Fans had been holding their breath for months in the lead up to UFC 146, not only as the first all-heavyweight card in UFC history but also as a demonstration of the most skilful heavyweight division in history.
Over a ton of combatants clashed in what was certainly one of the shortest and most explosive cards in the last decade. A champion proved himself; the former champion rose to the top once more and hey, looks like Roy Nelson’s still got it.
Junior Dos Santos vs. Frank Mir
by Rupert Foy
“I’m feeling awesome!” These are the first words we hear from the title retaining, deadly fist wielding, UFC heavyweight champion, Junior Dos Santos. It was a fitting end to a card that had already packed a heavy punch.
Coming into UFC 146 the world had been awash with potential outcomes for the collision between the champion, and the two time UFC heavyweight belt holder, Frank Mir. Mir’s undeniable talent had earned him a worthy place in the matchup, however, the resulting fight showed the world that the only people worthy of a place in the Octagon with JDS, should probably be a member of The Avengers.
At the start of the fight it was clear that Mir’s game plan would be to take down the virtuoso boxer, beginning with a takedown attempt which was immediately dismissed, leaving Mir to clutch at Dos Santos’ leg like a child not wanting to go to school. Once on his feet the Las Vegas native was met with a series of strikes that made it obvious that he was far outmatched on his feet. After working Mir’s body with some savage shots, Junior slammed a right hook into the temple of the challenger knocking him against the cage. Luckily for Frank Mir the bell managed pull his head out of the proverbial oven, for now.
The second round, coincidentally when the champion had said the fight would end, did not start well for Mir. After telling the officials the wrong casino name when asked where he was, Frank steadily plodded out to once again receive the hammer-like fists of Dos Santos. Mir gamely attempted a knee to Junior’s mid-section, which gave the Brazilian the chance he needed. Dos Santos countered with a straight right that sent Mir sprawling backwards and proceeded to rain punch after punch on the battered challenger. After stepping away to avoid depleting his stamina, and Mir’s legendary ground game, JDS only had to wait a few seconds until Mir fell back, giving him the opportunity to land a hammerfist that Thor himself would have been proud of. Herb Dean prevented further damage to the fallen challenger and cemented Junior Dos Santos’ first title defence.
This fight represents a lot of things to the UFC. First being, how can such a self-proclaimed “nice guy”, who flew out a penniless favela residing child out as his VIP, be such a dominant force in a career infamous for its brutality? Dos Santos is evidently a worthy ambassador for a sport that is still in its trial period with mainstream audiences and, judging by his performance last weekend, will continue to be at the forefront of heavyweight MMA for years to come.
The fight also represents a lot for Frank Mir, who arguably shouldered the mantle left for him by the “outlaw” Alistair Overeem on short notice, but was so completely outclassed by the younger man that his presence within the fight, and therefore his future, come into question. One thing is for certain, Overeem would have potentially protected Mir from a concussion and made for a far more interesting matchup.
Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva
by Nima Seyf
Relax people, Cain Velasquez is back.
Scrap that, he was never gone. Eyes were drawn to UFC 146’s co-main event for the return of the 29-year-old after his blistering knockout loss to champion Junior Dos Santos with the now champion’s right hand putting out Velasquez just over a minute into the first round to give Cain the first loss of his short career. Sceptics were quick to criticise Velasquez’s chin, saying his kickboxing was not of the highest level and the outcome of UFC on Fox’s main event would be an inevitable consequence of future matchups with similarly skilled strikers. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva’s stand up skills may not be of the calibre of a Dos Santos but all it took was one round and a pint of blood for Velasquez to catapult himself back into title contention and send a fearsome message to the rest of the division.
If, as Joe Rogan described, Cain’s style is that of a “demon” then his battle with Antonio Silva was nothing short of a hellish introduction to the UFC for the former Strikeforce fighter. It took less than ten seconds for Cain to put the much larger Brazilian on his back by grabbing a kick and flying forward using his considerable wrestling pedigree to send Silva hurtling toward the floor. Velasquez immediately began piling on the pressure, pounding on Bigfoot and landing short elbows that cut his opponent quickly, turning the Octagon into a bloodbath. Cain continued to smash Silva for the rest of the round and was finally forced off his beaten opponent then proceeded to calmly walk the length of the Octagon, his facial expression showing the same Spartan quality it has for his entire career. Beneath him laid Silva, a beaten bloody mess and soundly defeated by Velasquez in what was without a doubt the worst loss of his career.
Velasquez rose like a phoenix from the ashes to reclaim his spot at the top of the heavyweight division at UFC 146, not only silencing any doubters but also putting on one of the most terrifying performances in heavyweight MMA history
Roy “Big Country” Nelson vs. Dave Herman
by Rupert Foy
Roy Nelson is one of earth’s true anomalies. Like a deaf composer or a Nissan Micra that’s faster than a Ferrari, Nelson stands as a fat man in a sport full of muscle-bound behemoths. However in this match Nelson, as per usual, stunned the MMA world. The winner of season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, Roy is renowned for his unbreakable jaw, his first-rate Brazilian jiu jitsu and, once again the star of the show, his dynamite overhand right. Nelson’s opponent and recipient of knockout of the night was Bellator fighting championship veteran Dave Herman. Herman tried to stave off Big Country with a series of push kicks to little avail, allowing Roy to charge in rocketing his right hand into the head of his opponent. Herman’s legs folded like an accordion, dropping him straight to the mat.
This win sent a clear message to a number of sections of the UFC. The first being that any heavyweight who underestimates the bearded, gut-sporting joker does so at their peril. Secondly being to the president of the UFC Dana White, a man who has openly criticised Nelson’s work ethic/appearance. After his ritualistic “rubbing of the Buddha” (his belly) on top of the cage, Nelson was seen to bellow out a ‘fuck you’ in the direction of White and UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta. Obviously not the most intelligent thing to say to your bosses.
Nelson’s career in the UFC, regardless of his relationship with his employers, could be under threat. If he wishes to set his sights on a title shot it comes with a price tag. Either bulk up and shift his stomach to be a real contender in the heavyweight division, or slim down totally to the light heavyweight division (which arguably would suit his natural frame). Nelson is a naturally gifted warrior and I for one would like to see this kung fu fighter in a position, physically, where his success is not a surprise but an inevitability.
Stipe Miocic vs. Shane Del Rosario
by Rupert Foy
The second event of the heavily-stacked main card, pun intended, came from two undefeated sources, Stipe Miocic and former Strikeforce fighter Shane Del Rosario. The Croatian-American Miocic was expected to use his Division I wrestling background and his Golden Gloves winning boxing to welcome SDR into the UFC and his first career loss. Unfortunately for Del Rosario, that’s exactly what happened.
Admittedly, the first round admittedly, appeared to be evenly matched between the two fighters, arguably going in favour of SDR due to some savage kicks to Miocic’s body. However in the second round it was clear that the fire- fighting, ambulance-driving Miocic was looking to capitalise on his high level wrestling. Noticing his opponent’s increasing fatigue he shot for a take down and managed to control the fight from the floor. The Division I wrestling proved useful as the Croatian-American managed to open up some calculated ground and pound, eventually finishing the fight, and Del Rosario’s perfect record, with some punishing elbows.
Overall the fight made it clear that Miocic’s conditioning and overall MMA background proved to be the defining factor in the win. However critics have argued that, due to a horrific car accident, and the subsequent career-threatening injuries, Del Rosario’s gap in fights (February 2011-May 2012) would have played a considerable factor in his ability, conditioning and potential mental state, (look at Frank Mir post motorcycle accident). Either way, with the decline of Mirko Cro Cop, I for one would love to see another Croatian Sensation rise, and this part-time firefighter may just be that man.
Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve vs. “Big” Lavar Johnson
by Nima Seyf
UFC 146 was kicked off in a truly heavyweight fashion by two great prospects in Stefan Struve and Lavar Johnson. On paper this was a very interesting matchup, Struve bringing rangy kickboxing and slick Brazilian jiu jitsu to counter Johnson’s killer knockout power and bestial strength. Despite the considerable threat Lavar poses to just about any man on the planet, Struve quickly showed why skill and technique are still the most important aspects of mixed martial arts.
Struve cleverly waited for his opportunity and clinched an aggressive Johnson, quickly taking the fight to the ground where he locked on a tight armbar almost instantly and forced Lavar to tap just over a minute into the round. Johnson was simply outmatched, being deprived the opportunity to throw even a single of those strikes that destroyed Pat Barry and Joey Beltran.
The Skyscraper not only picked up submission of the night honours at UFC 146 but he also – along with his knockout of Dave Herman prior to UFC 146 – built back some momentum in the division and showed himself as a serious jiu jitsu threat to just about anyone. As for Lavar Johnson, his defeat at UFC 146 is sure to have taught him an important lesson and cause him to work on his technique to complement his power rather than relying on the latter as he seemed to going into the fight.
Taking the fight on less than two weeks notice would also need to be factored in for Lavar, meaning that his loss at UFC 146 (conclusive though it was) could simply be chalked down to inexperience and lacking the time to train properly for an opponent that presents the unique problems of Stefan Struve.
UFC 146 was a triumph, having been built up over many weeks with UFC Primetime and a particularly funny fan-made trailer, it displayed to the world that not all heavyweights are big, brawling sluggers devoid of technique, but true athletes with a range of skills.
From the BJJ prowess of Stefan Struve to the unfeasible power found in the right fist of Roy Nelson, many in the world of MMA managed to once again be reminded of the unpredictability of the sport. However it is the dominant performances exhibited by Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos that will hold the most significance.
Arguably, Velasquez’s elbow turning the ring into a sea of red was not welcomed by the UFC executives who wished to dispel the belief that the sport was just barbaric, but such a dominant performance coupled with Cain’s nonchalance proves that he deserves a place in the upper echelons of the heavyweight division.
Whereas the disarming charm of Junior Dos Santos has once again matched his ability within the Octagon, avenging the losses of his mentor Minotauro Nogueira, and proving to the world (and one fan in particular) that a little boy from impoverished Brazil can beat a child from Sin City and become a champion and a legend.