Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Both times Frank Mir won a piece of the UFC heavyweight championship, it was as an underdog. When he captured the belt outright at UFC 48 in June 2004, Tim Sylvia was nearly a 3-to-1 favorite against him. When he took the interim title more than four years later, it was Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira favored by an even larger number, nearly 4-to-1.
Against Junior dos Santos, Mir will face not only his longest title odds yet, but the most lopsided of his entire career. When the two step into the cage at UFC 146, dos Santos will be around 5-to-1 to beat Mir.
That number is borne out of dos Santos' striking acumen. Simply put, he is believed to be a significantly better striker than Mir, and also to have the takedown defense that will allow him to keep the fight exactly where he prefers it.
The 27-year-old dos Santos (14-1) has so far routed everyone that's stood in front of him in the striking portion of fights. From renowned strikers like Mirko Cro Cop to power punchers like Shane Carwin, he's proven his hands and his chin repeatedly.
His success is largely based on his speed. The Brazilian has fast hands for a heavyweight and often beats his opponents to the punch. His title win against Cain Velasquez, for example, was quick, but it was clear that dos Santos won all of the exchanges through speed. Against Gilbert Yvel, the pair were both throwing left hooks at the same time; dos Santos landed first. He also seems to have quick reflexes in countering when his opponent comes forward with no clear indication of doing anything meaningful.
That was how he knocked out Fabricio Werdum many fights ago, it was also how he KO'd Gabriel Gonzaga.
According to FightMetric, dos Santos lands his strikes at a 47 percent rate. That's a decent number, but it becomes more ominous for Mir when you factor in two other statistics. First of all, dos Santos has scored eight knockdowns in his UFC career, tied for seventh all-time while appearing in only eight octagon bouts. Secondly, Mir has a terrible habit of being hit often in his fights.
FightMetric research shows that Mir's opponents only miss on 41 percent of their strike attempts against him. That means Mir is routinely outstruck; stats show that he lands 2.48 strikes per minute while his opponents land 3.54 per minute against him.
Given those numbers, it's somewhat incredible Mir (16-5) has fashioned the resume he has, and it also goes against dos Santos' recent contention that Mir crumbles under pressure. More evidence against it? Mir's most recent win over dos Santos' mentor Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
In that fight, Nogueira rocked Mir with a straight right hand and worked for the finish with ground strikes before Mir suddenly turned the momentum on him on a scramble and forced a technical submission by kimura.
That fight showed Mir at his best and worst. On one hand, he fought through a horrific start to win; on the other, his striking defense was dreadful, with Nogueira landing a shocking 87.5 percent of his strikes. Nogueira is a good boxer, but dos Santos is a few notches above him, not only with power but speed.
Mir also seems to often find himself backed up against the cage. That's a position that he's used to try to score takedowns in the past, but it's one in which dos Santos has excelled.
Mir might have hinted at some of his game plan during Thursday's pre-fight press conference when he noted that with dos Santos, the danger factor decreases after the first round. Most likely, that means he'll be willing to make an ugly first, clinching and attempting to grinding dos Santos against the fence in hoping to steal away some of his explosiveness.
Fighting with your back to the fence hasn't worked well against dos Santos in the past though. Just ask Stefan Struve and Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson. Then again, not much of anything has worked against dos Santos.
The obvious route to victory for Mir is to take the fight to the ground, where he has secured nine of his career wins. The not-so-obvious piece of that puzzle is how exactly he can get it there. Mir is a decent wrestler who has successfully landed 51 percent of his takedown tries, but dos Santos has flashed excellent defense. He's only been put on the mat twice -- once apiece by Carwin and Gonzaga -- and he hasn't stayed there very long. Neither man held him down for more than one second; on both occasions he immediately popped back to his feet before a single strike was landed.
That leaves the probability that Mir is left to try to solve dos Santos on his feet. And that, of course, seems an unlikely proposition.
The uppercut and left hook have been JDS' action punches throughout his career. Of the two, I think the uppercut is much more likely to change the course of this fight, particularly as the two work near the fence.
FightMetric used a match-up analysis to simulate the bout 10,000 times, and dos Santos won 66 percent of the time, with 45 percent of the finishes coming by way of knockout.
I, too, think dos Santos is the likely winner. Mir is a big underdog for good reason; dos Santos is that good, and he denies Mir a third title run with a second-round knockout.
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