UFC 164 August 31, 2013 Heavyweights: Frank Mir vs. Josh Barnett By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics Big Picture: Back in 2002 at UFC 36 Frank Mir and Josh Barnett competed on the same card, but against different opponents. Barnett would TKO Randy Couture that night to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship, only to have the title stripped after a failed drug test. Mir was only on the preliminary portion of the card that night, not yet having made his title run. Barnett was cut, and would begin a decade-long tour of the Japanese MMA circuit finally returning stateside to promotions like Affliction and Strikeforce. Mir would go on to win a UFC belt, then immediately lose nearly two years to an injury from a motorcycle accident, slowly working his way back into the title picture and at one point holding an “interim” UFC belt. Fast forward to 2013 and now #6 ranked Frank Mir faces #10 ranked Josh Barnett, making his Octagon return at UFC 164. It’s a fight that probably should have happened when both men were still in their 20’s, but in today’s fickle heavyweight landscape, this fight still carries implications for the UFC title picture. Given their long fight histories, it’s important for me to caveat that I have only included UFC and Strikeforce data for consistency purposes, so Barnett’s fights in Japan won’t show up in this analysis. Given the modified rules in PRIDE and the sometimes dubious nature of Japanese athletic commissions and drug testing, perhaps that’s for the best. The betting line favors Barnett at -175, with the underdog Mir at +155. The over of 2.5 rounds is -105, and the under is -125. Let’s take a look at the stats and see if we can’t find value in those lines. Summary Stats:
Tale of Tape Matchup: Both fighters are approaching their sunset years for MMA. In the heavyweight division especially, being on the wrong side of 35 years old becomes a dangerous prospect for maintaining consciousness in the Octagon. But the refreshing news for Frank Mir is that he is not the oldest dog in this fight. Barnett is actually older. The rest of the Tale of the Tape similarly hints at very slight advantages for Mir being the larger, longer Southpaw. Striking Matchup: It’s fascinating how closely the stats match up for these two in striking. In terms of jab and power accuracy, cage control, striking defense, and pace, these two alternate superiority but never differ by much. Where one is below average (using the jab for example) they are both below average, and in many other ways they show up as even. However, Mir’s “strength of schedule” should be kept in mind, and perhaps we should give his ratings a small boost for that reason. The single big difference is the knockdown rate. Frank Mir comes in with a hefty 13.5% rate of dropping opponents per landed power head strike, while Barnett has failed to score a knockdown in the 80+ minutes of fight time that was analyzed. So despite mediocre striking accuracy and slightly sub-par defense, it seems that Mir is more likely to find his opponents chin. But both fighters tend to spend a lot of time on the mat, and this fight should eventually end up there. Grappling Matchup: While Mir attempts more frequent takedowns, Barnett probably has the better pure wrestling. Neither fighter has dominated control on the ground, but I expect Mir to be constantly looking to transition position and sweep. The ground game should be a battle for position, and whoever can hold it long enough to work some offense will carry a big advantage. And then things get interesting. Mir is the submission king of the heavyweight division. Though Barnett has never been submitted, nothing is impossible for Mir after his arm snapping performance against Big Nog. Barnett’s fight history is full of submissions, including arm triangle chokes in all of his last three wins. While I can’t imagine Mir getting caught in anything he can’t handle, I can see him getting pinned to the mat and losing rounds. Should Barnett get the early takedown and top control, you should be able to hear me screaming “sweeeeep!” no matter where you live. Reed’s Pick: Mir by Submission Reed’s Recommended Play: Because Mir is an upset pick here at +155, I like a small underdog play straight up. While Mir is at increased risk for knockout given prior losses, the stats don’t show Barnett is a high risk to score one and Mir has stood and traded with better strikers than Barnett. Ultimately, Mir has more weapons (and more dangerous ones at that) and I hope will eventually rock Barnett or catch him in a bad position for a submission. But my worry is that Barnett will smother Mir for three rounds. Barnett is a durable scrapper willing to fight through injury, so seeing this go the distance is not out of the question. Normally heavyweights finish 74% of their fights, which would suggest there is good value on the Under (-125) or Inside the Distance (-160) plays. But given how tough these guys are, it’s hard to bank on a finish if it turns into a wrestling contest. Those would both be smart bets given the macro-trend for heavyweight finishes, but it’s possible the micro-trend of toughness from Barnett could trump it. The better small gamble is on Mir inside the distance at +300. That reward is worth the small risk.