Slimmer Mir headlines UFC 119
If 31-year-old Frank Mir loses again, his career will be at a crossroads
The winner of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira-Ryan Bader will meet Jon Jones
The fading Kazushi Sakuraba will take on Jason "Mayhem" Miller in Japan
Cards on opposite sides of the globe this Saturday should hopefully bring the discussion in mixed martial arts back to fighting, where it belongs. With Dream offering its mix of Japanese-flavored MMA early in the morning for those of us in the U.S., and UFC debuting in Indianapolis later that night, there's plenty to gear up for as we head into the weekend.
Sorting through what matters and what doesn't, here's what stands out to me:
It's been 10 months and three fights since Mark Philippi pushed Frank Mir through five-day-a-week workouts. The seven-time World's Strongest Man participant was hired by the former UFC heavyweight champion to help pack on functional mass in the face of monsters like Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin. He did, an extra 20 pounds, prompting Mir, at the division's upper limit, to resemble an overinflated balloon.
Gone and largely forgotten is that size as Mir prepares to meet 36-year-old Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (27-7-2) at Conseco Fieldhouse. He has even expressed an interest of dropping down and campaigning at light heavyweight -- emboldened, Mir said Thursday, by people near to him who believe he can't. (I don't think it's possible either.) For now, that's on hold because the UFC came calling with a rematch at heavyweight against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. When that bout fell apart after the Brazilian was injured, the UFC came back with a contest we hadn't seen before before between two veterans who enjoyed a great deal of success last decade.
Past successes aren't worth much now for Mir (13-5), who appears confused about where his career is headed -- understandable after being battered in two of his last three fights.
If the 31-year-old Mir loses again, his career will be at a crossroads. If Cro Cop goes down, he may just decide it's the right time to walk away. So there is some intrigue here.
For what it's worth, I'm going with Cro Cop. Concerns over an eye injury have been answered. He's ready to compete. I think he can avoid Mir's takedowns and submissions, and will at some point land damaging strikes.
Nogueira or Ryan Bader. One of these light heavyweights, who co-headline UFC 119 in the Hoosier State, will be next in line to meet Jon Jones.
Bader, 27, a powerful wrestler who concentrated his efforts on becoming a mixed martial artist who can strike and grapple, can't afford to take his focus off Nogueira, a highly respected and ranked light heavyweight who makes few mistakes.
Nogueira (19-3) looked awful in his last bout against Jason Brilz, a contest many people felt the 34-year-old Brazilian should have lost. He'll need to do much better to have a shot at handing Bader (11-0) his first defeat.
Saturday night, expect to see Bader with his hand raised, making good on a great fight between the two most intriguing prospects in the light heavyweight division. Just don't expect it until 2011 -- Bader is getting married at the end of Oct. and is hoping for a little down time.
It's certainly possible one or more of these men will put on a great performance Saturday. So I'll be watching with interest as the 155-pound division -- as represented at the top by Sean Sherk, Evan Dunham, Shinya Aoki and others -- once again brings some international flavor.
Sherk (32-4) and Dunham (11-0) meet in very meaningful fight for the UFC ranks. The only way Sherk has a real chance to win is if he's healthy enough to wrestle and mix it up. Forced to stand and box from the outside against Dunham, Sherk won't have a shot. Aoki, who fights on Dream.16 in Nagoya, Japan, (HDNet, 2 a.m. ET), meets Marcus Aurelio, no stranger to huge wins over top Japanese lightweights. Aoki (24-5) reestablished himself after the debacle against Gilbert Melendez by ripping off Tatsuya Kawajiri's ankle in July. Another dominant performance against the veteran Brazilian would keep Aoki's name near the top five of the division.
Welterweights Matt Serra and Chris Lytle -- roommates during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter 4 and eventual competitors on the show's finale -- have guaranteed fireworks.
"There's no way this fight is going to be boring," Serra said during the final press conference for UFC 119.
Since they danced a slow dance for the right to challenge Georges St. Pierre in 2007, both Lytle and Serra, each 36 years old, have, if nothing else, come to fight.
Serra won a squeaker of a decision, exhibiting just a shade more control than Lytle, prompting the professional firefighter to realize he "trained too hard and too long to go out there and think about anything but finishing fights." Neither 170-pounder expects much clinching during a second go in Lytle's hometown. And since no one has more "fight of the night" bonuses in the UFC than Lytle, chances are they'll deliver.
But then what? Can Serra (11-6) or Lytle (29-17-5) multiply a win here into title contention among a group of sharks? Doubtful. So feel free to enjoy it for what it is.
Several options jump out.
The aforementioned Serra vs. Lytle and Bader vs. Nogueira, as well as a lightweight grudge match between Melvin Guillard (24-8-2) and Jeremy Stephens (18-5) to kick off UFC 119 could all standout in Indy.
But based on the matchmaking, I'm expecting the weekend's most frenetic action to come from the Dream card. Three bouts in particular come with high expectations despite each fighter sporting a less than stellar record. It shouldn't surprise anyone they all come out of the featherweight division.
Hiroyuki Takaya (13-8-1) vs. Chase Beebe (13-6) -- Takaya is coming off a stoppage win against Joachim Hansen and usually brings it. Beebe can be slow with his wrestling and stall, but I don't think Takaya will allow that to happen.
Michihiro Omigawa (11-8-1) vs. Cole Escovedo (16-5) -- Omigawa is probably too much for Escovedo here, but I don't see the American going out on anything but his shield.
Hideo Tokoro (26-22-1) vs. Hansen (19-10-1) -- Sheer madness in this one. While it's safe to say these are good, not great fighters, Tokoro and Hansen won't wait or struggle to engage.
Kazushi Sakuraba versus Jason "Mayhem" Miller.
Can't be helped.
Sakuraba is a legend in every sense of the word. What's Miller (23-7) intend to do to his hero? Beat him up, which would add him to an expanding list of winners against the Japanese king. Sakuraba has little left, yet he remains captivating to watch. There's a reason a guy like "Mayhem" points to Sakuraba (26-13-1) as his idol.
As for the winner, it has to be Miller. Too much energy and he won't get submitted.