference is that he uses more combinations and a lot more uppercuts than Hunt while looking to take his opponent’s head off. Struve is a dangerous opponent though, with deceptive power that he showed most recently against a hirsute Dave Herman. He is still getting much better and is only 24 years old, though this is his eleventh fight in the Octagon.
Like so many heavyweight fights, this could go either way. Both of these guys are so comfortable with getting hit that you wouldn’t exactly want to put money on either one (or at least, you’d be sweating it out the whole time if you did). I think Johnson has a bit better chin, and though Struve has a height and reach advantage on literally everyone in the heavyweight division, Johnson actually fights taller, using his length better during the clinches he enjoys finding himself in.
The clinch is where this one really shakes out. Johnson strikes better from there, but Struve has some very cagey takedowns from in close, as he showed against Herman. I think Johnson’s balance and strength will see him through, though, and he will eventually win a fantastic fight when Struve flirts with disaster one too many times and eats more punches than he can handle.
Prediction: Johnson by KO/TKO
Shane del Rosario (11-0) vs. Stipe Miocic (8-0)
You may have seen del Rosario ply his trade during his Strikeforce days, during which his most notable performance came against Lavar Johnson, who he submitted in the first round during Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva. A car accident kept him from fighting since, and he makes his UFC debut against Miocic tonight.
Miocic, like del Rosario, is undefeated, but differs in that he has two Octagon appearances under his belt already. While he beat a bigger name in Joey Beltran during his first UFC fight, he looked much better in his 43-second destruction of Philip De Fries in his follow-up bout. Even then, it was a bit of a hillbilly brawl where Miocic looked very hittable early before landing some hard counter-punches.
I think Miocic has the power advantage here, and his biggest asset may be his balance and takedown defense. Will it be enough to keep del Rosario, who is a very good grappler, off of him? That is the question. The thing is that del Rosario has been up to the task thus far in his career, and has already faced a better fighter (Lavar Johnson) than Miocic and won in decisive fashion.
Of course, styles make fights, but Miocic’s awkward, probing standup will only serve to maintain the distance for so long. Unless he lands something big on a poorly-timed, forced takedown attempt, del Rosario will get this fight to the mat. Miocic has the skills to survive for awhile (and you never know, maybe Dan Miragliotta will be reffing and save him after 20-30 seconds), but del Rosario will eventually get the submission here.
Prediction: del Rosario by submission
Dave Herman (21-3) vs. Roy Nelson (16-7)
Nelson, who has been outpowered and overmatched in his three of his last four heavyweight bouts, has teased about dropping to light heavyweight. However, with his weigh-in yesterday at 254 pounds, that is clearly not happening anytime soon, and he really needs a win over Herman to even guarantee a spot on the UFC’s roster moving forward. At 35 years old, he may not have time to earn his way back into the big show if he does get a pink slip after this one.
Herman was most notable at the weigh-ins for having ditched the balding caveman look that horrified viewers during his ill-fated bout with Stefan Struve, which he lost due to TKO. During the fight, fans will clearly note the differences in physiques between these two, with Herman appearing to be carved out of granite, while Nelson looks like he’s been filled with grape jelly. It may surprise them, then, when Nelson is actually the fresher-looking fighter late in the fight (if it makes it that far).
Despite appearances, Herman has had cardio problems in the past, perhaps because of his use of unorthodox techniques that do not always pay off but do tax his stamina as the fight goes on. Meanwhile, Nelson’s cardio has been pretty good, if not as good as his chin, which is capable of absorbing tons of punishment.
I look at the outside trip from the clinch that Struve executed on Herman and it solidifies my belief that Nelson will finally go back to his bread and butter in this one: his ground game. Nelson is a BJJ black belt and has always preferred a control-based mat game to standing up, though he has fallen in love with his overhand right in recent years. Against Herman, he will likely find a way to work the fight to the mat, probably en route to his beloved side control position where he controls one of his opponent’s arms with his legs, allowing him to drop short punches and elbows with impunity. This one could have its moments, but I’d be surprised to see Nelson not return to his mat-based roots here.
Prediction: Nelson by KO/TKO
Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (16-3) vs. Cain Velasquez (#2 HW, 9-1)
These two had quite an intense staredown yesterday and will likely put on one of the best fights of the night. Bigfoot is full of piss and vinegar right now as he feels that he blew a great chance during the Strikeforce Grand Prix by losing to sub (and eventual champion) Daniel Cormier in surprising fashion in the semifinals. Meanwhile, Velasquez is clearly none too happy about having a woefully short title reign that was ended in similarly quick fashion in just 64 seconds during the UFC’s first bout on network television.
I think Velasquez has to do what I expect Nelson to do in the preceding fight- get back to his strengths. Velasquez got a little too excited about his standup and never even committed to a takedown attempt against Junior dos Santos, which spelled his doom. I don’t expect him to make the same mistake against Silva.
Still, Bigfoot is a strong, surprisingly athletic man who is not easy to take down and hold there. He has a pretty good game from his back, too, so Velasquez will have to be on his game all night, even if he is able to plant Bigfoot on the mat. He also has to make sure not to sloppily come in for takedowns and leave himself open to eating punches on the way in. He should set up single- and double-leg takedowns with 1-2 combinations and keep Bigfoot guessing. Velasquez grinds one out here.
Prediction: Velasquez by decision
UFC Heavyweight Championship
Junior dos Santos (#1 HW, 14-1) vs. Frank Mir (#5 HW, 16-5)
Mir is the best possible choice to replace previously-slated challenger Alistair Overeem, who will be watching this fight while dining on horse meat somewhere in the Netherlands tonight instead of competing, due to his elevated testosterone levels. Still, Mir is definitely not a great matchup for dos Santos, and Mir has really only impressed in one of his last four fights. Let’s not forget that even in that bout, his technical submission win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he was rocked and in trouble literally right before he snagged the kimura that won him the bout.
Still, you would expect Mir to fare better in some ways against dos Santos than against someone like say, Shane Carwin. Mir actually outweighs dos Santos by 22 pounds (though you wouldn’t know it by looking at them during the weigh-ins yesterday), and dos Santos does not have the kind of wrestling credentials that Carwin does (or recent champs Velasquez and the now-retired Brock Lesnar, for that matter).
Can Mir take dos Santos down, though? I ask that because if he can, he could win this fight. Likewise, if he can coax dos Santos into his guard without having his head knocked in first, he could have a good chance. Dos Santos’ ground game is by default his worst attribute, since his striking is elite for a heavyweight and he stays on his feet pretty well, too. Mir, meanwhile, can submit just about anybody, and dos Santos would be no exception.
However, dos Santos keeps his fights standing not through pure wrestling, but through superb footwork, distance and striking. He dissuades opponents from coming in recklessly with his uppercuts, which are among the best in the sport. He has a counter left hook that makes it hard for fighters to simply come in off of a jab-right straight combo for a takedown, and dos Santos is also very athletic and deceptively strong. He is far from easy to take down, which is why Velasquez was so wary of making a bad attempt in their fight (so wary, in fact, that he never tried).
Mir is a cerebral fighter and will undoubtedly pick his spots during the standup. He’ll land some shots, but dos Santos has all the power in the standup equation and Mir will not want to strike with him for long. If Mir doesn’t get this fight to the mat, he’s done for, and I just don’t think dos Santos lets him do that.
Prediction: dos Santos by KO/TKO