Posted: Tuesday May 22, 2012 2:33PM ; Updated: Tuesday May 22, 2012 2:34PM
Jeff Wagenheim
Jeff Wagenheim>INSIDE MMA

Viewers' guide to UFC 146

Story Highlights

Junior dos Santos will face Frank Mir in UFC heavyweight title bout in Las Vegas

The defending champ, dos Santos has won his last nine fights and is 14-1 overall

A two-time titleholder, Mir is 16-5 with each of his losses coming via knockout

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Junior dos Santos (right) will look to defend his UFC heavyweight title Saturday in Las Vegas.
Junior dos Santos (right) will look to defend his UFC heavyweight title Saturday in Las Vegas.
Jason Redmond/AP

Now it's time to see what he's really made of.

It's one thing to terrorize the UFC heavyweight division on the way to earning a shot at the championship, then making quick work of the titleholder to grab a hold of the belt. All of that was impressive. Very, very impressive, in fact, especially the last part: Knocking out the previously unbeaten champ, Cain Velasquez, in 64 seconds last November was a stunning statement by Junior dos Santos.

But winning a title is only half of what makes a champion. The other half is holding onto the belt.

That's what dos Santos (14-1) will try to do Saturday night in Las Vegas in the main event of UFC 146 (10 p.m., PPV).

Standing in the way of his quest at continued glory is a guy who knows what it means to be a UFC champion. Frank Mir (16-5) has twice worn the belt, first capturing it in 2004 with a technical submission of Tim Sylvia in a bout in which his armbar broke the then-champ's limb in four places. Mir's title reign soon ended, though, and his career was put on hiatus when he broke his leg in a motorcycle accident. But four years later he earned the interim belt by upsetting Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira via TKO.

The spirit of those two results converged in Mir's most recent bout. Last December at UFC 140, Mir fought a rematch with "Big Nog," and this time the fight went to the mat, a place that suits both Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts but was thought by many to favor Nogueira and his reputation as the best submission grappler in the heavyweight division. But after Nog, who'd rocked Mir while the fight was standing, attempted to finish Frank with a guillotine choke, Mir reversed position, took side control and smoothly put the Brazilian's right arm in a kimura. Nogueira rolled Mir over to try to escape and reclaim top position, but Mir was the better man in the scramble, ending up on top again and locking in the kimura even tighter. Inescapably tighter. Nogueira refused to tap out, however, so the bout ended gruesomely.

It was difficult to watch a man's arm get broken -- difficult for those in the arena, for those watching the pay-per-view telecast and especially for a certain Brazilian fighter who considers Nogueira a mentor and hero. Junior dos Santos did not know at the time that he would have an opportunity to avenge his friend's painful loss.

This opportunity was not in the plans. Initially, when the UFC dreamed up an event featuring all heavyweight bouts on the main card, the headlining fight was to be dos Santos defending his title against Alistair Overeem. The Dutch man mountain had relinquished his Strikeforce heavyweight title to fight in the UFC, then had made an auspicious debut by crushing Brock Lesnar and sending the ex-champ into retirement. He was the hot heavyweight challenger. What made his matchup with dos Santos especially tantalizing was that Overeem, in addition to his MMA career, is the reigning K-1 kickboxing champion. This was going to be a matchup of the division's most devastating strikers.

But then came a March press conference to hype the fight, and when the fighters showed up to meet the press they also were greeted by officials from the Nevada Athletic Commission, there to administer drug testing. Surprise, surprise. Overeem's test revealed an unacceptably elevated level of testosterone, and the Dutchman ended up being denied a license to fight. So the UFC called on Mir, who was scheduled to fight Velasquez in the co-main event, and put another ex-Strikeforce guy, Antonio Silva, in with the former champ.

Sure, this shifting of matchups stripped a bit of luster from both fights. But not for dos Santos, who now has the chance to fight for the honor of a Brazilian legend. And not for Mir, who has a chance to add to his own legend.

Junior dos Santos by the numbers

10: Knockouts among his 14 career victories.

6.8: Significant strikes landed per minute in his UFC bouts, placing him second (to Cain Velasquez) in the fight promotion's history.

9: Consecutive victories. His only loss came in 2007.

Frank Mir by the numbers

2: Arms he's broken with submission holds.

4: UFC heavyweight title (or interim title) bouts. He's 2-2, having lost his last two (to Brock Lesnar in 2009 and Shane Carwin the next year).

5: Losses by knockout. He's never lost by decision or submission.

Since numbers don't tell the whole story . . .

What we should expect: If they're standing, only one will be for long. If they're rolling around on the mat, only one will get up with full use of both limbs. Yes, dos Santos is proficient in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but if his mentor, the mat whiz Nogueira, could not hang with Frank on the ground, Junior has no shot.

On the other side of the ledger, Mir has finished three of his 16 wins by knockout, and he's softened up a few other victims with punches, but if he trades leather with dos Santos, he's going to take a whole lot more than he gives. And that, I believe, is the fate that lies ahead for Mir. MMA bouts begin with the fighters standing, and Mir does not have the wrestling chops to take dos Santos where he needs this fight to be.

Why we should care: In MMA, as in boxing, there's nothing as glorious as the heavyweight championship of the world. Talk pound-for-pound all you want, but the man who wears the UFC heavyweight belt is truly the alpha male of combat sports. That's especially so when we have a fighter whose reign is referred to as An Era. Dos Santos is not there yet, having not yet defended his belt, but he has an opportunity Saturday night to take a strong first step. As for Mir, taking ownership of the UFC belt for a third time would put quite a shine on his legacy.

Fighting words

"If he goes to the ground with me, he's dead. You know what I mean? Might as well go ahead and start calling the orthopedic surgeons and prep the room."

-- Mir talking about dos Santos' ground game during the UFC's Primetime preview TV show

"He's not a man. He gives up. Against Shane Carwin, he pretended to be hurt. He's full of it."

-- Dos Santos on Mir during the Primetime show, as translated from Portuguese

"I have no issues with my manhood, so I guess I took it as just him trying to sell the fight and trying to stir the pot. 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, so it's something that he's new at and maybe not the most successful with."

-- Mir, after being asked about the above dos Santos quote during a UFC 146 conference call with MMA media

"I don't promote fights by talking trash. What I say I say because I believe it. 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, offering his own explanation of the quote (through a translator) during the same conference call

And on the undercard ...

A new aura for a new era: Before his reign as heavyweight champ ended so abruptly, Velasquez appeared indestructible. He felled Lesnar in the fall of 2010 to win not just the belt but also a Knockout of the Night bonus, and also earned the extra KO check earlier that year, putting Nogueira to sleep in the bout that secured Cain his title shot. Now that Velasquez has lost, however, the aura of invincibility has vanished. Will that embolden Antonio Silva, who last year smashed whatever aura remained for Fedor Emelianenko? Or will Velasquez use the big Brazilian as a steppingstone toward redemption?

Strikers a force: Earlier this month, ex-Strikeforce heavyweight Lavar Johnson scored his second UFC knockout. Then, last weekend, Daniel Cormier took apart a onetime UFC champ, Josh Barnett, to win the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, punching his ticket to the Dana White Fight Club. Now we get another Strikeforce expatriate, Shane del Rosario (11-0 with eight KO's), coming onto the big stage. He'll face a fellow unbeaten stud, Stipe Mio i, who has knocked out all but one of his eight victims. Judges? Who needs judges?

Big and tall: I mentioned Lavar Johnson but forgot to mention that he's back. Already. Exactly 21 days after his UFC on Fox knockout of Pat Barry, "Big" Johnson will step in for injured Mark Hunt and take on Stefan Struve, the 6-foot-11 Dutchman. But Johnson shouldn't have a long workday. None of his 22 fights have gone the distance; he has 15 KO's and two submissions (one coming when an opponent tapped out to strikes). And Struve has had only one decision in 28 fights. He's scored 15 of his 23 wins by submission and six by knockout. The judges can go play blackjack during this fight, too.

Downsizing: OK, so not everyone on the UFC 146 card wears XXL. Let's give a shout out to the little people: Featherweight Diego Brandao, coming off his victory on The Ultimate Fighter, takes on Darren Elkins; and unbeaten lightweight Edson Barboza steps up in competition, against former WEC champ Jamie Varner.

Also, middleweight Jason "Mayhem" Miller and welterweight Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy try to resuscitate careers that have been on a downward spiral. Hardy, who's lost four straight, faces someone who, like him, loves to bang -- so much so that it's the nickname of Duane "Bang" Ludwig. And Miller, coming off December's tepid performance in a grudge match with Michael Bisping, steps in with C.B. Dolloway, a guy who'll likely allow "Mayhem" to show us what he's got on the ground.

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.

 
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