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UFC 146:

Frank Mir relaxed, confident ahead of bout with Junior dos Santos

Mir thinks original opponent Cain Velasquez was a tougher matchup

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Sam Morris

Frank Mir smiles during a work out as he prepares for an upcoming fight Thursday, May 19, 2011.

UFC 146 News Conference

Junior Dos Santos, left, and Alistair Overeem pose for photos during a news conference Tuesday, March 27, 2012 to advance the all heavyweight card at UFC 146. Launch slideshow »

At a press conference to announce UFC 146 earlier this year, Frank Mir openly expressed concern in facing then co-main event opponent Cain Velasquez.

Velasquez, a former collegiate All-American wrestler at Arizona State, was exactly the kind of fighter that has given the local fighter fits throughout his career. Despite the UFC raising the stakes and bumping him into the main event, Mir feels more at ease challenging heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.

“I think preparing for Velasquez was a little bit tougher,” Mir said Thursday. “He’s capable of doing so many different things, and obviously, he has top-notch wrestling. With dos Santos, his weapon of choice is boxing. It’s superior to everyone else’s, but it’s still one-dimensional. It’s nice to know what’s coming.”

Mir looks to become the promotion’s first three-time heavyweight champion against dos Santos on May 26 at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Mir was overjoyed when he received confirmation that he would replace Alistair Overeem, who failed a drug test and wasn’t licensed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, but also relieved. He feels dos Santos is a better stylistic matchup.

"I think he says stuff he doesn't even believe," dos Santos said of Mir through a translator. "There's no way he can actually believe that he hits harder than I do."

Mir altered his training camp when the dos Santos bout turned official. He kept all of the same training partners but instructed them to put less of an emphasis on shooting for takedowns.

Dos Santos has spent almost no time on the ground since signing with the UFC four years ago. The champion works hard to stay on his feet and out-strike foes.

In other words, Mir exchanged wrestling singlets for boxing trunks at his local Suffer Gym.

“His technique is a little different,” Mir said. “It’s good, in my opinion, but I’m not a boxing expert. I certainly think his speed and athletic ability is what makes his boxing stand out the most.”

Dos Santos has stopped six of his eight opponents in the octagon with strikes. But, according to Mir, the champion has never faced as much pressure as he will at UFC 146.

It’s dos Santos’ first title defense since he pried the belt from Velasquez at UFC on Fox last November. Mir, who is in his fifth UFC championship bout, said a whole new set of challenges comes once a fighter becomes a champion.

Obligations double or even triple. Fighters have different reactions to the increase in expectations.

“When you’re the challenger, you come in, and if you lose, you lose the title shot,” Mir said. “You can kind of sit back with that. As long as you fought well, you can live with the outcome. But when you’re the champion, there’s no choice. You’re expected to win. You have to put everything into that moment.”

It’s time to find out if dos Santos is up for the challenge. Mir said he had no doubts about how he would perform.

Experience has perfected his training methods, which has made him believe he’s on another fighting level than he ever has been before. While some have hinted that it’s now or never for the 32-year-old Mir, he has no extra sense of urgency.

“Not at all,” Mir said. “I think there’s a perception that I’m older than I am because I’ve been in the UFC for so long. I first fought for the title in my early 20s. I could very well take a year or two off and still be in the middle of the age group for the heavyweight division.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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