It seems like ages ago when the saga involving mining behemoth BHP Billiton's (NYSE:BHP) proposed takeover of its slightly smaller rival Rio Tinto (NYSE:RTP) began.

It was less than a year ago, in reality, and looking ahead, three things seem clear regarding the proposed combination: London-based Rio Tinto isn't going down without a fight, BHP appears willing to wage a protracted battle for its prey, and no real resolution is likely until after the dawn of the new year. In the end, however, I suppose I'd have to cast my lot on the side of the Aussies winning this one.

Why? Simply because the market is signaling that it thinks the takeover might not take place, as indicated by the discount to BHP's offer at which Rio Tinto is trading. To my mind, that discount from the value of the 3.4 shares of BHP offered for each of the target's shares simply provides the pursuing company with increased maneuvering room.  

But before anything else can happen, the European Commission, which is studying the competitive propriety of the pairing, must resume its analysis. That bit of research was suspended when BHP recently couldn't -- or wouldn't -- provide requested data to the commission. The delay will push back a targeted Dec. 9 deadline for the Europeans to rule on the acquisition.

U.S. authorities have preliminarily given their approval to the merger. BHP CEO Marius Kloppers has said he expects European authorities to resume their study in a matter of weeks.

Meanwhile, the two companies continue to face adventures in other areas: BHP's Western Australia iron mines were recently shut down -- and later restarted -- following a pair of worker fatalities, both within 10 days of one another, at the company's Yandi mine. At the same time, Norway's sovereign wealth fund has disposed of all of its $850 million stake in Rio Tinto; it claims that the company has been responsible for environmental damage at its big Grasberg copper mine in Indonesia, an operation it owns jointly with Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX). Rio Tinto has denied the charge.

Nevertheless, big mining remains especially intriguing on the merger-and-acquisition front alone, whether you're focusing on BHP, Rio Tinto, Brazil's Vale (NYSE:RIO), or Pittsburgh's always active Alcoa (NYSE:AA). Indeed, precisely because of their key position in the world's ongoing resources shortage, these big companies clearly merit the ongoing attention of Foolish investors.

BHP and Rio Tinto both have garnered four-star rankings from Motley Fool CAPS players. Why not provide your opinion on the pair?  

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith owns nary a share in any of the companies mentioned. He does, however, welcome your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy that's been tested in all corners of the globe.