Fans have always had a particular fascination with heavyweights. Though lighter athletes typically exhibit better technique and endurance there’s a certain quality to the largest fighters, be it in boxing or mixed martial arts.
Perhaps it’s hulking stature of fighters like Brock Lesnar, the former pro wrestler credited as one of the main reasons for the UFC’s mainstream growth in 2007 when his blitzkrieg style and marketability took the promotion by storm. Or maybe it’s the notion that irrespective of pound for pound lists the world heavyweight champion is hypothetically the best physical combatant on the planet at that time. Despite this, heavyweights have often suffered from lesser technique and poor cardio due to an over-reliance on brute strength.However, at present the UFC heavyweight division is easily the most technical it has ever been.
UFC 146 marks the first card in MMA history compromised entirely of heavyweights and accomplishing this had its fair share of problems, notably the removal of K-1 champion Alistair Overeem. Originally scheduled to face Dos Santos for the title, Overeem failed a random drug test and threw the card into disarray when most of his potential replacements were already booked to fight on the same card. Frank Mir stepped up to replace Overeem despite being originally scheduled to face Cain Velasquez and here we are.
Junior Dos Santos vs. Frank Mir
November 12th was a very important day for Junior Dos Santos. On the biggest stage in MMA history, in front of a record-breaking audience and fighting as a underdog, the 27-year-old Brazilian crushed Cain Velasquez with a right hand that not only brought him the UFC heavyweight belt but sent out a clear message to the rest of the division. It doesn’t matter who you are, Junior Dos Santos can knock you out.
With a 14-1 record Dos Santos is one of the more successful fighters in the organisation and of his 14 career victories ten have come via knockout in the first round. His combination of speed, accuracy and timing have lead to a fearsome reputation as a striker and the power Dos Santos brings to each fight has made him more than worthy of the title of the “baddest man on the planet”. Even in fights when he was unable to secure the knockout victory such as his UFC 131 bout with Shane Carwin, Dos Santos brutalised his opponent, cutting his face multiple times and consistently beating the similarly feared striker Carwin for the full three rounds to earn himself the shot at Velasquez.
UFC 146’s main event holds a special purpose for Dos Santos however, one that has been absent from all of his previous matches. In Frank Mir he faces not only one of the most successful Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners in all of MMA but a man coming off a spectacular defeat of Dos Santos’s mentor, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Mir shocked the MMA world when, at UFC 140 in Toronto he snapped Nogueira’s humerus with a hard fought Kimura lock seconds after what looked like a sure defeat. Nogueira made a fatal error in allowing Mir to recover from a failed guillotine choke and in snapping the arm of the Pride and UFC legend Mir proved he has the ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The outcome has surely affected Dos Santos, who regularly refers to Nogueira as his idol and one of the main reasons for his continued success. It will be interesting to see how this plays into the motivations of Dos Santos, a fighter typically known for his good sportsmanship and friendly nature outside of the cage.
If there’s ever been a consistent face in the UFC heavyweight division over the years it’s been Las Vegas’ own, Frank Mir. Mir debuted in the Octagon a staggering 11 years ago and since has amassed an impressive record of 14-5 with eight of those victories coming from the submissions he is now so well known for. Mir is a two time champion, having first captured UFC gold in 2004 with his armbar victory over Tim Sylvia and once more in 2008 after knocking out Nogueira in their first bout. Mir has also experienced his share of losses both inside and out of the cage, with the most notable of which being a motorcycle accident which stripped him of the belt after his fight with Tim Sylvia.
The accident required major surgery and Mir’s recovery was lengthy, with critics even dismissing him as finished after his UFC 57 loss to Marcio Cruz by way of technical knockout. Mir slowly fought his way back to title contention however and now stands as one of the heavyweight division’s best talents.
Mir’s strengths are part of the reason why UFC 146’s main event is so interesting for should be he able to take the champion down there is a very good chance he will be able to impose his will and secure a submission victory. Mir is certainly the bigger athlete and even though we are yet to see Dos Santos tested on the ground Mir will certainly seek to put him there to find out.
Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Silva
No one remains undefeated, something Cain Velasquez learned the hard way on November 12th. Leading to his loss against the current champion Cain was seemingly unbeatable, possessing so well rounded a skill set it made the previous champion Brock Lesnar look amateurish by comparison. Velasquez handled the much larger Lesnar with superior wrestling and won via technical knockout in the first round making himself the first Mexican heavyweight champion in combat sports history. Though he lost the title to Dos Santos in November of last year Velasquez remains a terrifying opponent and will certainly be looking to defeat Antonio Silva in his route back towards title contention.
Cain Velasquez is one of the best athletes in the UFC with endless cardio and incredible wrestling pedigree making him a constant threat wherever the fight takes place. As a NCAA Division I Wrestler Velasquez uses this to dictate his fights, preferring to take his opponents down and do damage from there. This has been serving him extremely well as he presently has a 9-1 MMA record (with his only loss coming to Dos Santos) having finished every single fight bar one via technical knockout. Velasquez simply never tires, his opponents likening facing him to weathering a storm that never ends.
His frightening combination of stamina and brute strength make Velasquez an incredibly difficult fight for anyone who is unable to secure a victory early, as Dos Santos did, and the more the fight goes on the less able (no pun intended) Cain’s opponents will be to break out of his grinding wrestling and ground and pound.
Though Cain Velasquez’s incredible athleticism and technique make him a serious threat for just about any man in the UFC he faces a very interesting opponent in Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. Exemplar Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners such as UFC Welterweight Demian Maia have typically honed their technique to such a degree to compensate for the strength advantages of their opponents but this could not be farther from the truth with Antonio Silva. Bigfoot is not just a nickname, as the 6’4″ Brazilian not only cuts an imposing figure but has the technical ability to submit just about anyone with a black belt awarded from Team Nogueira. What makes Silva so dangerous an opponent is the sheer strength and size he is capable of applying when grappling, shocking the world when he battered Pride legend Fedor Emelianenko from the mount position for two rounds to earn a doctor’s stoppage victory. Silva also possesses legitimate knockout power, having knocked out or finished 11 of his opponents by strikes.
Both fighters possess a similar weakness however: a questionable chin. Though Velasquez has only lost once he was visibly rocked in his UFC 99 fight with Cheick Kongo and Silva is coming off a knockout loss to Cain’s training partner and wrestling coach Daniel Cormier in Zuffa sister promotion Strikeforce. Not only is the influence of Daniel Cormier in Velasquez’s training camp sure to be very valuable in creating a game plan to defeat the Brazilian but Silva also trains with the only man to defeat the former champion, Junior Dos Santos.
Roy Nelson vs. Dave Herman
You could be forgiven for thinking Roy Nelson was not an athlete. Known for his enormous gut and lack of muscle definition, Nelson’s portly frame baffled fans during his stint on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter where his Jiu Jitsu technique and knockout power won him the competition with a victory over UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub.
Since then Nelson has fought consistently against top tier competition and though he suffered defeat in three of his last four fights his iron chin and deceptive cardio have made him a constant threat against fighters like Junior Dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum. Going into his fight against Dave Herman Nelson will surely attempt to utilise his weight advantage and more well-rounded skillset to look for a knockout against his opponent who has stepped in to replace an injured Gabriel Gonzaga.
Roy Nelson is certainly a step up in competition for 27-year-old Indiana native Dave Herman. It was only in February at UFC on Fuel TV: Sanchez vs. Ellenberger where Herman lost to Stefan Struve by technical knockout in what was a lacklustre performance particularly when compared to his knockout victory over John-Olav Einemo in UFC 131’s Fight of the Night. “Pee Wee” Herman’s career started with considerable buzz with him fighting a total of ten times in 2007 and winning every single fight in the first round.
Stefan Struve vs. Lavar Johnson
Stefan Struve is certainly one of the more interesting prospects in the UFC heavyweight division. Standing a gigantic 6’11” and boasting a reach second only to Jon Jones at 83 inches, Struve seems built to kickbox, having a height and reach advantage over every single man the UFC can match him with. Struve is also a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, submitting 15 of his opponents with a particular preference for the triangle choke. To top it off he has time on his side with ten UFC fights at the very young age of 24.
For all his strengths however, Struve seems to be hovering around the upper echelon of the division due to falling short against fighters who have been able to capitalise on his brawling nature. Junior Dos Santos, Roy Nelson and Travis Browne have all be able to on the holes Struve leaves in his stand up game and find a chin that the Dutchman has an unfortunate tendency to leave vulnerable. In Lavar Johnson Struve faces a fighter who despite lacking the crisp technique of Dos Santos is arguably the more powerful puncher making this one of the more interesting matchups on the card.
Lavar Johnson is a very busy man. UFC 146 marks his third fight in four months as he steps in on ten days notice to replace the injured Mark Hunt and further cement himself as a serious contender. Johnson has entered the UFC in a manner reminiscent to Shane Carwin, scoring back to back first round knockout of the night victories over Joey Beltran and Pat Barry with the latter occurring only two weeks ago at UFC on Fox: Diaz vs. Miller. Much like Carwin, Lavar possesses monstrous knockout power and his technique will only improve as times goes on.
So that’s UFC 146 in a nutshell.
Feuds will be settled, championships will be decided and the largest athletes in mixed martial arts will clash when May 26th finally rolls around. MMA has never seen an entirely heavyweight main event and despite the numerous injuries the final product is sure to live up to the electrifying standard the heavyweight division has always had among combat sports. It’s been a rollercoaster leading up to this point but one thing is for certain; there will be fireworks.