"I just make a guy think twice about not wanting to tap." - Frank Mir
He’s one half of the biggest heavyweight fight of 2012 thus far, yet Frank Mir is as cool, calm, and collected as he’s always been before his UFC 146 battle with heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.
The Las Vegan has already worn that belt twice, and he will join Randy Couture in the history books as the only three-time UFC champions should he beat “Cigano” at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. That’s a tall order for anyone, but as you’ll read in the interview below, Mir has all his bases covered for the most important fight in a career full of them.
TG - Your opponent at UFC 146, Junior dos Santos, hasn’t really shown any weaknesses in the Octagon thus far, with the exception of a little frustration in the Roy Nelson fight when he hit his opponent with everything and he just kept coming. How do you prepare for a fighter like that? Have you seen openings you can capitalize on?
Mir - Basically what I see is somebody who relies on their speed, and I think maybe that’s where some of the frustration stemmed from in the Roy fight. He (dos Santos) is big and the quickest heavyweight in the division, and I would be curious to see who was faster in their heyday, him or Andrei Arlovski. But with anything, even Arlovski and even Anderson Silva, fighters that are strikers that have blinding speed tend to not be that fast as the fight goes on. It’s not easy to keep up that level of speed. So I think he’s most dangerous in the first round and that’s why most of his fights are knockouts in the first round. I think that if he’s not able to catch you, and his speed comes down, now he relies more on his boxing prowess. Well, when the speed came down, he didn’t really box the daylights out of Roy. He still stuck him with his jab and moved around, but Roy landed a few shots, and rounds two and three were not as devastating as round one. Round one was like ‘wow, Roy shouldn’t even be in there with this guy.’ And then the edge started closing up and I think that’s because as JDS slowed down, he had to rely more on his technique, and if anything, I don’t think his technique is as superb as some people think it is because it’s hidden by the fact that he is so incredibly quick.
TG – So how do you replicate that speed in the gym? Or can you?
Mir - It’s very difficult to replicate with somebody his size, so I’ve had to train with a lot of partners who are smaller than I am. Dan Hardy, a welterweight, is extremely quick. I have a couple other training partners like Danny Davis that fight at 170 but walk around at 190 and are 6-foot-2. So I’m able to kind of replicate the look, but obviously the power’s not gonna be the same, and the weight and the leaning on them is gonna be slightly different.
There’s no way I’m gonna sit here and say I’ve got it figured out. No, it’s not the easiest thing to replicate. But I’ve watched past fights, and to be honest I’ve watched a lot of boxing matches to see how did this guy deal with this guy when he had blinding speed, and see how they have to kind of put the guy in a phone booth or cut the ring off, and I take heed of that. Boxing and speed is great – Zab Judah is phenomenally fast, and I would probably bet that he’s quicker than (Floyd) Mayweather. Obviously he’s not as technical and well-rounded as a boxer, but his speed is pretty incredible. And I’ve watched fights of his with guys that are not quick at all, and they were able to march him down, corner him, and make the fight not go his way. So I’ve tried to take a lot of advice off of that. How do you close a guy’s speed down and nullify it without having superior speed? If that was the case, then we could just run a 100 meter sprint before the fight and whoever wins, give him the title.
TG – One of the key additions to your team in recent camps has been Ricky Lundell, someone who not only has a world-class grappling background, but he seems to make wrestling and jiu-jitsu flow together in a way that is perfect for MMA. What has he brought to the table for you?
Mir - Ricky is great at communicating. I’ve had coaches in the past working with me, and I’d be like ‘I’m having a hard time here,’ and they’d say ‘well, you just gotta give it more effort.’ And there are times I’ll agree you’re right – I’m using the right tool, I just gotta put a little mustard on it. But I felt like they were giving me that answer because I had tapped the depth of their knowledge. They felt better to say that than to tell me that they didn’t know why it wasn’t working for me. I’ve never had that problem with Ricky. I could sit there and fail at something and he’ll break it down and come at it from a different direction.
The wrestling aspect hasn’t come to me as fast as some of the other aspects, maybe due to my age now. I started doing the striking and jiu-jitsu at a much younger age, but wrestling I didn’t take seriously until the last couple years. And wrestling has a different mentality. I tell people that my personality is that I’m not a very tough person. If you say ‘hey, we’re all gonna climb up the side of the mountain,’ I’ll look at it and go ‘really?’ (Laughs) I’ll look over and see a trail that winds around it that’s very nice and easy. All right, I’ll meet you guys there. I like to accomplish the goal, but I try to find the path of least resistance.
When it came to wrestling, there are a lot of aspects that are in your face, grinding, and hard. In striking, you can move around and beat me up and try to overwhelm me, but if you just make one mistake, I can land a shot right on your chin or hit you in the solar plexus, and you’re gonna fall down. And the same thing with jiu-jitsu. He can pick me up, slam me, throw me across the ring, and all of a sudden you extend your arm for the wrong second…look at the first Brock (Lesnar) fight. You’re mashing me, mauling me, throwing me around, and all of a sudden he stands there and gives me his leg for half a heartbeat. Okay, I win. Sometimes the wrestling doesn’t have that. Well, I took the guy down. Do I have a moment to relax? No. Now you’ve got to hold him here and you’ve got to be here and heavy here. So it was a harder fit for me.
TG – I’ve always described you as someone who approaches submissions the way a prime Mike Tyson approached knockouts. A lot of people didn’t see the connection. Your recent rematch win over Minotauro Nogueira probably makes that point better than I ever could. As a cerebral fighter and man, what’s the trigger for you to go from that aspect of your personality to one where you’re looking to finish your opponents once the bell rings?
Mir - Actually, it’s self-preservation at its greatest. (Laughs) If I’m able to submit you and you’ve stopped fighting, be it a choke or a joint lock, the fight’s over with. So there’s that carrot right in front of me if I get close to a submission. I don’t see why some guys don’t hunt for them even harder than they do. I’ll see guys get close to a submission and they kinda let it go and transition to somewhere else, and I’m like ‘man, you could have ended the fight right there and been in the locker room taking a shower by now.’ But maybe they haven’t been able to be real successful with them to where it’s ingrained that confidence in them. I’ve been successful enough times, not only just in the gym, but in competition and under the lights of the UFC to where I’ve felt that ‘oh wow, if I get something and it gets to this degree, I will win the fight.’ If I get this deep, no one in the world is getting away from me. If I can submit Brock Lesnar, one of the strongest, biggest, fastest athletes there is, who can’t I submit? Then you can make the argument, what about somebody who’s extremely technical? Well, now there’s Minotauro. You’re not gonna get too many heavyweights more technical than he is, so I’ve hit both ends of the spectrum where pretty much everybody’s gonna fall under those two bookends.
TG – You’ve always been a master of the pre-fight mental game, always knowing the right thing to say to get into an opponent’s head. Given that Nogueira is dos Santos’ mentor, how important is that mental game to winning this fight?
Mir - Anytime I can distract somebody from their gameplan, it’s good. Ice the kicker at all times. In this fight, I really didn’t have to do too much, I don’t think, to really get inside dos Santos’ head. Robert Drysdale, my training partner and one of my other jiu-jitsu coaches, I’ve never tapped him out. He just mauls me on a daily basis. If I last with him for 10 minutes, I think I’ve accomplished something for the day. Now if you told me I had to fight a guy that basically just ripped his arm off after he had the guy out and went to slap on a choke and the guy was able to reverse and finish him, I gotta tell you that wouldn’t sit too well in my stomach. So (dos Santos may be thinking) if I hit and drop Mir and I hover over the top of him, what if he grabs my foot? Nogueira couldn’t submit him, even when his bell was rung and he was in a whole different world. And this guy, half-conscious, was able to reverse, and sweep, and end up on top and take my coach’s arm off, who has been doing jiu-jitsu a lot longer and who is a lot more proficient. Even if he wants to feel that he’s equal to Nogueira, well, I still got Nogueira, so it could still happen to him. And the thing he has to think about is that he’s a young, athletic guy, and a lot of his fighting style has to rely on the fact of his athleticism and speed. So if I get in there and grab a leg, and he doesn’t want to tap, what’s that gonna do to his athletic ability? He might lose a title, but now he takes a year off, now he’s closing in on 30, he has to take two or three more fights before getting back into a title fight, and that’s a lot to think about, knowing that if I don’t catch this guy on the button and knock him out and he grabs me, even in a clinch, this guy could pull half guard and I could be in trouble.
TG – You make a guy not even want to think about fighting you.
Mir - I just make a guy think twice about not wanting to tap. I’m not gonna name names, but there are some guys out there that I’ve seen where people have tapped, and they’ve held on. No one can ever claim I’ve done that. I might not stop when you tap, but that’s not how the rules work. The rules say that I stop when the referee comes in. And in that situation, if you’re tapping, I actually stop applying pressure. I point to the Brock fight. I had him in a kneebar, and as soon as he started tapping, I didn’t keep cranking the kneebar. I didn’t let it go because I’ve seen fights where the referee is like ‘what are you doing, I didn’t see it,’ and that sucks. So I’ll hold on to the submission, but as you can see in that fight, I didn’t increase pressure; I didn’t try to go in there and cheaply blow out his knee and it was right there. I even started looking for the referee, and as soon as he grabbed me, I was done. The same thing happened with Nogueira. I’m looking up at Herb Dean, and as I’m applying pressure, I got him out of the corner of my eye ‘there he is, there is,’ and I’m not feeling a tap.
TG – The last time we spoke, you talked about wanting to make sure you didn’t miss any of the key moments of your children’s lives, and how fighting can sometimes interfere in that. If you win the title on Saturday, have you thought about how life will change, and are you prepared for that?
Mir - I’m not trying to think too far ahead about it because I don’t want that to distract me from the task at hand, but I think I’ve been there before and I’ve done a good job of trying to organize it as much as possible. And at the end of the day, eight weeks before a fight, my fight takes precedence. But champion or no champion, number one fighter in the world, no matter what title I have, when the fight’s over with, I’ll have a few obligations media wise, but don’t let me ever fool anybody into thinking my children aren’t the most important thing to me in my life. They come first. Being the champ will go on the backburner and it will wait again until I’m a couple months out from a fight and then it’s obviously time to go back to work.