A reinforced Octagon should be the order of the day at UFC 146 this weekend as the heavyweights are out in force! Every main card fight takes place at the 260lb limit on Saturday night, giving the opportunity for the big guys to show what they can do. The card has been moved about a lot: Most notably for the high-profile (and not exactly un-expected) disappointment of Overeem failing a drugs test due to excessive testosterone and the injuries to Mark Hunt and Gabriel Gonzaga.
After so many jump-out-of-your-seat-amazing fights taking place at the lighter weights on a regular basis, it’s easy to see why so many people get a bit disillusioned with the fights at the top end of the weight classes: They often pale in comparison. Instant classics are much rarer for the heavy guys. Cardio and beautiful technique are more often than not replaced with huffing and puffing and haymaker swinging so to a fill a high profile card with all Heavyweight cards is a bit of a gamble. But the UFC know what they are doing, there is something special that happens when the behemoths collide. Something that draws you in as a fan and the reason why the heavier classes tend to be the marquee divisions in most if not all fight organisations.
If we look at K1 back in its prime: Kickboxing purists will tell you the best fights take place on K1-Max with the lighter guys like Buakaw and Masato. But when you mention K1 to a fight fan you’ll much more likely get them talking about Bonjasky, Cro-Cop, Overeem, Hoost, Aerts, Schilt et al. The same is true in boxing any casual sports fan can reel off the names of Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Mohammed Ali, George Foreman but fewer will know of Marco Antonio Barrera, Jorge Arce and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Looking down the main card I’m pretty sure it will deliver what is expected: Big KO’s and huge men throwing their considerable bulk into every punch and kick. It may not be pretty all the way through, but it will definitely be exciting and that is what the people at Zuffa towers are banking on.
There is a lot of focus on the main card for obvious reasons, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the undercard, specifically the Brits who are fighting. Dan Hardy is surely in the last chance saloon after 4 straight losses in the UFC. A match against veteran striker Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig awaits the Outlaw, and the Brit needs to find his old spark if he wants to stay in the UFC. Ludwig isn’t past his sell-by date just yet, but it is fair to say he isn’t the fighter he once was. This one looks to be winnable for the Outlaw, should he rediscover his Octagon mojo. Ludwig is still dangerous though and lapses in concentration on Hardys part will be punished, and Dan will be packing his bags and heading back to the minor leagues of MMA if he isn’t on point.
Paul Sass is the only other Brit on the card and he has a tough fight against the archetypal MMA grinder, Jacob Volkmann. Sass has never tasted defeat in 12 fights and his slick submission game has bested all but one of his 12 opponents to date. Volkmann though has only ever been submitted once in his career (Kampmann by guillotine stats fans) and has fought at a much higher level than Sass for a lot longer. This will be the first major UFC test for the talented Brit. Should he pass it, he is moves up to shark tank level in 155lb division to mix it with the killers in his future matches.
Junior dos Santos 14 – 1 – 0 vs. Frank Mir 16 – 5 – 0 – UFC Heavyweight Championship
I’m going to cut straight to the chase on this one: Mir can’t take a punch. He can throw a punch but he is often unwilling to take one to give one. When he does take a good shot he can’t get past it unless given time to recover (like Nog stupidly did in fight 2). All of Mirs 5 losses have been by KO and each KO loss has been brutal and quick.
As it happens, face-melting punches are what Dos Santos does really well and I fully expect Mir to get pounded out in this one. A Team Nogueira student, Dos Santos does have jiujitsu skills (we are lead to believe), but has never needed to show them as his boxing is that good and his takedown defence is high-level. Mirs conundrum in this fight is that his only hope is to latch onto a submission, but to do that he has to close the distance, hit the takedown and get a good position. I believe he will be able to do exactly none of these things and will take a savage beating.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, or my prediction posts, you will know that I very rarely pick Mir despite having been bitten by his resurgences several times before. I have stated before the reasons why I just can’t bring myself to get behind him. But hand-on-heart my personal distaste for him does not figure in my pick here. I genuinely don’t see how he is going to beat Dos Santos. Mir can’t wrestle like Velasquez or Carwin and both men were bested by the Brazilian. He is not in Dos Santos’ league when it comes to striking and all signs point to Mir getting a pasting here. If not in the first five minutes, then not far into the second. Dos Santos TKO rd 2
Cain Velasquez 9 – 1 – 0 vs. Antonio Silva 16 – 3 – 0 – Heavyweight
Silva is by far the more experienced fighter, he is very well rounded and has fought a much higher calibre of opposition overall. Velasquez is the former champ and romped to the UFC title, displaying his elite wrestling and some powerful striking en-route to the gold. Velasquez will have an inside track on Silva, being a team mate of Daniel Cormier who surprised a lot of people when he came into the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament and KO’d Silva.
The tale of the Cormier vs. Silva fight holds a pretty big clue to how this fight might go. Whilst Cormier is good, he is not as good as Velasquez. If he was able to find the key to defeating Bigfoot then I’m pretty sure his teammate can do the same. A harsh welcome to the UFC awaits big foot then. His best hope of victory is to get top position and use his sheer size to grind out the former champion. This is a tall order for any fighter though, and despite the underrated jiujitsu of the gigantic Brazilian, I think the athleticism of Velasquez wins out here. I don’t think it will be an easy win, and Silva will be wise to use his size to keep Velasquez at bay and not let him get inside and wreak havoc like Cormier did. Velasquez will be relentless and he stops this late on as Bigfoot tires from trying to keep up. Velasquez TKO rd 3
Dave Herman 21 – 3 – 0 vs. Roy Nelson 16 – 7 – 0 – Heavyweight
Two big men with big personalities collide in this fan friendly matchup. Both men have been guilty of coming into a fight with less than ideal cardio and that could be a problem. The ability to go the full 15 here will be critical, especially for Herman as Big Country is so hard to put away. Although he is 1-3 in his last 4 fights, those three losses for Nelson were against top fighters, none of whom could put him away.
Herman will have no small task trying to snatch the win here and if he is going to, he needs to rack up the points early. Despite the heavy hands of “Pee-wee”, if Dos Santos couldn’t put Nelson away, he will really struggle. Nelson has excellent jiujitsu and on the floor this is all big country. He doesn’t submit too many people, but his smothering top control affords him the ability to rough his opponents up. This is the kind of treatment Herman is in for and it is going to be a rough night for him. Nelson decision
Stipe Miocic 8 – 0 – 0 vs. Shane del Rosario 11 – 0 – 0 – Heavyweight
Two undefeated fighters face off and only one will leave with his “0″ intact. Del Rosario has looked impressive in the smaller shows and turned in a great performance against Lavar Johnson in Strikeforce with a quick armbar, before injury forced him into a hiatus from MMA. He is probably the more well-rounded of the two men but lacks the power of his opponent.
Miocic has decent boxing and wrestling, but looked a little lacklustre in his debut UFC win over Joey Beltran. He showed what he is made of against Phil De Fries though, handing another undefeated opponent his first loss in the first minute with a crushing right hand. This could either be fireworks from the opening bell, or turn into a damp squib with neither man willing to over commit to his strikes for fear of leaving an opening for the other. Hopefully it’s the former and I’m picking the more varied attack of Del Rosario to trump the sprawl and brawl of Miocic. Del Rosario decision
Lavar Johnson 17-5-0 vs. Stefan Struve 23 – 5 – 0 – Heavyweight
Classic striker vs. grappler action in the opening fight of the main card as the skyscraper faces off against Lavar ‘Big’ Johnson. Johnson is in a similar situation to Chris Leben not so long ago, with a great chance of coming off the back of one impressive win and then scoring an even bigger one all within a month. Struve is very beatable for a striker like Johnson, but if Lavar is going to get this done, he needs to get it done quickly. 4 of Struves 5 losses have come via first round TKO and with the kind of power and relentless punching that Johnson has, you have to figure that as not too far-fetched an outcome in this one.
Conversely 4 of Johnsons five losses have come via Submission and Struve will fancy his own chances in this one. Struve has form for surviving early onslaughts to turn the fight around (see his most recent match against Dave Herman). If Struve is wise to the quick start of Johnson and can stay off the fence, he should be able to find away to take this to the mat, even if it means pulling guard. If this should hit the deck, Johnson is in a world of trouble as the long limbs of Struve will snake their way around him and enable Struve to force the tap.
This is a bit of a coin-toss as both men are capable of nicking this one. It is easy to forget that Struve is still only 24 years old, as he seems to have been around forever and he is still developing as a fighter. I desperately want him to develop some sort of jab and decent kicks to work his striking behind and make best of is reach. Struve seems to be the pick for a lot of other punters, and I am strongly drawn to him for a submission in this one but, as ever, I like an outsider pick and I’m taking Johnson to land an uppercut from hell that sends Struve into the crazy legs dance. Johnson KO rd 1