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Frank Mir doesn’t think about age. He’s 36 years old, is a veteran of 27 MMA fights and has seemingly found himself after being on the verge of retirement.
But he’ll blanch if someone suggests the end is near.
At UFC 191 Saturday night, Mir will step into the Octagon against another well-traveled fighter, Andrei Arlovski. Together, they have 62 MMA fights, but neither considers his career to be approaching the finish line.
One more fight? Two more? Five?
“I really don’t have a number,” Mir said Thursday at Ultimate Media Day. “Obviously it’s fight by fight. If I go out in the next five fights and knock people out in the first round, I probably could keep going. If I go out there and have wars and get demolished and get beat up real bad, it’s going to slow me down.”
Four consecutive losses almost did. Over a 21-month span starting in May 2012, Mir lost to Junior Dos Santos, Daniel Cormier, Josh Barnett and Alistair Overeem, a stretch that made retirement inevitable. He even addressed the subject with UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta.
But he has since rebounded with first-round knockouts of Antonio Silva and Todd Duffee, earning a No. 10 heavyweight contender ranking.
Over that difficult span, he said, Mir wasn’t fooling his opponents and he wasn’t fooling himself.
“I’m not a complete idiot,” he said. “I’m looking at the stats too. I can see the score on the board and it wasn’t looking very good. I was very much in despair. My wife is the one who pulled me out of it. She got into my ear and told me to think about it. She said, ‘Tell yourself you’re retired, but let’s do nothing for six months.’
The break from training – and a yoga class Mir took with his wife – gave him the time he needed to reconsider his future.
“We were five minutes into (yoga) and I’m already squatting and sitting,” he recalled. “I can’t even do a downward facing dog without three different areas of my body screaming at me to stop. I’m looking at these soccer moms and wives that are just hanging out. I’m supposed to be a world-class athlete and I look anything but. That was an eye-opening experience.”
Mir believes heavyweights can fight well into their 30s, in part because they aren’t burdened by the weight cuts that fighters in lighter weight classes face.
“In the heavyweights, it’s different,” he said. “Someone told me that there’s not a single person not in their 30s, or at least 30 years of age, in the top 10 of the heavyweight division. I think it just shows that heavyweights mature later, and we’re not cutting weight a lot, which takes a lot out of the lighter fighters that have weight restrictions.
“I’ve seen heavier boxers be productive in the late stages of their careers when people said they were in their twilight years.”
As an older fighter, Mir also acknowledged that he cares for his body differently than he did when he was younger.
“Back then, I tried to train like a bodybuilder,” he said. “Now I train much more like an athlete. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with food. In the past I would always train and starve myself to make sure I looked the part of an athlete that was in shape, and then I would gas. Now I realize that food is fuel. I could probably do better with the dietary aspect of it, but now I train to be athletic. I want to be more flexible, faster, stronger.”
As for Arlovski, who is coming off a stunning knockout of Travis Browne, Mir knows it won’t be easy extending his winning streak to three.
“He’s a very explosive, fast fighter,” he said. “He’s going to move around a lot. I’m going to try to corner him, use my power and explosiveness to hit him hard, and if that doesn’t take him out on the first shot, I’m going to take him down and finish him.”
Michael Martinez is a longtime sports journalist and former staff writer at The New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News and FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMMartinez