When Frank Mir and Cro Cop face in the Octagon at UFC 119, it will be the end of an era for one and perhaps a stepping stone for one more shot at glory for the other.
It's no secret that Frank Mir hasn't been the same fighter since his now infamous motorcycle accident, but he has built a stellar record since, going 5-4 including wins over the current champion Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and, more recently, Cheick Kongo.
He is, however, coming off a devastating first-round KO loss to Shane Carwin that truly opened a lot of eyes for the future of the division.
Mir was originally supposed to have a rematch of UFC 92 with Nogueira at UFC 119 but "Minotauro" pulled out due to a knee injury. Now Mir must deal with a resurgent Mirko Cro Cop, who is poised for perhaps one more title before retirement (Cro Cop will be 36 on fight night).
Cro Cop hasn't looked this dangerous inside the Octagon since he made his UFC debut at UFC 67 when he dominated Eddie Sanchez. He is on a two fight win streak that includes a third round rear-naked choke victory over Pat Barry (received Submission of the Night honours) and a bloody doctor's stoppage at UFC 110 over Anthony Perosh.
On that note, most will say lack of preparation went into the latter victory (Perosh replaced Ben Rothwell two days before the fight due to illness). Cro Cop still showed that he hasn't lost a step.
In his last seven fights, Cro Cop has won five times and suffered a defeat to Junior Dos Santos at UFC 103 after Dos Santos threw a punch that injured Cro Cop's eye. The other fight was against current Strikeforce Heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem in September 2008. During the fight, Overeem threw some knees to Cro Cop's groin area, badly injuring him. Despite Cro Cop's determination to continue, the fight was rendered a no contest.
The keys to victory are quite simple. If Cro Cop wants to win, this will be a striker's battle. Even though Cro Cop displayed a great ground game against Pat Barry, Mir is a different beast on the ground, especially on his back. Don't believe me? Just ask Tim Sylvia or Brock Lesnar.
On the other side, Mir needs to bring this fight to the ground early. He can't get caught up striking with a man who has 21 knockout victories in his MMA career. If Cro Cop proves to be difficult to take down, Mir has to keep close and push the pace, take away Cro Cop's devastating head kicks, and at the very least get in the clinch against the fence.
The UFC heavyweight division has become one of the most stacked divisions in MMA, with many solid title contenders. Whomever comes out of this one victorious will have their work cut out for them with potential fights with Roy Nelson, Shane Carwin, or any of the three other fighters currently in the title picture right now: Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez or Junior Dos Santos, among other young emerging stars.
A loss will be a fall from grace for either fighter in this reporter's opinion.
Who will come out victorious in Indianapolis? That question will be answered on September 25th on a card that features TUF 9 winner Ryan Bader, former UFC champions Matt Serra and Sean Sherk, and the UFC debut of Mark Hunt, an MMA legend in his own right.