The MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada lends itself as a familiar host as UFC 130: Rampage vs. Hamill kicks off the 2011 summer season. The “All-American” Brian Stann (10-3) finds himself back for another run at the middleweight division, this time against former Sengoku champion Jorge Santiago (22-8). “The Pitbull” Thiago Alves (17-7) answers the challenge tossed out by “The Horror” Rick Story (10-2). “Hapa” Travis Browne (7-0-1) and “The Skyscraper” Stefan Struve (18-4) prepare to lock horns in a heavyweight war. With the lightweight title match pulled off the card due to injury, “The Hammer” Matt Hamill (9-2) gets his first taste as a headliner at a steep price against “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (29-8). In the co-main event, former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir (14-5) battles against former International Fight League champion “Big Country” Roy Nelson (15-5). Both men hold a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu to showoff their knowledge on the ground but neither have a problem letting their strikes handle business for them. With something always to gain, a win over a former champion would do wonders for the other’s career.
At First Glance: Though the UFC’s heavyweight division is slowly gaining more depth and with that more competition, many fans had their wish granted when former IFL champion Roy Nelson and former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir were announced to square off. Both men bring a relatively strong, well-rounded skill set to the match with their foundations set heavily in their Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Bearing a heavy-set appearance unlike the typical fighter, Nelson has shown he’s able to use his weight effectively when attempting to maintain position such as his wins over “Kimbo Slice” Kevin Ferguson (4-2) and James McSweeney (4-7) on The Ultimate Fighter have proven. As for Mir, he boasts an impeccable ability to plant submissions effectively and quickly such as his Kneebar victory over former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar (5-2) and Guillotine submission of Cheick Kongo (15-6-2) . Aside from their battles won on the mat, both men are capable of gaining victory through their striking with KO wins over “The Hybrid” Brendan Schaub (7-1) and “Minotauro” Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-6-1) on their resumes. For two accomplished men who have the same tools at their disposal, many would make their decision based solely on the physique of the fighters but appearances rarely reflect reality in MMA.
In Depth: It is no secret that both men are more than comfortable fighting off the ground. While positioning is key in all submission fighting, it seems that certain positions have proven key to each man’s success. Nelson, while not traditionally a wrestler, has found success using his size in the clinch to push his opponent down to the mat and land outside of the guard where he deals out a lot of damage via ground-and-pound mixed with submission attempts. Frank Mir, who has more wrestling experience, has shown that his Jiu-Jitsu is effective whether on top position or off his back. Mir was able to quickly throw his legs over the shoulders of “The Maine-iac” Tim Sylvia (28-7) and secure an Armbar submission to gain the win from the guard. Against Antoni Hardonk (8-6), Mir quickly took advantage of a failed Omaplata and achieved side control to lock in a Kimura for the win. Nelson’s best chances on the ground will rely on positioning himself where he can control Mir’s body entirely. In side control, Nelson neutralizes Mir’s upper body and can even achieve the Salaverry, or Crucifix, position with ease. Sitting in half-guard will have Nelson’s weight fully pressed against Mir, draining his cardio. More so the tighter Mir locks his half-guard, the more time Nelson will have to work to pass without risking being swept. On top, problems arises for Nelson only if he finds himself in Mir’s guard. Mir, being the more swift and flexible between the two, only needs that small gap to push off of Nelson in order to escape onto his feet or angle himself to lock a submission. In the end, Mir is dangerous from everywhere while for Nelson is more simply is crucial to gain a dominant position.
Both men have made large strides when it comes to trading leather. Mir has found success stopping fighters with his improved stand-up such as his stoppage victories over Cheick Kongo and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira have shown. However, when faced with a fighter with real stopping power in their strikes, he has been caught numerous times. The knees of “The Truth” Brandon Vera (11-6) and jawbreaking uppercuts of Shane Carwin (11-1) proved too much for Mir to handle. Unlike Mir whose wins are predominantly via submission, Nelson’s collection of wins are more balanced with a majority of his victories coming by knockout rather than submission. “Big Country’s” patented overhand right has lead to him to the IFL championship with the knockout of Antoine Jaoude (8-3) and two technical knockouts of UFC veterans Brad Imes (12-7) and “Pega Leve” Fabiano Scherner (7-8) in his defenses after. If anything, the dexterity and versatility on the ground Mir possesses is challenged with the stopping power Nelson has in his fists. Match this with surprisingly agile footwork and head movement for his body type and an iron jaw and Nelson has the edge over Mir should they choose to test one another in the sweet science, despite Mir’s more crisp technical striking.
Wild Card: If the idea “speed kills” holds true to the lighter weight divisions of mixed martial arts, then the opposite, “size matters”should hold just as much for the heavyweights. Between two men who have to cut to weigh-in at 265lbs. the night before the fight, Mir will enjoy a three-inch height and six-inch reach advantage over Nelson. While the reach will allow Mir to keep “Big Country” at distance, his height will aid in evading Nelson’s looping punches which lose power with elevation. With this together, Nelson will have to fight his way inside the reach and expend more energy to develop power when aiming for Mir’s head. Of course with both men being heavyweight, the concern of endurance will come into play, especially for Roy Nelson. Easily capable of spanning three rounds when in control, it is when Nelson is forced to fight on the defensive that his cardio starts to fade. A controversial call to stand back up to their feet played a role in Nelson’s loss to “The Pitbull” Andrei Arlovski (14-9) but his lack of endurance was what made the KO happen in the end. Though his stamina has improved tenfold since then, numerous body shots from “Cigano” Junior Dos Santos (12-1) sapped Nelson’s wind at their showing in UFC 117. For Nelson, he is using his gut as an added weapon in the Octagon but unless the more muscular Mir tanks out early, that dead weight can drag him down as the match stretches out.
The Verdict: Since losing his chance at becoming a UFC champion for the third time at the hands of his rival Brock Lesnar in July 2009, Frank Mir has been relatively inconsistent in his Octagon performances. On one side of the spectrum he convincingly put Cheick Kongo away in stellar fashion just to be annihilated by Shane Carwin and deplorably weak against “Cro Cop” Mirko Filipovic (27-10-2) later. After The Ultimate Fighter, Nelson has been putting on highlight reels in the UFC. Even with his recent loss to Junior Dos Santos, Nelson became the first man to survive the Brazilian’s onslaught and push Dos Santos all three rounds. If anyone has to momentum to ride it would be Nelson, leaving Mir the need to win the match. But as consistency is known to pay dividends, it might not be too surprising for the unlikely fighter to pull out the win. Nelson via Split Decision.