UFC 81: Breaking Point


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Here's an article about Brock Lesnar's UFC debut. It's from Yahoo's front page:

UFC gambles on untested Lesnar

By Dave Meltzer, Yahoo! Sports


In the spring of 2000, Brock Lesnar was a University of Minnesota senior, just two weeks and a handful of workouts away from the NCAA Division I wrestling tournament.

Today, the 30-year-old Lesnar finds himself in a similar situation as he trains for his match against former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Frank Mir in the most publicized debut in UFC history.

The former “Next Big Thing” of pro wrestling has become ultimate fighting's next gigantic question mark, a 1-0 fighter with 69 seconds of ring experience thrown into the deep end of a shark-infested pool.

Whether he's in over his head remains to be seen, but the reason he's being billed as the semi-main event of UFC 81 on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas is because of his fame as a former World Wrestling Entertainment champion.

The success of this card hinges on people buying the novelty of a former WWE champion fighting a former UFC champion. The idea, if it clicks, is to rally the UFC fan base to want to see the fake wrestler get smashed, and for the pro wrestling audience, to whom the show is being heavily marketed, to tune in out of curiosity to see how one of its all-time tough guys can do.

Lesnar knows his role is to antagonize UFC fans, as he did in dismissing Mir's submission ability in a commercial. Lesnar noted upon signing with UFC a few months ago that when it comes to promoting a fight, he "learned from the best."

"I've got eight workouts left (as of late last week) and I'm very excited for February 2," Lesnar said. "I've got it all to lose and I've got everything to gain. Frank Mir doesn't have the same kind of pressure."

Lesnar knows the knee-jerk reaction is to say a WWE champion would get destroyed in an MMA match. He's heard all the wise cracks: No scripts. No dance partners allowing you to do your moves. With his big muscles, he'll gas out in a minute of real fighting. But what makes this match different from a Kimbo Slice-type of freak show is that those on the inside are even more intrigued than those on the outside.

Oddsmakers are heavily favoring Lesnar, likely because they think people will bet on him because of name recognition as opposed to handicapping the match based on who they think has the best chance of winning.

It would be a mistake to dismiss Lesnar as an over-muscled fake; he's arguably the best all-around athlete of any heavyweight in UFC history. Certainly nobody can match his combination of strength, explosive power, and speed to go along with his 265-pound fighting weight.

After one week of training with Lesnar in late 2006, MMA coach Pat Miletich, a former UFC champion, came away impressed. "In a year, there won't be a man alive who can beat him," Miletich said. Lesnar has spent the last 18 months training at Greg Nelson's Minnesota Martial Arts Academy in Minneapolis, concentrating on striking and jiu- jitsu. He often works out with the national champion University of Minnesota wrestling team -- in particular, Cole Konrad, the 2008 Olympic hopeful who was NCAA heavyweight champion the past two years. Suffice to say, Lesnar gets a regular reality check of where his wrestling stands.

"I'm going to stay in his face and control him," Lesnar said. "I can guarantee I'll be in better condition than Mir."

But will tremendous athletic gifts and 18 months of training help Lesnar overcome a lack of MMA experience and an opponent with enough submission skills to finish even ground experts? People will be watching to see.

Lesnar's pro wrestling fame has allowed him to start as one of MMA's highest-paid fighters. The downside to that fame is it forces him into the spotlight. While most people with his potential would be brought along slowly and shielded from such a dangerous opponents so early in his career, because of what he's getting paid, he has to be in a match like this one with a theme that will grab attention.

Lesnar's strengths as a wrestler were conditioning, physical power, takedown ability, and his ability to turn his opponents over. But outside of his workout partners, the only evidence anyone has seen of him as a fighter was his June 2 win over Min Soo Kim at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Min Soo was a 1996 Olympic silver medalist in judo, so he was no slouch. But he has also had struggles adapting to MMA, with a 4-6 record. Lesnar did a quick takedown and showed unusually powerful short punches in quickly knocking out the Korean on the ground.

But the spot Lesnar put Min Soo -- on his back -- is the exact place Mir wants to be, working for an armbar or a triangle. Mir's most famous moment in UFC was an armbar from the bottom that broke Tim Sylvia's arm and won him the heavyweight title on June 19, 2004.

The question is, if Lesnar can connect from the top with his heavy artillery, how long does Mir have to get that submission before he's knocked silly? While Lesnar will have a significant size advantage over most UFC heavyweights, Mir, at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, will be slightly taller and nearly as heavy as Lesnar, and he does have a wrestling background, including a Nevada high school state championship. If he can keep his distance and avoid a takedown, he'll have a reach advantage, and while not a great striker, Mir has a huge experience edge in that aspect of the game.

"Frank Mir is a black belt in jiu jitsu," Lesnar said. "I've been training a lot in jiu jitsu, and a lot of jiu jitsu defense and a lot of striking and defense. My wrestling workouts have taken a back seat because I did that for 18 years." Lesnar says he has visualized this fight a thousand times and the only consistent thing is his hand being raised at the end.

"Anybody can get knocked out in this sport if you get hit with the right punch with the size of the gloves," he said. "I don't have a weak jaw, but if you get hit in the right spot, anybody can lose. You just try to lower the odds of being in that situation. If I can avoid that, I can win a lot of fights."

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I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to see Mir just humble the shit out of him, but the odds are that Lesnar is actually going to be really good.

I predict Lesnar getting a decision after some close calls.

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When I read this article this morning, I had a premonition of Brock getting absolutely KTFO. Which would suck, because I'd love to see him tear through the heavyweight division. They need somebody with that kind of personality to rule the roost and sell fights.

I'm still picking him over Mir, although Frank looked much improved in his last fight.

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Here's the full card:

Main Card

Tim Sylvia v Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (for the Interim Heavyweight Championship)

Frank Mir v Brock Lesnar

Alan Belcher v Ricardo Almeida

Nate Marquardt v Jeremy Horn

Preliminary Card

Tyson Griffin v Gleison Tibau

Chris Lytle v Kyle Bradley

Marvin Eastman v Terry Martin

Keita Nakamura v Rob Emerson

David Heath v Tim Boetsch

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  • 2 weeks later...

From Yahoo! Sports:

Fight breakdown: Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir

By Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports

LAS VEGAS – Former WWE and NCAA champion Brock Lesnar and former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir will meet in a heavyweight bout at UFC 81 on Saturday at Mandalay Bay. Here is what each man must do to win:

Keys to victory


1. Close the distance: Mir figures to be the more schooled striker and has a bigger reach. Lesnar needs to be in close where his power and his wrestling can become factors.

2. Side control: Lesnar has to be wary of Mir's submissions. When he takes him down, get to side control to dole out punishment.

3. Make contact: There are those who question if Mir will quit when the going's tough. Lesnar should fight physically to make Mir as uncomfortable as possible.


1. Make him pay: If Lesnar rushes Mir wildly, Mir has to land a solid combination to punches to make Lesnar wary of his power.

2. Survive the onslaught: Mir needs to get past the initial Lesnar burst and make it a long fight.

3. Find the opening: Lesnar only has one pro fight, so his submission defense is considered suspect. Mir should constantly be looking for an opening for a submission.

Rating the fighters

A comparison of Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir on a rating of 1 to 10 in several categories:

Punching power: (Lesnar) 9 (Mir) 8 -- Mir, though, should be more skilled in the standup.

Wrestling: (Lesnar) 10 (Mir) 7 -- Lesnar is a former NCAA heavyweight champion wrestler.

Knees/kicks: (Lesnar) 5 (Mir) 7 -- Shouldn't be a big factor, but much is unknown about Lesnar's game.

Ground and pound: (Lesnar) 9 (Mir) 7 -- Lesnar's dream is to take Mir down and then pound him out.

Takedown defense: (Lesnar) 10 (Mir) 7 -- Mir knows Lesnar will be able to take him down almost at will.

Chin: (Lesnar) 6 (Mir) 8 -- This is another unknown area about Lesnar.

Submissions: (Lesnar) 5 (Mir) 10 -- Mir is one of the best in the world.

Stamina: (Lesnar) 9 (Mir) 9 -- Lesnar looks in superb shape.

Strength: (Lesnar) 10 (Mir) 8 -- Lesnar is freaky strong.

Intangibles: (Lesnar) 10 (Mir) 9 -- Lesnar won't be awed by the moment.

Total: (Lesnar) 84 (Mir) 80 -- Lesnar is a superb wrestler and is very powerful, but much is unknown about his MMA game. Mir needs to be composed and not allow Lesnar and the moment to overwhelm him. If he can survive the opening onslaught, expect Mir to pull the slight upset and win by submission.

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Griffin via decision

Almeida via sub

Marquardt via sub

Boetsch via TKO



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Referee Steve Mazzagatti Discusses Lesnar-Mir Fight

Dann Stupp, MMAjunkie.com

Three days after Frank Mir defeated Brock Lesnar with a first-round submission at UFC 81, the world of MMA is still abuzz about the controversial foul and one-point deduction that aided the victory.

After scoring an early takedown and unleashing a ground-and-pound barrage, Lesnar was deducted a point for striking his opponent in the back of the head. Lesnar again took the fight to the ground after the restart, but Mir survived the onslaught to force a tap-out via knee bar at 1:30 of the first round.

Did Lesnar, in fact, strike Mir in the back of the head? Why wasn't he first issued a warning -- or was he? Was the fight almost stopped at any point to award Lesnar a TKO victory?

MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) today spoke to the man in charge of the fight, referee Steve Mazzagatti, to get his take on the situation.

While the veteran official and longtime fight junkie admits that he had difficulty hearing his own voice over the thunderous roars at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, he doesn't a regret a single decision he made that night. He made the right call, he's sure, and if he had the opportunity do it all over again, he wouldn't change a thing.

Mazzagatti now explains why.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: Before we jump into UFC 81, can you explain your background in the sport and how you became a referee for the Nevada State Athletic Commission?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: I've actually been into the sport since it was regulated by the state athletic commissions. I've been with the Nevada State Athletic Commission for 14 years first doing kickboxing and K-1 competitions and Muay Thai. I've always been an MMA fan, and when they came stateside, they told me to talk to Big John (McCarthy). He mentored me. Back then, he was the only teacher around... Like any martial artist, I've been watching the UFC since the first inception. I was totally amazed. As the skill level has improved, it's even more exciting. And today, it's more exciting than it's ever been. I'm really into the technical aspect of the sport and the science of it.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: You're now a veteran official, especially with the UFC. With a fight like Lesnar vs. Mir, can you tell me how and when you end up learning that you're reffing the fight?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: We don't usually find out until we actually show up at the event. Every once in a while, I'll catch which fights I'm doing on the Internet because you guys go to the commission meetings, but usually, I don't find out until I get to the show.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: So you're aware of sites like MMAjunkie.com?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: Absolutely. I read it often. It's our job to do homework, and it's how I get the latest news and know what's going on.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: What were your initial thoughts when you realized you got the Lesnar-Mir fight? Do the big-magnitude fights bring a little extra pressure?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: Absolutely. When Big John left, he had been doing all the big fights, and I usually got a co-main event and the undercard fights. We'd divvy them up. When you're reffing those big fights, the ones that headline the events that people came to see, (the fans) are going to watch every little thing and analyze everything, just like the SuperBowl. A high-profile fight is going to have a lot more scrutiny and be more analyzed. That's for sure.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: OK, onto the fight. When we spoke earlier, you mentioned that the decision to deduct Lesnar one point for strikes to the back of Mir's head was pretty clear. Can you explain?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: These fighters are extremely skilled fighters, and a grappler like Frank, that's what they're trained to do: when you have a guy in half guard on top of you, you don't want to give the guy room to punch. So that was Mir's defense. You suck up close to (your opponent's) chest, tuck yourself up under them, and that covers you from getting hit. At first, Brock started to do the right thing by winding up with the hook from behind and pushing Mir's head away from his stomach. Then you can blast him in the face... but to have to worry about getting struck in the back in the head in a situation like that isn't something Frank should have had to worry about. But that was a target that presented itself to Brock.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: Just to be clear, did you think the strikes were intentional?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: I don't think it was through any fault of his own. It was just there for him, so he started coming down with that hammerfist. But the back of the head is not a target you can take. And honestly, we see it all the time. A lot of people are comparing it to that the Tibau Gleison-Tyson Griffin fight earlier in the night. They were doing the exact same thing. Gleison took down Tyson, Tyson scooted up toward Gleison, and he had the opportunity to hit him (in the back of the head) but didn't take it. Instead, he moved his head out so he could get in some punches, which is what you're supposed to do.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: Did you issue Lesnar a warning? That's a big part of this whole thing, you know? Some fans think you didn't issue a warning.

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: Yeah, I did. Brock's excited. It's a big, big opportunity for him, and -- in my opinion -- he looked down and saw the head there, and he took three shots at him and caught him. I jump in and say, "Don't hit at the back of the head." A few more seconds go by, Mir tucks up under there again, and Brock comes down with the second couple hits to the back of the head. That's when I jumped in and had to do my job. That's what I saw.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: So, just to be perfectly clear, you did issue Lesner a warning before you stopped the fight and deducted a point?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: Oh yeah, I did. But can you imagine the decibels in there? That was one of the fights everyone came to see. Of course, I came home and did my homework, watched the tape, and I can't hear myself give the warning. I couldn't hear myself say, "Bring it on!" on that beginning (either). [laughs] That's my thing. I always shout that. If you watch the tape, you can barely even hear that.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: Do you think Lesnar heard you?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: I don't know. I can't say that he heard it. I yelled it loud enough for them to hear. It was awfully loud. I yelled it, though. I've got kids, so I know how to yell. [laughs] I used to be in a rock band, so I've got some lungs.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: I think that's where the controversy is -- if there is, indeed, any controversy -- that some people think you never issued a warning. But you're saying it's just a matter of people not hearing it, correct?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: Absolutely, yeah. Let me also say that striking to the back of the head is one of my pet peeves -- that and grabbing the cage. The back of the head is a very dangerous spot of the body in this sport. If you were to put a RAZR cellphone right above your C-spine where it connects to your skull, that's the most dangerous part of the skull. A good, strong hit there can really hurt a fighter. That's the part of the head that is considered illegal. Right behind the ears is not illegal. Sometimes we caution people not to hit there. That's not necessarily a warning... we just know the possibility is there. Like I said, I'm just there to look for illegal techniques. And if you go back through my history, you'll see that I've deducted a lot of points for strikes to the back of the head.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: Obviously, it can be easy to accidentally hit someone in the back of the head unintentionally if an opponent if flailing around. Where do you draw the line?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: Accidental strikes happen. But when you look at the back of the guy's head and connect, it's, "OK, that might be cool. He didn't mean it." Then you hit twice, and it's time to start considering if you're doing it intentionally. Then the third one comes down, and that's when I jump in and say, "No strikes to the back of the head!" as loudly as I possibly can. Brock knows what he did. He has nothing to say about it being controversial. I don't think his corner protested at all about it. It's all left to interpretation. But was a foul committed? Yes, it was... If you look at the fight several times, unfortunately, the majority of the powerful shots were to the back of the head.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: Previously, you told me that Mir did what he was supposed to do and that it's your job to make sure he's not penalized for that. Can you explain?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: He did what he was supposed to do under the rules he's training under -- that's to jump up under there. He was using a lot of skill in doing what he does. He shouldn't have had to worry about his head being hammerfisted. Unfortunately, that's what happened to him, and that forced Mir to do something he shouldn't have to, which is come out of the pocket. When he comes back out of the pocket, that allows Brock to use legal techniques... but he got there by illegal means.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: So, he loses his position? That's why you restarted them standing?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: Whenever a foul is committed -- whether it's considered intentional or unintentional -- we take the position away, especially if it's a dominant position. That's just the way it is and the way it's always been.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: At any point in the initial exchange, did you consider stopping the fight to award Lesnar the TKO victory? Mir was taking a lot of punishment even without the shots to the back of the head.

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: No, not all. To me, Frank was doing everything right. He was doing what he needed to. He was doing what he needed to for that position. If you watch a thousand Jiu-Jitsu guys in that position, a thousand guys would do what Frank did in that position. He could have kept the position if it weren't for the strikes to the back of the head. He knew what he was doing.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: After a tough call or controversial fight like that, do you immediately meet with the commission and Keith Kizer (the NSAC's executive director)?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: Absolutely. Keith is really good. We go over the scores and everything we saw and heard. I spoke about that whole fight. I explained to the judges and the commission and everyone else around there the whole fight. We're constantly learning. We have a little discussion after the fight, and I'm telling them everything I saw and heard.

MMAJUNKIE.COM: Is this right after the fight -- or after the event?

STEVE MAZZAGATTI: After the event. Well, we have a quick meeting before the event too. Look, we're constantly learning and evolving and discussing different ways to make sure that the fighters get a fair shake. After that event, no matter how minor a point might be, we talk about it. That's how how we're going to improve.

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STEVE MAZZAGATTI: Whenever a foul is committed -- whether it's considered intentional or unintentional -- we take the position away, especially if it's a dominant position. That's just the way it is and the way it's always been.

Not always, there's been fights that are restarted on the ground. I found it funny that he said Mir did exactly what you're suppose to do. Whenever a fighter is getting beat, just turn your head and force a foul to get out of it.

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