In large part, injuries and suspensions have left the UFC 146 card nothing but a shell of its former self. Despite all of the shuffling—which includes changes to all five main card fights—there is one heavyweight match-up that may decide the future of the division.

No, I’m not talking about the championship fight between Junior dos Santos and challenger Frank Mir. The most evenly matched fight on the card is between two undefeated big men, Stipe Miocic and Shane Del Rosario.

Miocic will enter the Octagon carrying an 8-0 record with his last two wins coming inside the UFC. Del Rosario, on the other hand, has an equally impressive record of 11-0, but this will be his promotional debut after competing under the Strikeforce banner for the past three years.

Although the winner of this bout may not challenge for the title anytime soon, he will take another step toward contention and prove he is the next big thing in the heavyweight ranks.

Let’s take a deeper look at the fight. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match-up against one another.

Striking: Miocic – 7, Del Rosario – 10

Del Rosario (R) delivers a head kick (Strikeforce)

For the sake of the viewing audience, one can only hope that this fight takes place on the feet. Of their combined 19 fights, 15 have ended due to strikes. However, each fighter possesses a different skill set.

The Croatian Miocic is a former Golden Gloves champion. Six of his seven finishes have come courtesy of his hands. But that doesn’t mean he’s limited to just boxing, as his other stoppage victory was a result of leg kicks. One area of concern in this fight is the fact that Miocic tends to keep his hands down.

Del Rosario is a high-level Muay Thai practitioner. The Californian is a two-time WBC Muay Thai world champion. Of his eight knockout wins, only one was later than the first round. His arsenal of kicks and knees gives him the stand-up advantage over his opponent.

The Clinch: Miocic – 8, Del Rosario – 7

If this fight doesn’t turn into a stand-up war, the clinch game may be the turning point of the fight. Both fighters have similar frames at 6-foot-4 and roughly 250 pounds, so whichever fighter can utilize better technique and take the fight where they want it should come out victorious. Despite the Muay Thai experience of Del Rosario, a slight edge must go to Miocic for his past wrestling career.

Ground Game: Miocic – 5, Del Rosario – 7

Del Rosario (bottom) secures an arm bar against Lavar Johnson (Esther Lin/Strikeforce)

With all of their combined striking credentials, it would be easy to overlook the submission games of these two heavyweights.

And in the case of Miocic, one has to wonder what sort of skills he has in this department. Thus far in his career, he has yet to submit an opponent on the ground. He was expected to be tested in his last bout with submission ace Philip De Fries, but Miocic needed only 43 seconds to knock out the Brit.

Although only a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Del Rosario does have three first-round submission wins to his credit. Two of those finishes have come in his last three bouts, including an omoplata over Brandon Cash and an armbar over Lavar Johnson. His recent body of work clearly gives him the edge in the submission department.

Wrestling: Miocic – 10, Del Rosario – 5

Miocic pounds away from the top position (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

The one department where there will be a huge differential in skill sets is wrestling. For all of the accolades that Del Rosario possesses from his kickboxing career, Miocic has the edge on the wrestling mat.

Miocic was a national qualifier at Cleveland State University, as well as an All-American. To date, the Croatian has primarily used his skills to sprawl and keep his fights standing. That may change against Del Rosario, as Miocic may choose to use wrestling for offense and put the Californian on his back.

X-Factor

There are two things to look out for in this fight. The first is the fact that Del Rosario will be making his UFC debut. Although he has competed in Strikeforce and M-1, nearly every fighter experiences some sort of Octagon jitters. Couple that with the fact that Del Rosario was involved in a major car accident last summer and has not competed in the last 15 months and his fight with Miocic becomes all the more difficult.

Total: Miocic – 30, Del Rosario – 29

Verdict: There’s a reason why this fight is so close at the sportsbooks. With only one decision between them, it’s unlikely that this fight goes the distance. Although Del Rosario may have the edge on the feet, look for Miocic to put him on his back and ground-and-pound his way to victory.

Top Photo: Stipe Miocic (R) connects with a right hand against Joey Beltran (James Law/Heavy MMA)

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