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The Continuing Education Of Frank Mir

"Anytime I sit there and I
ignore an answer from somebody because I don’t feel that they don’t have
the right credentials, then I might miss out on something." - Frank Mir

Former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir32 years old. It almost requires a double take when you look at the age of Frank Mir and realize that as long as he’s been in the UFC, he’s still a young man. And as a heavyweight, he may be at a point where he hasn’t even reached his prime yet.

So when he talks about fighting in four years, it’s not really something that should baffle you.

“So far it’s not too much of an issue being 32,” said the two-time heavyweight champ. “Four years from now I’ll probably have to start increasing the fight sequence, but I’m lucky to be in the heavyweight division. One win puts you in a title shot now; it just depends on it being the right win. Look at Brock (Lesnar). He had the Shane Carwin fight and it was questionable on whether it could have been stopped. His fight with (Cain) Velasquez he completely got destroyed, and now he’s fighting (Alistair) Overeem, and already before the fight even took place, he’s one win away from being right back into a title shot. That’s just the nature of the heavyweight division. If Brock and I were to fight again and I get a good win, boom, title shot.”

Mir’s right, and if he’s learned anything in this business over the last decade, it’s that it’s not only what you can do in the Octagon that sells tickets, but what you do outside it as well. And while one chat with him or one read of an interview he does should be enough to convince you that he’s one of the fight game’s most interesting figures, he did choose a different tact when promoting fights a couple years back, one he’s opted not to take since then.

“I try to keep it as real as I possibly can about my own true personality,” he said. “So I can be a smart ass and be kinda smirky, but it’s a little bit harder for me to build up a fight because a couple fights in the past, after the Brock fight, I started seeing that with some of the turmoil I caused through interviews would sell more tickets. Of course, that came back to bite me, so I’ve really put that on the backburner. Some of the fights now, I don’t build them up the way I used to because of that. For some reason some guys can do it and get away with it; it didn’t work out for me.”

Luckily there is no need to build up his UFC 140 co-main event this Saturday in Toronto because it’s got all the elements needed for a blockbuster. In Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira, Mir is in with a fighter who he knocked out back in 2008, but one who was also dealing with some pre-fight injuries that he feels kept him from performing at his best. Three years and a couple surgeries later, Nogueira is back, he’s coming off an August knockout of Brendan Schaub, and he’s eager for revenge. No trash talk can do any better than that in getting fans amped up for the matchup. As for Mir, the idea of bettering a stellar knockout win could have left little room for motivation, but that’s not the case.

“It helps to know that he (Nogueira) feels the first time was a fluke and there’s people after the fight listening to what he’s saying about the staph infection,” said Mir. “So it isn’t like it was a clean-cut victory the first time around. So I was able to find ways to be motivated and to go out there and put a stamp on it. His excuses actually motivated me very well.”

And while the two former champions aren’t trading barbs in the media, there is plenty of heat behind this rematch, even though it’s three years since the first fight and both have had their various ups and downs. Nogueira went through two fights against Randy Couture (win) and Cain Velasquez (loss) and his surgeries before the win over Schaub, and Mir has gone 3-2, losing to Carwin and Lesnar while beating Cheick Kongo, Mirko Cro Cop, and Roy Nelson. So is Nogueira a changed fighter according to Mir?

“I still think he’s not as fluid when it comes to ground jiu-jitsu,” he said. “I think his hips and knees are still a little beat up. As far as his standup, I think it’s the same. He just stands in front of you and tries to beat you through attrition. And that’s just very difficult to do right now in the heavyweight division with the size and the power that most of the heavyweights in the UFC possess.”

As for Mir, he has not stood still behind a game that was once characterized as being one-dimensional. He is no longer just the “jiu-jitsu guy.” He can stand and bang with opponents and his wrestling is even coming along, something that can be attributed to something not too many elite fighters still have – a willingness to learn.

“It’s ambition,” said Mir. “I want to be the best I can possibly be. And anytime I sit there and I ignore an answer from somebody because I don’t feel that they don’t have the right credentials, then I might miss out on something. And I’m very orientated toward being the best I can possibly be, and that means you have to get information from everywhere. I’ve never been one to think that someone has to have a long list of credentials to be someone to listen to. I surround myself with as many people as I can that are very proficient, and I just keep an open mind and I see the benefits of doing things better.”

One of those very proficient people Mir has around these days is grappling wizard Ricky Lundell, a young man who is rapidly becoming coach to the stars, with a roster including Mir, Joe Lauzon, Roy Nelson, and Dan Hardy, among others. The way Lundell sees it, the key to Mir’s recent success is his open mind when it comes to learning new things.

“It’s flattering for me to able to work with somebody like that, and Frank is a very humble individual,” said Lundell. “Despite some people’s views of him having a cocky attitude, he is extremely humble and he’s one of the easiest guys that I’ve had the opportunity to work with. He really steps up and takes into account his entire game and he wants to get better, so he’s humble enough to step up and do those things necessary.”

For Mir, the goal is always the same – to become the perfect fighter. He knows he’ll never reach that point, but it can only make you better to try.
“It’s an unattainable goal that you just keep striving for,” he said. “I don’t think that it will ever come. Ricky’s close with Cael Sanderson and I would be curious to hear if he thinks his wrestling could get better. I’m sure he would say yes, that there are things he can do and improve upon. I’ll never be perfect and I’m never gonna completely accomplish all my goals. I’m realistic that I have a short time frame of age and injuries and hopefully I can accomplish as much as I can within that time frame before those things become too insurmountable.”

He knows that he can’t fight forever, but at the same time, Mir isn’t in any rush, so having his wins over Cro Cop and Nelson fly somewhat under the radar isn’t a cause for concern. Instead, he’s content with the slow road to glory this time around.

“I have no problems with it because the way I look at it, it just gives me more time for opponents like Cain Velasquez, or Carwin or Lesnar that have better wrestling than I do,” he said. “It gives me more time to work with Ricky and (Mike) Whitehead to try to close that gap as much as possible. Every day in the gym is another day to train and I feel like I have the right mindset about that, so if my opponent and I fight tomorrow, I feel like I’ll win; if you tell us we’re gonna fight in a week, I’ll have an even better chance of winning, and if we fight in a year, my chances will increase that much more because I’m in the gym trying to improve all the time.”

That’s not the fighter most associate with Frank Mir. He admitted himself to being kind of “smirky” as times, and his blunt “tell it like it is” style has turned off some fans. But he is a dedicated athlete, an intelligent observer of things in the fight game and outside of it, and he’s also a husband and father. He admits that as he grows older, the sacrifices to get to this level of the sport are sometimes harder to make.

“There is a battle that goes on inside my heart,” he said. “Obviously I have to be in the gym and training; it’s just part of my nature. So I can usually move practices. Then I really started noticing in this last camp that I’m four weeks out and my daughter has a recital, and you’ve got to miss it because you can’t move your training around. And I’ve never had those moments before where I’m driving to the gym and was actually pissed off about having to go. I guess it can be kind of childish in a way because most people have to work a 9 to 5 job and do things where they have to miss out on their children’s events. But then it starts coming into ‘why am I still doing this, do I need to accomplish something more? Is there something I need to prove, am I being selfish? Have I not provided a good lifestyle for my children? Can I provide a better lifestyle for my children if I continue to do this?’ So I’m weighing things out and those are the issues I’m gonna have to struggle with more in the future than the issue of injuries.”

As for now though, the training and the sacrificing for the Nogueira fight is done. Mir is in Toronto and waiting for the opportunity to show off what he’s been working on in his hometown of Las Vegas. It’s showtime, but not just for Mir, but for his camp, all of whom are eager to see their fighter test himself against one of the sport’s greats.

“This is much more exciting for me,” said Lundell. “I get to take a lot more time and effort and work on a real gameplan. It’s a lot more of a chess game against somebody like that (Nogueira). I actually get to go to war. Whereas you go up against somebody like a Kongo or a Cro Cop, I don’t have to think so much about what’s gonna happen once we get to the ground; I just have to focus on getting to the ground and keeping their stuff up to par. Now against somebody like Nogueira, I get to actually put a gameplan together and develop off of Nogueira’s ticks, the things that he does without even thinking about it. How can we catch Nogueira in his perfect movement? Not beat him when he makes a mistake; that’s not what happens at the upper level. We beat him when he moves perfectly. We beat him when he scoots the way he always scoots or when he turns on the hip he always turns on or when he tries to lock on the submission that he always tries to lock. Then we counter that appropriately and sub him. At this level, it’s exciting because you get to develop gameplans that are based on perfection, not based on the old Gracie way of ‘as soon as he makes a mistake I’m gonna relax and catch him.’ That works, but the percentages are way lower; people are too skilled now. We need to make it happen for ourselves.”

Frank Mir has been making things happen for a decade in the world’s toughest sport. And as crazy as it may sound, the best may be yet to come.