Josh Barnett last fought in the UFC in 2002. | Photo: D. Mandel/Sherdog.com
HeavyweightsFrank Mir (16-7, 14-7 UFC) vs. Josh Barnett (32-6, 4-1 UFC)
The Matchup: After more than 11 years away, Barnett makes his anticipated return to the Octagon in a bout that has ranked highly on many a fan’s wish list for quite some time. Barnett and Mir are probably the two most skilled grapplers in the heavyweight division, which could make for an interesting chess match when the fight hits the floor, especially considering that both men are active from their backs.
While Mir has plied his trade in the Octagon for all but two of his 23 professional fights, Barnett has been all over the place during the past decade, from Pride Fighting Championships, Dream and Sengoku to Affliction and Strikeforce. Give Mir a slight edge in terms of recent big-fight experience, however, as many of Barnett’s victories have come against lower-level heavyweights in recent years. A change in camps could not prevent Mir from losing his second fight in a row for the first time his career at UFC on Fox 7. Unable to control distance against Daniel Cormier, the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts-trained Mir found himself overwhelmed in the clinch for the majority of three rounds before losing a unanimous verdict. Outside of a few solid kicks to the body, Mir had few opportunities to land any meaningful offense.
Like Mir, Barnett was unable to contend with Cormier’s wrestling, losing a five-round decision to the American Kickboxing Academy product in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix final in May 2012. Barnett returned to his winning ways by submitting Nandor Guelmino in January, though the bout that offers little insight into how he will fare against Mir.
Mir has proven susceptible to heavy leather, but that will not be his primary concern here. Barnett’s striking and athleticism are underrated for a man with his frame, but it is used primarily to force clinches. “The Warmaster” has not been knocked out since 2001, and confidence in his chin allows him to press forward in hopes of dragging the fight into his world.
Mir struggled mightily with his back against the fence against Cormier, and unless he can turn and execute a trip takedown, he will find himself forced to defend Barnett’s suffocating top game. It could be worse, because Mir often looks far more uncomfortable when paired with a heavy-handed striker like Junior dos Santos. Meanwhile, crafty guard work is one of the Las Vegas resident’s strong suits. As good as Mir is at recognizing small openings for submissions, it seems unlikely the cerebral Barnett will make any serious mistakes on the mat.
The Pick: Barnett grinds down Mir through clinches and top control to win a decision.
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