As the UFC 146 fight card came together, it became clear that the heavyweights would be the featured attractions. Matchmaker Joe Silva eventually assembled a main card of five heavyweight bouts which all included top contenders or rising stars. Given the shallowness of the division in comparison to other weight classes, it was a bona fide coup.
Silva’s original masterpiece, however, was short-lived, when No. 1 contender Alistair Overeem was flagged after a random drug test for an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio and eventually pulled from his proposed title fight with champion Junior dos Santos. Given the increased visibility Overeem had earned after thrashing Brock Lesnar last December, that unexpected change will likely cost the UFC millions in pay-per-view revenue. Silva’s original concept, however, is still in place, if slightly watered down.
Junior dos Santos (14-1) vs. Frank Mir (16-5)
MGM Grand Garden Arena - Las Vegas
Both dos Santos and Mir had just about one month to prepare for each other after the Overeem debacle. The opponent switch marks a big change from what both were expecting. dos Santos was in the midst of preparing for an orthodox kickboxing specialist, and instead will face a southpaw with a reputation as a grappler. Mir was originally supposed to face Cain Velasquez, a well-rounded wrestler/striker with an endless gas tank, and now he’s facing the best boxer in the heavyweight division. Whoever has made the quicker study of what he’s up against could have the edge.
dos Santos is known as a gentleman and one of the nicest people in the fight game, so it came as a bit of a surprise when he recently accused Mir of a lack of heart during times of adversity. As trash talk goes, it wasn’t exactly Chael Sonnen level, but given dos Santos’ reputation, it certainly had an impact. Mir, though, says he was unbothered.
“I just broke down why he said what he said when he backed it up on certain fights and I looked at it, and I have no issues with my manhood so I guess I took it as just him trying to start a fight and trying to stir the pot,” Mir said. “dos Santos, I think, has done better as far as a fighter in the octagon than he has as far as trying to sell the fight.”
“I confirm and I stand by what I said and what I meant by that remark is that I feel that Frank Mir lacks heart and lacks the ability to proceed through rough spots in a fight,” dos Santos said. “That's my personal opinion. It's what I truly believe. I don’t say things just to say fights. I'm not a trash talker. I never will be. So if I said it's because that's my true opinion.”
It’s Quietly Personal
One reason for dos Santos’ sharp words for Mir may stem from the history between the two sides. dos Santos is a protege of respected veteran heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who Mir has beaten two times. The most recent time, Mir broke Nogueira’s right arm during a kimura submission. Apparently, that has made Mir a public enemy among Brazilian fans. How bad is it? Apparently, dos Santos and Mir had taken a picture together at children’s cancer research fundraiser, and when the picture got back to Brazil, he received major backlash. A few days later, the two were supposed to meet for another photo opportunity, this one for the release of a UFC video game, but dos Santos decided not to attend.
Former heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez is back for the first time since losing the belt to dos Santos. Velasquez has gone through a series of injuries -- including ones requiring surgery to his shoulder and knee -- but mentally, he says he had no problem overcoming his first loss.
“I’m definitely able to let it go,” he said. “In wrestling I’ve lost matches before and stuff like that so it’s always a thing where you kind of learn from it. You just watch film but you don’t really keep it with you and always think about it. It’s the kind of thing where you just learn from it right away and then move on. I mean that’s what you have to do. I wasn’t thinking that I was going to go through my entire career undefeated. You kind of expect to lose sometimes. It’s the kind of thing that just happens.”
The most surprising booking of the event took place when Stipe Miocic stepped in on short notice to fight Shane del Rosario. Both fighters are considered rising contenders, and both are still unbeaten, meaning someone is going to walk away with a first loss and a longer climb back to true divisional relevance. Despite little prep time, Miocic (8-0) is considered a slight favorite to beat del Rosario (11-0). One reason why? Del Rosario is fighting for the first time in over a year after recovering from injuries he suffered from being hit by a drunk driver.
While the heavyweights will get the lion’s share of attention for UFC 146, the card has talent throughout, with two former WEC champions (Mike Brown and Jamie Varner) on the undercard, the popular Jason “Mayhem” Miller facing CB Dollaway, the UFC debut of the highly regarded Brazilian Glover Teixeira, and the rising, unbeaten lightweight star Edson Barboza.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
Can anyone top the big three of Silva, Jones, and GSP as the best pound-for-pounder fighter?