Make no mistake about it: Frank Mir is one big dude.
He has always been a really big dude—you know, the kind of guy who walks by and people turn their heads and remark, “Man, that is one big dude.”
Nonetheless, after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of reigning champion Brock Lesnar, Mir decided that he wasn’t big enough. As big and as strong as Mir was back in mid-2009, he was dwarfed by Lesnar.
The cerebral former champion therefore decided that he needed to pack on 20 or more additional lbs of pure, lean muscle, raising his bodyweight well above the 265-lb heavyweight limit, in order to negate Lesnar’s size and strength advantages. Mir unveiled his newly constructed physique last December heading into his bout with top contender Cheick Kongo at UFC 107.
Some criticized his decision, claiming that the extra weight would sap his traditionally questionable cardio and offset the speed advantage he enjoyed against most heavyweight opponents. Others questioned whether the bulk would interfere with his ethereal submission skills, since submission attacks, particularly from the guard, are often predicated on flexibility.
Mir answered only one of those questions at UFC 107. The extra bulk did not affect his speed at all, as he was able to drop Kongo with an explosive overhand left seconds into the first round and then slap on a guillotine choke with the quickness of a cat.
Mir didn’t answer any questions about his cardiovascular conditioning or flexibility because the fight didn’t last long enough. He disposed of Kongo in a scant 72 seconds.
The other question that remains open to this day is whether the added bulk will serve its intended purpose of negating the size and strength advantages of the division’s biggest heavyweights.
Saturday’s interim heavyweight title fight with undefeated contender Shane Carwin will go a long, long way toward answering that question because Carwin is among the biggest, strongest heavyweights in the world.
I’ve got to admit that I have no idea how Mir will approach the fight on Saturday night. My suspicion is that he will come out looking to outkick box his foe, like he did Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira. Mir’s standup improvement over the last five years has been nothing short of remarkable. When he first debuted in the Octagon, he looked uncomfortable fighting on the feet and definitely had not figured out how to generate explosive speed and power with his hands. Fast forward to today and the recently rebuilt Mir completely undressed Minotauro on the feet and followed that up by dropping Kongo, a fearsome kickboxer in his own right, with a single punch.
The improvement is undeniable. But Mir needs to be careful not to fall in love with his newly revamped standup game against a guy with Carwin’s power. He cannot, for any reason, stand in the pocket and trade punch for punch with his opponent, otherwise he is going to wake up and see Carwin standing over him with his arms raised in victory.
Mir must instead use lead left hands, constantly changing combinations and crisp leg kicks to hammer away at Carwin, which basically means following the same game plan that he used to beat Nogueira. He needs to employ more head movement than he did against Nogueira because Carwin’s return fire is of the bone-shattering variety, where Nogueira is just a good puncher.
The former champion will obviously be looking to bang out Carwin on the feet during those exchanges, but his secondary goal (which is the one I’d like him to focus on) will be to goad Carwin to shoot for a takedown. I honestly doubt that will happen, despite Carwin’s wrestling roots, because the purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Nathan Marquardt knows that he is a submission neophyte compared to Mir.
Simply put, Mir is a submission savant. The guy has amazing flexibility in his hips and knees, even though he has tree trunks for legs. That flexibility allows him to work from positions that stalemate most heavyweights. If he is able to secure a limb, whether an arm or a leg, it’s game over.
The question, however, is how will Mir get the fight to the ground?
Mir was a state champion wrestler a dozen years ago during his senior year at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, finishing the year with a 44-1 record. Yet, Carwin is far and away the better wrestler, winning an NCAA Division II national championship and generally exhibiting far better takedown skills during his MMA career. Carwin should be able to use his sprawl-and-brawl style to shuck any double- or single-leg takedown that Mir attempts.
So, what is Mir to do? He has several options. Disguising his takedown shots with a lead left hand is one answer. Stepping inside after a quick fistic combination and forcing a clinch to open the door for Greco throws is another option. But the best option is probably to pull guard from the clinch.
Mir is so dangerous on the ground that Carwin will likely tense up as Mir pulls him toward the canvas. Mir can then make the decision whether he is in a good position to sweep his opponent as soon as the action hits the floor or position himself to immediately attack from the guard. Either way, he will have a few brief seconds to take advantage of the situation while Carwin freaks out mentally about going to the ground with the black belt. And if Carwin opts to pull out recklessly back to his feet, Mir can shift his attention to a leg lock, just like he did to Lesnar at UFC 81.
There is little doubt in my mind that Carwin loses by submission if the fight goes to the ground by any means other than after a thunderous Carwin punch. The way for the Grudge MMA star to put Mir on the ground in that manner is by winning the battle of the feet.
Mir is a southpaw. Carwin fights from an orthodox stance. The pair will therefore engage in a dangerous foot position waltz where each man attempts to keep his lead foot outside of his opponent’s lead foot. The reason for fighting that chess match is that the man with his foot on the outside will have the best angle from which to fire a lead right, in the case of Carwin, or a lead left, in the case of Mir, because it aligns the shooter’s lead shoulder in line with the center of his opponent’s chest.
When Carwin finds himself in the proper position, he should fire away with lead rights. The jab is largely useless against a southpaw because he can easily defend the shot with his lead right hand. The basic hand position makes a southpaw’s right hand a very real obstacle to jab around. A lead right, by contrast, is thrown to the inside of a southpaw’s lead right hand and over the top of his cocked left hand. In other words, it travels right down the pipe.
Now, Carwin shouldn’t just run around the Octagon firing lead rights without thought or disguise. Overextending or telegraphing right hands will open the door for Mir to shoot for a takedown. He needs to fire the occasional jab just to keep Mir honest defensively. He should also follow up the lead right with left hooks underneath Mir’s right elbow to try to get him to hold his right hand lower, which will make it easier to land lead rights going forward.
Carwin does, however, need to focus on disposing of Mir quickly. In 11 career professional fights, the Colorado resident has never fought a full round. Indeed, he hasn’t even fought a full 150 seconds in any one fight.
Mir’s game plan undoubtedly includes ending the action as quickly as possible, though he won’t take unnecessary risks to score a quick stoppage. He knows that that the size of his opponent’s gas tank is the biggest question mark heading into the fight. Mir will likely take a very calculated approach to his standup attack as he tries to drag Carwin into the completely foreign waters of the second and third rounds and see if he can swim.
Carwin therefore has a choice to make. Does he press hard to score a knockout in the first round, which risks using gas that could be vital if the fight lasts past one round? Does he fight with a measured pace to conserve energy?
For my money, I’d have Carwin attack aggressively throughout the first round without worrying about rounds two through five. Both men are efficient finishers, so the odds of the bout lasting past two are exceedingly slim. Plus, Carwin cannot possibly accurately simulate in training what it is like to fight past one round because he cannot replicate the adrenalin spikes and emotional swings that drain a man’s energy more rapidly during a fight than even the most intense sparring sessions.
I’m sure he has been training to go 25 hard minutes, but there is no way that he or his trainers know if he can actually last that long in an actual UFC fight. So, he shouldn’t look to find out against Mir, unless it is absolutely necessary. He shouldn’t unnecessarily expend energy in the opening stanza, but he should fight aggressively, just like he does in every fight.
If Carwin can touch Mir cleanly with a fully committed right hand in the opening round, then questions of his conditioning will be rendered moot because he will win by early knockout.
There is little sense discussing what Carwin should do if the action hits the ground because his only option is to remain calm, defensive minded and stand up at his first opportunity. Sure, he can land a fight-ending punch or elbow during a ground assault, but the odds of that happening pale in comparison to the odds of Mir submitting him if the action remains on the ground for longer than a brief moment.
Who is going to come out on top when it is all said and done? On paper, Carwin is a terrible matchup for Mir. His takedown defense should be sufficient to keep the fight standing as long as he wants it to remain in that position. Carwin might not be quite as clean with his standup technique, but he certainly wins hands down in the punching power category. And his aggressive style should create more than a few early openings for him to land one of those scud missile right hands, which should yield a first-round knockout.
The only problem is that I don’t see that happening, not against the modern version of Frank Mir. I see the former champion picking apart Carwin on the feet early and eventually finding a way to get the fight to the ground, whether through his opponent’s over aggressiveness or exhaustion if the bout lasts past the first three minutes. Once it hits the floor, Mir will cause him to tap like Gregory Hines on Broadway.
• 30 years old
• 13-4 overall (11-4 UFC)
• Former UFC Heavyweight Champion (was later stripped of the title due to a motorcycle accident; never beaten as champion)
• Former interim UFC Heavyweight Champion
• 2-1 in title fights*
• 4-1 in last 5
• 7-3 in last 10
• 5-3 since 2004 motorcycle accident
• 14 of 15 UFC fights ended inside the distance (10-4 in those fights)
• 1-0 in UFC fights that have lasted the distance
• 11 of 15 UFC fights ended in the first round (8-3 in those fights)
• All 4 losses have ended inside the distance via strikes
• Current layoff is 105 days (SUB1 over Cheick Kongo on December 12, 2009)
• Longest layoff of UFC career is 565 days (SUB1 over Tim Sylvia on July 19, 2004, to TKO1 by Marcio Cruz on February 4, 2006)
• Won Submission of the Night at UFC 81 (SUB1 by kneebar over Lesnar on February 2, 2008)
• 15 UFC bouts ties for 11th all time
• 35 yrs old
• 11-0 overall (3-0 UFC)
• All 3 UFC fights have ended by strikes in the first round
• Has competed inside the Octagon for a total of 3 minutes 24 seconds
• First UFC title fight
• Current 385-day layoff is the longest of his UFC career (KO1 over Gabriel Gonzaga on March 7, 2009)
*Includes interim title fights