UFC 146 is only a few hours away, and still these questions, concerns, comments and predictions are burning a hole through my keyboard. Here are seven, in no particular order.
I. You can call Frank Mir a lot of things, but a quitter isn’t one of them. Junior dos Santos seems to think he folds up easily, and that this makes him "not a man" (sidenote: if you say this about someone, you don’t get to act surprised when he takes it personally, regardless of how they do things back home in Brazil). But while Mir’s chin has looked shaky in the past, he has too many comeback wins to be dubbed a quitter. Look at his first fight with Brock Lesnar. Look at his last fight with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (don’t worry, Mir will be more than happy to give you a gleeful account of it). He’s been in plenty of situations that looked like they were heading south, but his submissions game enables him to snatch a win from the jaws of defeat. Can he do it again against dos Santos? I have to admit I don’t like his chances, although if dos Santos thinks he’s facing someone who’s going to break easily, or who isn’t still incredibly dangerous even when (especially when?) he’s hurt, that might be the best break Mir could catch.
II. Believe it or not, there are times when being the UFC heavyweight champ isn’t exactly a dream job. Earlier this week we looked at a couple varying explanations for why the heavyweight strap has been so tough to hold on to, but all you need to do is look at how much more relaxed Cain Velasquez has been this week to know that there is at least some upside to being knocked out of that spotlight. It’s not just the pressure, Velasquez said, but also the constant interview requests, the media attention, plus all the travel that keeps you from establishing a consistent training camp. "Until you’re there, then you understand it, what kind of stuff you have to do," he said. Dos Santos seems to be holding up well under the strain so far. Then again, every fighter will tell you what a perfect training camp he had before the fight. Mishaps and distractions only seem to pop up in retrospect.
III. How much of a difference will Antonio Silva’s level of interest really make? "Bigfoot" told us this week that he was just going through the motions in his last fight, which is why, according to him, he got knocked out by Daniel Cormier. But now that he’s in the UFC, he insisted, he’s got plenty of motivation. At the same time, this is Cain Velasquez we’re talking about. He’s beaten up plenty of guys whose heads were all the way in the fight. Silva might have fists that are half the size of Velasquez’s skull, but he’s also going to have his work cut out for him against a former champ who’s looking to prove that he still belongs at the top.
IV. It’s make-or-break time for both Dan Hardy and Jason "Mayhem" Miller. Everything we know about the way the UFC makes hiring and firing decisions tells us that these two need to win if they want to stick around. Coming close probably won’t cut it, and neither will exciting losses. A lot of fighters might be encouraged to play it safe in the hopes of edging out a win and clinging to employment, but not those two. I predict that will both Hardy and Miller will show up willing to risk total destruction in the pursuit of glorious victory. How will that go for them, however, I’m still not sure.
V. Lavar Johnson does not want to end up on the mat with Stefan Struve. He knows it, Struve knows it, and he knows that Struve knows it. You factor in Struve’s reputation as a bit of a slow starter in his fights, and Johnson’s abbreviated training camp for this one, and it starts to seem like Johnson’s best hope is an early blitzkrieg. It wouldn’t be the first time Struve’s succumbed to an early bombardment. And let’s face it, the longer the fight goes, the more likely the short-notice aspect of it is bound to show in Johnson’s performance. I’m not saying his only chance is to go all James Thompson, gong-and-rush here. I’m also not saying it’s such a bad idea.
VI. What does Jacob Volkmann have to do to get off the Facebook prelims and into a fight with a top lightweight? Just kidding. We all know what he has to do. He has to win a fight that people actually want to watch. Putting fans to sleep for fifteen minutes, then making awkward political jokes in the post-fight interview isn’t going to do it.
VII. Is Dana White becoming a grumpy old man? He grumbles about that hippie Roy Nelson, with his beard and his mullet. And when "Mayhem" Miller strolled up to the weigh-ins with his boombox and pink boa, White eyed him like he was the punk kid who’d showed up to take his teenage daughter out. Even some of Dave Herman’s fashion statements seem to rub White the wrong way, and he didn’t look thrilled about Kyle Kingsbury weighing-in wearing a mankini. On some level, I get it. I can see why White would be wary about the UFC turning into one big physical comedy act. On the other hand, lighten up. The fans dig it, and at least it makes the weigh-ins halfway interesting without any failed weight cuts or on-stage brawls. So what’s the problem? Between the too-tight t-shirts and the f-bomb Twitter tirades, it’s not as if White fits the mold of the typical sports league president himself. You’d think a guy like that might have more patience for those who march to the beat of their own drummer.