Buried in this eight-day, four-event UFC marathon, underneath the sexy headlines of Conor McGregor topping Chad Mendes for the interim featherweight title, past Robbie Lawler stopping Rory MacDonald in one the finest fights in MMA history, even overshadowed by top ten middleweight’s Michael Bisping and Thales Leites headlining the UFC’s first trip to Glasgow, is a much-overlooked heavyweight bout between former champion Frank Mir and knockout specialist Todd Duffee.
It’s a fight featuring the UFC’s all-time leading heavyweight submission artist and a fighter who never quite realized his heavy-hitting potential, and both Mir and Duffee have much to gain from Wednesday’s contest in San Diego.
Less than two years ago, Mir looked to be on his way out of the Octagon following four-straight defeats. Mir, who turned pro in 2001, appeared to be a shadow of his former, grappling self, so no one was surprised when he sat out for a year before returning in February 2015 to fight Antonio “Big Foot” Silva.
With Silva pegged as the favorite, Mir went down to Brazil, and returned home a victor, knocking out the former title challenger in less than two minutes. Was this to be the beginning of Mir’s third life in the Octagon, or merely an aberration? Given Silva’s own career slide and fading chin, the flash knockout did little to convince that Mir would soon return to championship form.
The win did, however, breathe a bit of renewed energy into the Mir camp.
Unlike Mir, who was once one of the UFC’s most popular athletes in the mid aughts, when he twice claimed promotional gold, Duffee has quietly racked up nine pro MMA wins, all by knockout, including a UFC record for fastest KO.
A hulking figure of imposing size and power, Duffee first entered the UFC in 2009. Nine months later he was handed his walking papers after a knockout loss to Mike Russow, a Chicago cop who fought through a broken arm to KO the highly touted American Top Team product.
Duffee drifted into obscurity, away from the Octagon, into occasional B-movie roles.
Then, diagnosed with Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, a rare nerve disorder that affects one in 100,000 people, Duffee further retreated from MMA altogether, taking two years off from the Octagon. But when he returned in December 2012, Duffee made an immediate statement with a Knockout of the Night at UFC 155.
But as soon as he was back on the radar, Duffee took yet another two years off from competition.
Following his second hiatus, Duffee resumed his knockout tear at UFC 181. It took all of 33 seconds for Duffee to finish Anthony Hamilton, his third first-round KO inside the Octagon.
The win seemed to be a re-introduction to a talented striker who was never quite able to gain any steam or momentum during his oft-derailed career. And following the bout, Duffee started campaigning for a fight with Mir specifically, as the two had previously trained together under boxing coach Jimmy Gifford prior to Duffee’s loss to Russow.
Going into Wednesday’s headliner, Mir versus Duffee falls into the classic striker-versus-grappler paradigm. The winner has an instant opportunity to quickly climb the heavyweight ranks after Fabricio Werdum threw the division on its side after taking the title from Cain Velasquez at UFC 188.
Mir certainly looks to be far from title contention, but for Duffee, a win streak could propel him into the top 10, and matchups against the likes of Travis Browne, Matt Mitrione, Stefan Struve, and Ben Rothwell.
For now, however, the UFC San Diego main event still has to play out. And while it’s an unlikely main event, one that’s gaining little traction and few headlines, sometimes the best surprises come in the most unexpected places.
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