Mir, Nelson fighting for credibility

Mir, Nelson fighting for credibility

Published May. 27, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET

One has to feel for UFC matchmaker Joe Silva at the moment when it comes to the heavyweight division.

With former champion Brock Lesnar fighting to save his career after another bout of diverticulitis and current champion Cain Velasquez out until the winter because of a torn rotator cuff, the UFC has not been blessed with top-quality heavyweight bouts this year.

While Strikeforce has been showcasing its deepest division with its Heavyweight World Grand Prix, the UFC has focused on developing new stars for the division that has set box-office records over the past four years. Pat Barry, Matt Mitirone and Brendan Schaub have all impressed over the past few months, taking decisive steps forward in their careers with crucial victories against veteran opponents.

However, attention now turns back to the apex of the division with the first of two fights that will surely determine the championship picture in the UFC for the foreseeable future.


While next month’s UFC 131 headliner between Junior dos Santos and Shane Carwin will determine who will next face Cain Velasquez for the world title, it seems almost inevitable that whoever emerges from UFC 130’s all-Vegas showdown between Frank Mir and Roy Nelson will be next in line after them for a title shot. And that’s despite each having lost decisively to one of the men headlining UFC 131. After all, unless the UFC is willing to throw the carefully matched Brendan Schaub into the deep end, there is simply no alternative.

Nelson should be a more controversial figure than he actually is, with many fans and commentators forgiving him for his eccentric behavior due to an engaging personality. But the reality is that Nelson has failed to fulfill what is usually held up as the No. 1 duty of any athlete — to stay in optimum shape. Do not believe those who talk about how Nelson’s knows how to use his weight to his advantage. His belly may trap Kimbo Slice but it destroys his conditioning and saps his energy. It also has the unwelcome side effect of forcing him into a heavyweight division for which he lacks the natural frame. At 5-foot-11 and with a reach of only 73 inches, he is (believe it or not) significantly undersized for a weight class that has become a veritable land of the giants.

Frank Mir knows what it’s like to be outmuscled by a bigger opponent, having been mauled by a 280-pound Brock Lesnar at UFC 100. Mir responded to that setback by hitting the weights and bulking up to 260 pounds. How Mir can cope with the additional muscle mass is unproven, as both his victory over Cheick Kongo and his loss to Shane Carwin were so quick that we never saw his cardio tested.

So with a bout in which both fighters’ conditioning is suspect, one has to hope that it’s all over before the action slows down to the glacial pace of Mir’s last fight against Mirko Cro Cop. Both Nelson and Mir are primarily known for their jiu-jitsu, but neither has the wrestling to get the other down to the ground. Therefore the fight is likely to be a predominately standup affair with any grappling coming after one of the fighters has been knocked down.

While Nelson has genuine knockout power, his boxing is unrefined and he’ll be at a heavy disadvantage because of his lack of height and reach. Look for the educated fighter Mir to use his bigger frame to outwork Nelson from a distance with technically sound kickboxing while avoiding the danger posed by Nelson’s big right hand. Nelson may have shown tremendous punch resistance in his last fight against Junior Dos Santos but Mir has demonstrated against both Cro Cop and Kongo the ability to put away durable opponents.

Expect Frank Mir to reaffirm his championship-contender credentials by finishing Roy Nelson in the second half of their fight on Saturday.