(Sorry I lapsed on posting these over the past few days. We’ve been gearing up for our UFC 100 coverage and the debut of my radio show here in Houston on 1560 The Game. The show airs at 6pm tomorrow night and we’ll be joined by Shane Carwin and Josh Gross from Sports Illustrated.)
UFC HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
BROCK LESNAR VS. FRANK MIR
I usually spend time before a Brock Lesnar fight explaining to my readers that Brock Lesnar is more than a former carny pro wrestler.
He’s a former NCAA heavyweight champion, I’ll say, with the uncanny ability to learn new skills and excel at them in a much shorter period of time than normal people.
Yes, he fought in pre-determined matches for World Wrestling Entertainment, I’ll tell them, but it was his wrestling skills in college that attracted the attention of former WWE talent relations director Jim Ross and enabled him to sign with the company in the first place.
I don’t need to explain things anymore, do I?
Lesnar has virtually dominated all but about 45 seconds of his mixed martial arts career. Even if you throw out his debut match against the overmatched and hapless Min-Soo Kim (a fight which Lesnar won by submission due to strikes), it should still be apparent that Lesnar is the real deal. After getting caught in a rookie mistake by Frank Mir in the first fight, he rebounded to completely dominate Heath Herring and then TKO’d the aging legend Randy Couture to capture the UFC heavyweight championship.
It wasn’t just the manner in which Lesnar has won his fights that impressed me. It was Lesnar’s progression from fight to fight that was incredibly impressive. In the Mir fight, he was overanxious and threw caution to the wind to try and finish the fight. He likely would have finished the fight, too, if Steve Mazagatti hadn’t made one of the all-time worst stand-up calls in the history of the sport.
Against Herring, he was controlled, calm and calculating. He never let Herring gain an ounce of control. In the Couture fight, he displayed a markedly improved boxing game, rocking Couture with an elbow before ultimately knocking him down with a punch to the temple and finishing the fight with what Joe Rogan calls “the hammer fists from hell.”
Frank Mir’s progression has been just as incredible as the path Lesnar has taken, but in a different manner. A few years ago, Frank Mir was a non-story. After the horrific motorcyle accident that nearly cost him his life, Mir became a shell of his former self. He never worked out, he never trained, and he had to maintain a full time job just to eke out a living.
The 2009 version of Frank Mir is a completely different story. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s health going into UFC 92, it’s still a fact that Frank Mir became the first person to do what Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko Cro Cop and others simply could not do: he finished Nogueira. He used crisp striking and great head movement to befuddle Nogueira wholly and completely, and for the first time in his career, Frank Mir looked like a complete fighter and a true threat to anyone in the heavyweight division.
With that being said, I still don’t believe he stands a chance against the current UFC heavyweight champion.
The word out of Lesnar’s camp is that he’s basically a brown belt in jiu jitsu defense going into this fight. He’s had some fantastic heavyweight jiu-jitsu players in his camp, and none of them have been able to submit him as of late. Do I expect Brock Lesnar to submit Frank Mir? No, absolutely not.
Do I think Brock Lesnar has learned enough in the past year and a half to be able to avoid Mir’s submission attempts? Given what we’ve seen of Lesnar’s progression through his young MMA career, I would say that he’s probably well versed in the art of submission defense and will be able to use his power to stay away from anything Mir can throw at him.
I think we’re going to see a stand-up battle early, and I think it’s one that Lesnar will win. Let’s face the facts: Mir’s improved striking game was last displayed against a Nogeuira that shouldn’t have been in the cage. He was advised against fighting after being hospitalized for a staph infection and suffering a leg injury, but in true Nog style, he showed up for the fight anyway. That uppercut that Mir continually threw to great effect? That’s not going to phase Brock Lesnar.
In the end, I think we’re going to see a replay of the first fight, albeit with a different finish. I expect that Lesnar will knock Mir to the ground in the first round, probably within the first two minutes, and then finish him with the hammer fists of doom.
PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar by TKO, Round 1
UFC WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
GEORGES ST. PIERRE VS. THIAGO ALVES
Georges St. Pierre sits atop our Inside Fights pound for pound rankings for a reason: he may very well be the best fighter in the world. Yes, better than Fedor Emelianenko, and perhaps even better than Anderson Silva.
The loss to Matt Serra notwithstanding, St. Pierre has put together an impressive string of victories that is unrivaled by anyone else in the sport in terms of the level of competition he’s faced. BJ Penn, Jon Fitch, Matt Hughes — all are considered the cream of the welterweight crop, and GSP has dispatched them with brilliant ease.
Which leads us to Thiago Alves, the latest in a long line of fighters who I am predicting to beat St. Pierre.
Alves is a huge man, a gigantic welterweight that basically goes into the cage at about the same weight as a light heavyweight. St. Pierre has packed on about fifteen pounds of pure muscle over the past year and he’s used that size effectively in his last few fights, but he’ll still be smaller than the muscle-bound Alves by a considerable margin.
I believe that extra weight is going to be the difference in this fight. St. Pierre’s biggest strength is his takedown and ground and pound, but Alves has extraordinary takedown defense. He’ll be much stronger than St. Pierre as well, which means that GSP will be forced to rely on his striking. And while St. Pierre’s striking is certainly good, it’s no match for the kind of power boxing that Alves will bring into the cage. St. Pierre will try takedown after takedown, of course, but I expect Alves to stuff the majority of them and then knock out the champion in the second round.
Of course, recent history dictates that I’m probably going to be completely wrong in my outlook for this fight, but sometimes you just have to go with the underdog.
PREDICTION: Thiago Alves by KO, round 2
DAN HENDERSON VS. MICHAEL BISPING
We went through an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter with nary a peep from either one of these guys, and now that the season is over, we’re seeing a real rivalry develop. If that seems a little backwards and counter-productive to you, well, you’re not the only one.
Regardless of timing, however, a very real rivalry has developed between these two Ultimate Fighter coaches. Henderson contends that Bisping is, in fact, a “douchebag”, and Bisping is insulted that Henderson would rather talk about his personal life than his fighting skills. The end result is a fight that is going to be much more anticipated by casual fans than the company originally thought, especially after the airing of Tuesday night’s Countdown to UFC 100 show. The most interesting portions of that show come not from the participants in the two title bout main events, but from Bisping and Henderson.
Michael Bisping’s move to middleweight was the best decision he’s ever made. In the small sample size we have of Bisping at middleweight, he’s been faster, stronger and more dominant than he ever could have dreamed of being at light heavyweight. He’s also a big fish in a small pond, a fighter with name value in a division where marquee fighters are few and far between and the champion has no real challengers. A win for Bisping over Dan Henderson would elevate him into immediate title contention, mostly likely on the November show from Manchester, and could possibly put him in that upper echelon of UFC fighters who can be relied on to pull big main event numbers.
Will Bisping’s accelerated skills be enough to elevate him past the veteran Henderson? Henderson’s wrestling skills are better than Bisping’s and he probably hits harder, but he’s not going to be remotely as fast. I think the crux of this fight is going to come down to speed and how fast Bisping can hit transitions. If he’s able to stay out of the path of Henderson’s brutal punches and avoid takedowns, I can’t see any way for Bisping to lose. This may not be the most exciting fight on the card (and in fact, it could be quite boring), but I do think Bisping is going to do enough to get past Henderson and earn a shot at Anderson Silva, where he’ll likely be dispatched quickly and effectively come November.
PREDICTION: Michael Bisping by decision
Tags: Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir