Breaking down the UFC 119 main card
I don't much care for main events. They're often overhyped and anticlimactic, which essentially defeats the purpose of a main event.
UFC 119 has been batted around a bit because a headliner between Frank Mir and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic isn't all that relevant in the current heavyweight division, and there is no argument to be made against that stance.
Then again, the main card has five fights any fan worth his or her salt wants to see whether it be for nostalgic thrill or stylistic gold. Here to cut through all the nonsense and deliver the goods is the same guy coming off a disastrous night of picks for UFC Fight Night 22.
Of course, that means only one thing I'm due for a good performance, right?
Considering that both Mir and Filipovic are notorious front-runners, there are only two realistic outcomes for this fight. Either one of them puts together some big offense early and ends the fight right there or it turns into an ugly game of survival between two men who are fighting a fair bit heavier than they should be.
Although the publicized dynamic of this fight is one of striker versus grappler, it actually goes much deeper than that given the intellectual bent in Mir's fighting style. Against Cheick Kongo he had the foresight to know he could get off some offense on the feet if Kongo came out too concerned with defending his takedowns. That's a level of strategy that Filipovic has never embraced, and with time he has only become more prone to fighting to his own detriment.
After all, it took some desperate pleading from his corner for Filipovic to throw his vaunted left high kick at Pat Barry. Sure enough, the fight turned around as soon as he did. Of course, that was preceded by five minutes of unvarnished beatdown. Mir may occasionally overthink his approach and fall flat on his face, but if Filipovic comes out flat, he's not going to last long enough to put together a rally.
Way back in the day, Filipovic's sprawl was enough to stuff most any takedown. The level of wrestling even in the thin heavyweight division has increased dramatically since then, though, and his athleticism hasn't held up over time. That pancake sprawl was a function of his now faded athleticism, and he doesn't have the technique to make up for it. Further complicating matters is that he doesn't use his boxing as well as he used to.
When Filipovic is putting his hands together it becomes very clear very fast that he still has the timing and technique to beat someone of Mir's caliber. However, much like his kicks, his boxing is a weapon he doesn't use anywhere near enough. If Filipovic does come out committed to throwing strikes, there is a great chance he will land one cleanly and Mir will fall apart as he so often does when he gets hit hard.
Then again, should Mir get his hands on Filipovic and drag him down, the fight basically would turn even more one-sided than it is on the feet. Because of the striker-heavy nature of the heavyweight division, Filipovic has had to work on the floor only a few times. Against anyone with real skill he has struggled mightily. Given Mir's penchant for locking up submissions early, a single first-round takedown is likely all that separates him from a no-fuss win.
However, just as Filipovic so often fails to let his limbs do what they do best, Mir often fails to realize he is and always will be a grappler first. That wouldn't be such a problem if Mir had the ability to absorb punishment, but that's just not the case. Granted, most anyone would fall apart if Shane Carwin hit him clean even once, but Mir also got tagged up by Marcio Cruz. Even imagining what would happen if Filipovic hit him has the feel of a Clive Barker novel.
For all the attempts at technical insight out there on this bout, there is simply no way anyone can have a real feel for how this fight will go. Both fighters are too prone to either fighting to their own detriment or simply fighting with some terrible excuse for strategy. Keeping that in mind, I think Mir will test his luck on the feet for a bit and end up splayed out on the canvas. Just by thinking that, I think I may have guaranteed Mir a first-round submission win, but I'm sticking by the Croatian Jack Bauer for once.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira versus Ryan Bader This fight is being billed as a sort of title eliminator match in the absurdly competitive light heavyweight division, but more than anything it's a chance for both the UFC and fans to figure out exactly how good Bader and Nogueira really are. Both are coming off so-so performances that raised real questions about just how long either man can be expected to last in the grueling marathon that is earning a title shot.
For Nogueira, the most obvious concern is his tendency to sleepwalk through long stretches of fights. It nearly cost him his fight with Jason Brilz, and Bader poses many of the same issues with the added dimension of being more athletic and a heavier hitter. For all the talk of Nogueira's amateur wrestling background, his actual boxing skill is overrated and it's his knee to the midsection that Bader needs to watch out for.
Although Nogueira isn't going to effortlessly one-two punch Bader out of the cage, it was troubling to see Bader struggle at times against Keith Jardine's shopworn boxing game. The deciding factor in how he fares this time around basically comes down to who controls the distance. As long as Nogueira can work from afar and back Bader off with knees when he comes inside, the fight is a pretty straightforward proposition for him.
It's if and when "Darth" closes the pocket that all of Nogueira's flaws come into play. His timing in close quarters is mediocre, which results in lots of arm punches with no pop behind them. Even though Bader's defense isn't the best, as long as he doesn't eat any clean counters on the way inside, he'll win the exchanges based on power alone. This also leads to the other obvious advantage he holds over Nogueira -- his wrestling.
Brilz was hardly the first man to show some of the limitations inherent in Nogueira's grappling. This is after all the light heavyweight division, which is known for its capable wrestlers as much as anything else. Bader has a stout base and has shown flashes of ground-and-pound savvy that belie his youth in the sport.
Playing a deep half guard and working front headlock chokes has worked for Nogueira in the past because he's mostly been spared taking on the very best the division has to offer. Despite being a behemoth of a light heavyweight, Bader is shockingly fluid on the mat and holds position with ease. When Nogueira does try to work a sweep or scramble for a submission, he's going to find Bader difficult to move and far more willing to drop a fist in his face.
While the Nogueira brothers are revered for their toughness, Bader isn't a guy you want taking clean shots at your chin. With the exception of sub-UFC competition and the notoriously southpaw vulnerable Luis Arthur Cane, it's been a long while since Nogueira actually outclassed a world-class caliber fighter. The other factor to keep in mind is that Bader is still improving, and that's something Nogueira can't account for in training camp.
Beyond any expectations for improvement, the fact remains that Bader can easily take control of this fight as long as he fights with the slightest bit of strategy. I don't expect him to come out throwing counter left hooks or hitting side control passes -- both techniques Nogueira leaves himself open to -- but he can use his power and top control in equal measure far easier than Nogueira can get any real offense going. There will be plenty of difficult moments on the way and some hearty post-fight debate is undoubtedly looming, but Bader will do just enough to take a decision win.
Tomas Rios is a contributor to Sherdog.com.
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