By Dave Meltzer, Yahoo! Sports
February 1, 2008
LAS VEGAS -- Nearly 15 years ago, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship was first conceived by Rorion Gracie, the idea was to showcase the jiu-jitsu their family made decades earlier in Brazil. The whole idea was to show the American public that in a real fight situation, skill and knowledge could beat size and brawn.
In 2008, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is part of an equation when it comes to the skill set of the top fighters. But even after the question was answered, that yes, skills can and usually do beat a bigger, stronger opponent, we have the latest experiment on Saturday night with the Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir heavyweight fight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Can a superior athlete, with more size, strength, speed and stamina, and arguably more mental toughness, overcome a lack of experience against a fighter with the skill set most dangerous to him?
Everyone knew going in that Lesnar was a huge guy, but so is Mir. Questions about how Mir, who is listed at 6-4, would look next to Lesnar were answered at the weigh-in. Even though Lesnar is listed at 6-2 ½, he was slightly taller than Mir. At 265 pounds, he looked gigantic next to Mir, who weighed in at 255. Lesnar will likely be closer to 275-280 come fight time.
This week brought a few other surprises. The first is that Lesnar has a freakish reach for a man of his height. The second is he is only the second man in the history of combat sports in Nevada to wear size 4XL gloves, the other being South Korean giant Choi Hong-man, who is 7-3 and 367 pounds.
If the weigh-in is any indication, this is the match people are most interested in, even though the Tim Sylvia vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira match for the interim heavyweight title is the main event.
When Lesnar came out for the weigh-in, the crowd booed him heavily. There is a clear dynamic that UFC fans want to see skill overcome size, and specifically see a UFC veteran knock out what they see as a fake pro wrestler who isn't showing respect for their sport. MMA websites have been filled with talk about this fight, almost to the point it seems Mir is defending the honor of their sport against the entertainers from pro wrestling. The perceived lack of respect is pure ticket-selling hype as Lesnar wouldn't have put himself through insane conditioning workouts if he didn't respect the sport.
As for what will happen, it's the ultimate crapshoot gamble in Las Vegas. On paper, Mir should win. It is his game. Even though Lesnar is the superior athlete, he's a newcomer with just one professional fight and 18 months of training. Plus, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Mir's specialty, is specifically for smaller men to defeat stronger men.
Mir has fought in UFC title matches and against real opponents for years. Lesnar has been in man-on-man competition only once, a 69-second win last summer, since winning the NCAA heavyweight championship in 2000.
MMA fans have grown to expect seeing huge powerful guys go out, be too slow, and get tired, with all their power meaning little a few minutes into the fight.
The idea is the experienced fighter lays back, waits for the caged lion – as Lesnar has come across like all week – to come out aggressive and burn himself out, and then all those muscles work against the big guy.
But in this instance, everything people expect from such a confrontation may not happen.
Lesnar's conditioning training is far beyond anything Mir would do, and rivals UFC's biggest conditioning freaks like Rich Franklin and Sean Sherk. He may still get tired because of nerves and the adrenaline dump of a first-timer on a UFC stage, but he's fought in NCAA tournaments having to win several matches over a few-day period before more than 15,000 fans. Even though it's not a sport, he has wrestled on two occasions on WWE shows before more than 50,000 fans. The crowd, which will likely be heavily against Lesnar, both from the MMA vs. pro wrestling angle, but also because Mir is from Las Vegas, may not be much of a factor.
In handicapping the fight, Mir has conceded that Lesnar will dictate where the fight is fought. If Lesnar wants to stand, Mir will have a difficult time taking him down. If Lesnar wants to get him down, Mir will have a difficult time not being on his back.
But, Mir's strongest position is on his back. And standing, Mir has quicker hands and feet. Lesnar hits very hard, but he's a beginner when it comes to the striking game. If Mir can avoid the takedown for any length of time, the great unknown question, whether Lesnar can take a punch, may be answered.
Will Mir frustrate Lesnar both standing and on the ground, forcing a mistake and getting him tired? Will Lesnar be too strong, and wear Mir out? Anything can happen in Round 1. After that, the advantage starts leaning toward Lesnar.
If Mir's gas tank isn't any better than it's been for most of his career, and Lesnar's is where it appears to be, it may be a nightmare for the people who somehow see the credibility of their sport resting on the outcome.
Lesnar is guaranteed $250,000, the highest of anyone on the show, plus has a $200,000 win bonus. Generally speaking, most UFC headliners earn substantially more than their contracted guarantees. Mir, who has a chance to revitalize his career with a win, has a $40,000 guarantee with a $40,000 win bonus.
The two participants in the title match, Nogueira and Sylvia, both have a $100,000 guarantee and a $100,000 win bonus.
Dave Meltzer covers mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Send Dave a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Friday, Feb 1, 2008 10:42 pm, EST
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