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The Rematch: Lesnar-Mir II

Michael DiSanto, UFC - 17 months after Brock Lesnar squared off against Frank Mir, the two are set to tango one more time at UFC 100, in what many are predicting to be most successful pay-per-view event in the promotion’s nearly 16-year history.

By Michael DiSanto

17 months after Brock Lesnar squared off against Frank Mir, the two are set to tango one more time at UFC 100, in what many are predicting to be most successful pay-per-view event in the promotion’s nearly 16-year history.

Mir submitted Lesnar by leg lock in 90 seconds on that February night in 2008. For Lesnar, it was a valuable lesson learned during his quest to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion. After all, he appeared to be dominating the action through the first 80 seconds of the fight before making a single mistake that opened the door for Mir to bring the former NCAA national wrestling champion’s UFC debut to an abrupt, unceremonious end.

The win over Lesnar propelled Mir into a coaching role opposite Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira on the eighth installment of The Ultimate Fighter. While the show was unfolding on SpikeTV, Lesnar bludgeoned Randy Couture over two rounds to win the heavyweight title at UFC 91.

Six weeks after Lesnar won the title, Mir shocked the world with a career-best performance against Nogueira, scoring a second-round TKO win at UFC 92 to become the first man to stop the all-time great inside the distance. More importantly, the win secured a rematch with the newly crowned champion.

So, what has changed in the 17 months since the pair first squared off at UFC 81?

Much of the information from the original breakdown still applies to this fight.

Lesnar remains the biggest athletic force in the UFC. No other nearly 300-lb man (yes, he cuts significant weight to make the 265-lb heavyweight limit) in the sport can match his explosiveness, coordination and overall athleticism. Mix those attributes with his elite amateur wrestling pedigree and it is easy to see why Lesnar was able to win the UFC heavyweight crown in his fourth professional fight, quite possibly the most impressive feat by anyone in the modern-day version of the UFC.

Yet, Lesnar remains a mixed martial arts work in progress. He has not yet shown the ability to finish a fight other than with his fists. More than once he was in position to slap on a guillotine or rear naked choke against Heath Herring at UFC 87, only to hesitate and look for openings to land hammerfists. His standup continues to improve rapidly, but the world has yet to see Lesnar throw kicks of any consequence or use any combinations other than a simple one-two.

What we have learned in the time since the Mir fight is that Lesnar has a deep gas tank for such a big man. His three-round domination of Herring showed no gaps his cardio. He looked a bit winded against Couture, but that was almost certainly due to adrenaline surges associated with fighting a legend and also challenging for the title.

His keys to victory, therefore, remain unchanged. Lesnar can use his reach, speed and power advantages to pound Mir into oblivion. Mir’s southpaw stance, while problematic for many orthodox strikers, fits perfectly with Lesnar’s style because he loves to lead with the right hand—the perfect foil for a southpaw. Lesnar should concentrate on keeping his left foot on the outside of Mir’s right foot in order to create the optimal throwing angle for his right hand. If he can do that, he may very well win by knockout.

Whether or not he wins the battle of foot position, Lesnar needs to keep throwing the right hand over and over because that is his key to winning the standup battle. He doesn’t need to land on the button to hurt Mir, either. Lesnar is so big and strong, and he delivers punches with such explosive power, that he can knock out Mir or just about anyone else even with a glancing blow on the temple. That is his big advantage in the rematch.

Thus, he needs to keep the fight on the feet unless he finds himself getting the shorter end of the striking stick for a prolonged period of time. Remember, all he needs is one shot to win, so he can take three to land one. Well, we assume that he can do that. A major question mark hovers over the champion’s chin, since we have yet to truly see it tested, though Mir hasn’t been known as a guy with enough power to put Lesnar’s chin to such a test with a single shot.

If things go awry on the feet, Lesnar can always take the fight to the ground at any moment. His wrestling is so far superior to Mir’s takedown defense (not to mention the fact that Mir rarely, if ever, cares about defending the takedown due to his venomous offensive guard) that Mir deciding to stop a Lesnar takedown is like Artie Lange trying to guard Lebron James on the perimeter. Thus, he can wade into the heart of darkness by taking down Mir and working his ground-and-pound game at any time.

Once on the ground, Lesnar must hammer away at Mir like there is no tomorrow. This time around, however, he should fire punches and elbows, rather than hammerfists. Landing one or two of either would be enough to bring the fight to a close. But again, he cannot be too deliberate with his ground-and-pound attack. In fact, the paragraph dealing with this issue from the breakdown for their first fight remains applicable to the rematch:

Lesnar must be relentless with his ground-and-pound attack. He must force Mir to be completely defensive in the face of nonstop punches. Most people do not enjoy getting punched in the face, and Mir is no different. He does not fare well in the face of vicious ground and pound. Some claim he will quit. Others say he prefers to survive with minimal injury to fight another day. Whatever the case, if Lesnar can put Mir on his back and attack relentlessly without posturing up, he may pull out the win.

Lesnar followed that advice in connection with his first takedown, and Mir was within a whisper of getting pounded out. A questionable standup due to punches to the back of the head saved him that night. Lesnar was much more reserved after the second takedown, opting to posture up and look to pass – a HUGE mistake against a submission savant like Mir. That decision created enough of an opening for Mir to secure a leg and end the fight.

The champion cannot make that same mistake at UFC 100 if he wants to hold onto his title.

Of course, this is far, far from an unwinnable fight for Mir. The interim champion is so far superior to Lesnar on a technical level in every aspect of the game, other than wrestling, that it is a bit disturbing. But for Lesnar’s freakish physical gifts, he would stand no chance against an amazing technician like Mir.

Those physical gifts aren’t going anywhere, however. Mir must therefore find a way to overcome them.

Long known as a guy with a putridly small gas tank, Mir showed up against Nogueira in amazing physical condition. That allowed him to rely on his amazing fighting skills to completely outclass Nogueira, who happens to be a very skilled boxer on the feet.

Mir used lead left hands, constantly changing combinations and crisp leg kicks to hammer away at Nogueira six minutes and 54 seconds – the time it took him to score a TKO win. The fight was completely one sided as he beat Nogueira from pillar to post. It was the most impressive performance of Mir’s nearly eight-year career.

Mir can use those same skills against Lesnar, though he will need to employ more head movement than he did against Nogueira. Don’t misinterpret those words. Mir used excellent slips to avoid incoming fire at UFC 92. Most fighters underestimate Lesnar’s speed and reach—Herring and Couture were both guilty of that transgression. Mir cannot afford to make that mistake if he wants to win a kickboxing match.

Mir will almost certainly invite Lesnar to take him to the ground. Once there, he knows that he has the advantage.

Mir has amazing flexibility in his hips and knees, particularly for a guy with tree-trunk legs. That flexibility allows him to work for arm bars and triangle chokes from positions that stalemate most heavyweights. If he is able to secure a limb, whether an arm or a leg, Lesnar had better start pounding the canvas like it is a bongo drum on a Jamaican beach because few fighters have the ability to break bones like Mir.

The Las Vegas resident trains not to submit opponents but to incapacitate them as quickly as possible and that is a very real factor in his fights—just ask Tim Sylvia, Roberto Travern or Pete Williams. Each of them can attest to Mir’s ability to completely destroy a limb in the blink of an eye.

There is no doubt that Lesnar is in big trouble if the fight goes to the ground and Mir has space to work. There is also no doubt that Mir finally appears to be 100% healthy after his unfortunate motorcycle accident. In his last fight, Mir addressed his two biggest weaknesses—cardio and striking—with a virtuoso performance.

Suffice to say, the Frank Mir that steps into the Octagon on July 11 is very likely to be the best Frank Mir that the world has ever seen. That is a scary thought.

Taking a look behind the numbers, many will be surprised to learn that Mir is undefeated inside the Octagon when his fights last beyond the first round. That is a shocking revelation for a guy who was famous for his lack of a gas tank, until the Nogueira fight, of course.

He is also perfect in two title fights.

He won his only other career rematch.

The last time he was riding a three-fight winning streak and stepped into the Octagon to challenge for the UFC Heavyweight Championship Mir won in 50 seconds.

Lesnar, by contrast, has no trends worth noting. Nothing can be extrapolated from a career that spans a mere four fights.

Yet, Lesnar is the betting favorite.

Several things have changed in the 17 months that have followed Lesnar-Mir I. Nevertheless, my thoughts on the outcome remain the same as with the first bout, with one slight variation.

If the fight ends in the first round, I like Mir every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Lesnar certainly has the ability to end the fight at any moment with a nuclear right hand or a thunderous strike on the ground. Yet, nobody in the game is better at finishing opponents in the opening stanza than Mir, so he is the much more logical and wise choice for an early victory.

If the fight turns into a long, drawn-out battle of wills that extends past the first round, I like Lesnar without reservation. His superior conditioning, serious edge in explosive power, sheer size and wrestling ability are enough to drain the gas out of any opponent over the course of 25 minutes, barring a submission, of course. I don’t care that Mir is undefeated in bouts that have extended past the first round. He has never faced a fighter with the physical gifts that Brock Lesnar brings to the fight, and that cannot be overlooked.

The one new twist is that if the fight turns into a multi-round technical kickboxing affair, rather than a grueling war, I view the fight as a tossup. Mir’s standup against Noguiera was close to flawless. If he is able to stick and move against Lesnar like he did against Nogueira, then Mir may very well win a decision or stop Lesnar late—remember that Lesnar has never taken a bunch of punches in any fight, so it remains to be seen whether his heart is as big as his biceps or his chin is as thick as his neck. But all it takes is one punch from Lesnar to turn out the lights—just ask Randy Couture.