It was not the main event the Ultimate Fighting Championship had envisioned, but when Junior dos Santos meets Frank Mir in the UFC 146 headliner on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, heavyweight gold will be on the line.
Dos Santos has looked like an unstoppable freight train since entering the UFC in 2008, scoring one-sided wins over Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Gilbert Yvel, Gabriel Gonzaga, Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin. The 27-year-old Brazilian captured the heavyweight crown in his latest conquest: a 64-second knockout of the previously unbeaten Cain Velasquez at UFC on Fox 1 in November.
Mir, meanwhile, steps in for Alistair Overeem, who tested positive for elevated testosterone levels. The winningest heavyweight in UFC history, the 32-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt last appeared at UFC 140 in December, when he snapped the arm of dos Santos’ mentor, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, in a brutal submission victory. Mir, a prohibitive underdog, has won his past three bouts but has had issues with strikers throughout his career; all five of his professional defeats have come by knockout or technical knockout.
Sherdog.com caught up with a number of professional fighters and trainers to gauge their opinions on the UFC 146 “Dos Santos vs. Mir” main event:
Mac Danzig: Mir has gotten a lot better over the years, and the main thing that has gotten better with him is his mental game. He’s always been an efficient guy with his submissions and his striking has been coming along, but, mentally, he’s gotten a lot stronger offensively. The question in this fight is going to be can he deal with getting hit a lot by a good, hard striker? That’s the one thing with Mir over the years; when you get him in trouble, he seems to fade. If he can get over that, I really see Mir doing something great and pulling off something excellent, but if he can’t get over getting hit and possibly dropped a few times in this fight, it’s going to be a rough night for him. I think it all depends on Mir and how strong he is mentally. If he’s strong, I see him winning a decision. If not, I see Dos Santos winning by TKO in the second round. With that said, since I guess I gotta call it because it’s not good to sit on the fence by just giving scenarios, I will go with Mir by decision because I think he can pull it off.
Nam Phan: I say JDS by KO in the early rounds.
Travis Lutter: I would like to see Frank win this one, but I don’t think it is going to happen. I think Shane Carwin wasn’t able to take down Junior, [and] I don't think Frank will be able to, [either]. Junior, I think, has the better standup, so I really don’t see this going very well for Frank.
Mark Bocek: Junior by KO in round one.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: “Cigano” is very good. He’s a guy who does his homework. He was very strong in training, and his ground game has improved a lot. I’m confident he will win and keep this belt.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira: I think Mir is a very difficult opponent, but “Cigano” is in excellent shape, will perform well and get this victory.
Travis Wiuff: I don’t think Mir is getting the credit he deserves; [he] may be the best heavyweight to ever step into the Octagon. I think he wins the belt again [by] closing the distance on JDS; [Mir] takes him down and submits him in the third round.
Jacob Volkmann: Dos Santos by TKO in the second round.
Alan Belcher: I am torn, but [I have to] go for Mir, being an old fan of his.
John Gunderson: I’m going to go with Junior. I’d like Frank to win because I think he has done so much for the heavyweight division, and, coming off his crazy motorcycle accident, he has already defied the odds so much. Plus, he is a very intelligent fighter and commentator who represents the sport very well. Junior’s power in his hands will be too much. Once he lands a good shot with those little gloves, it’s lights out for anyone.
Javier Vazquez: This is an interesting fight. There is one problem for Mir. If he can’t take JDS down, he will get knocked out, plain and simple. My question: even if he can take JDS down, will he be able to hold him down and finish him? Although Mir has very good standup, he just doesn't have the firepower JDS does. I think Mir will get finished in the first round by KO or TKO.
Fabio Maldonado: I always thought of Mir as a tough guy. He’s very strong and calm, but “Cigano” is too fast for him. “Cigano” will impose his rhythm, and Mir will not be able to keep pace. I think “Cigano” wins in the third round.
Robert Drysdale: Frank [wins].
Johny Hendricks: Dos Santos by KO.
Graham Zwicker (Sherdog Fantasy MMA Pick'Em Winner): On paper it's clear: Junior Dos Santos. The guy is riding a dominant eight-fight winning streak, including victories over fighters that Mir has already beaten (Mirko "Cro Cop" and Roy Nelson) and lost to (Shane Carwin). If dos Santos can keep the fight standing and finds his rhythm, it should be an early night for Mir. But who knows, anything can happen and often does. This is probably the reason that the heavyweight belt has been tossed around like a Frisbee for the past few years. My money is on JDS by KO in round two; the belt needs a home.
Ricardo Tirloni: “Cigano” wins by knockout in the second round.
Shane Roller: Dos Santos [wins].
Yves Edwards: Remember what Carwin did to Mir? Well, I think what JDS will do to him will make that look like a friendly sparring match.
Andre Amado: I think “Cigano” will put his hands in Mir’s face and put him to sleep with a cross in the first round.
Kyle Kingsbury: Dos Santos wins. Mir taps from strikes.
Travis Browne: I got Junior all day. I think his striking is so [good] that I think he’ll put a clinic on him, unless Frank can get it to the ground. I got Junior in this one.
Michael McDonald: I’m going to go with Junior on this one. I’m pretty sure Junior has a jiu-jitsu background, as well, from what I understand and remember of him. Plus, he’s training with a really good camp. He also punches really hard. I don’t think Mir’s wrestling is good enough to get Junior onto the ground. From what I hear about Junior, he should be able to handle himself if it does get there, but I don’t think Mir will be able to take him to the ground. On the feet, Junior is definitely a more devastating striker, in my opinion.
Danillo Villefort: Heavyweights don’t need to land many punches for a knockout. I’m sure Mir will not be an easy fight, but I think “Cigano” wins by KO or TKO.
Jeff Hougland: I’m gonna go with Mir by submission [in] round two.
Mike Ciesnolevicz: Mir is going to get smashed because he can’t strike with JDS and he can’t take JDS down. I am a big fan of Mir’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and I love watching him fight. I just think this is a horrible matchup for him. I thought Cain was a bad matchup for Mir, and this one is even worse. The fight I really wanted to see was Mark Hunt-JDS because that is an old-fashioned shootout on the feet, as they are both primarily strikers. I really think Hunt could shock the world, but my pick in this fight is JDS by first-round TKO.
Leonardo Santos: “Cigano” can’t, under any circumstances, get into the jiu-jitsu game with Mir. “Cigano” has good jiu-jitsu, but working on the ground gives Mir a chance to surprise him. If he avoids the ground and keeps the fight standing, I see no chance for Mir. He may try to kick or tie-up with “Cigano,” or try for a leg lock, but I think “Cigano” keeps the belt.
Benji Radach: Tough fight to pick, but I’m gonna go with dos Santos. I think he is on a roll and I dig the energy he brings into the cage. Mir is tough, though, and the size difference could pose a problem. However, I believe dos Santos' cardio, boxing and sub defense will be the deciding factors in this fight.
Joe Duarte: After Mir foot locked [Brock] Lesnar, I won’t count him out of fights. On “The Ultimate Fighter 8,” I saw the man sneeze with his eyes open. On the other hand, dos Santos has the speed and agility of a lightweight. I’m going with dos Santos. He’s too dynamic, and he has the memory of a meerkat.
Zach Makovsky: I think Mir is one of the few heavyweights who can give JDS problems, but he won’t. JDS [wins] by KO.
Pros Picking dos Santos: 24
Pros Picking Mir: 5
You can also contact Mike Sloan at www.facebook.com/mikesloan19 or follow him on Twitter @mikesloan19. Gleidson Venga contributed to this report.