Two-time heavyweight champion Frank Mir returns to action in Brazil to face Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. Check out the full profile on Mir as featured in the Feb/March 2015 issue of UFC: The Official Magazine.
Frank Mir had retired. He just didn’t tell anybody. As he walked from the Octagon back to the locker room in Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center this past February, he was done, convinced that his three-round loss to Alistair Overeem would be his last fight.
I’ve got to get out of it, he thought as he made the longest walk in sports. I’m in the middle, and I can’t see clearly.
It was a good career—some would even say great. Mir won the UFC heavyweight title twice, he was once the poster boy for the promotion, he came back from a horrific motorcycle accident to regain his place among the best big men in the sport and he fought the top pros night in and night out. That’s quite a legacy to leave. But he wasn’t happy with it at all, focusing instead on the four-fight losing streak that left him in a place where he simply wasn’t going to put on the gloves anymore.
“I hated how my last performances were,” Mir said of his consecutive defeats to Overeem, Josh Barnett, Daniel Cormier and Junior Dos Santos. “We all like to win, but I’ve won fights and have been miserable. Winning is not everything. It’s a part of it and a big portion of why we do things. No one wants to put an L in the column every time. But there’s also performing at the top level that’s exciting. Losing a fight—that hurts. But going out there and performing so poorly is what killed me the most. After Overeem, I thought, Wow, that was just a horrible performance on my part, and they’re getting worse and worse and worse.”
There would be no announcements from Mir after the Overeem fight—not in Newark and not once he got home to Las Vegas—and no attention given to his future by the media. That’s the fight game: Unless you make noise, the focus is on the winners of the night. No one knew that game better than Mir.
Once upon a time he was the Golden Boy of MMA. A good-looking, well-spoken fighter with just the right amount of swagger and a ground game that saw him approach submissions the way Mike Tyson approached knockouts. Mir was seemingly going to rule the UFC’s heavyweight division for as long as he wanted to. Sure, there was a hiccup during his rise in the form of an upset loss to Ian Freeman at UFC 38 in 2002, but following that bout, Mir ran off four straight wins, the last being a 50-second submission of Tim Sylvia that broke the arm of “The Maine-iac” and earned Mir the UFC heavyweight title.
Then it all went wrong. The motorcycle accident in September of 2004 thankfully spared his life, but it strangled his career. Following 14 months on the sidelines, Mir was stripped of the title, and it wasn’t until February of 2006 that he returned to the Octagon against Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz.
Cruz, a jiu-jitsu expert competing in just his second pro MMA bout, was expected to be a safe enough foe for the returning Mir. But he proved the exact opposite, as he bloodied and stopped Mir in the first round.
“I was very unhappy with my mental performance in that fight,” Mir recalls. “When I started bleeding, I kind of panicked and freaked out, and I just threw in the towel mentally. I really felt like I broke down.”
It would get worse. Mir would get back in the win column five months after the Cruz fight with a pedestrian win over Dan Christison, at least setting him up for another big fight. His opponent was young gun Brandon Vera, and “The Truth” ripped through Mir, needing just 69 seconds for the knockout victory.
The Golden Boy was gone.
When asked about this time in his life, Mir tells a story about a group of Navy SEALs that were supposed to be dropped off at a beach, but stormy waters made that impossible.
“Here you have men who are some of the most mentally tough human beings that walk the face of the earth,” he said. “And they were so tough that they said, ‘We’ll swim from here.’ And they drowned.”
Frank Mir was drowning, and as one of the most intellectual fighters in the sport, he knew it. He was just at a loss when it came to figuring out what the problem was.
“Back in ’05 to ’07, I sucked things up and said, ‘Well, I’m just gonna put my head through the wall, and I’ll just figure a way around it. I’m going to move forward.’”
He did, and eventually so did his mojo. Mir was no longer the poster boy for the UFC, but a win over Antoni Hardonk in August of 2007 put him in the role of sacrificial lamb against newcomer Brock Lesnar at UFC 81. Mir won that fight too, submitting the future heavyweight champion in 90 seconds. By the end of 2008, his comeback was complete, with a submission victory over Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira that earned him the heavyweight title once more.
“I’m so glad that hardship happened, because I don’t think I was mentally that tough at that time,” Mir said of the motorcycle accident and its aftermath. “I was nowhere near as tough as I am now. I thought, These things are bad, but I have to move forward. I have to find a way. This is awful, but I can’t stop moving. That’s what that era really bestowed upon me.”
In the film Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood’s character tells a young fighter in the gym, played by Hilary Swank, “Tough ain’t enough.”
Mir, buoyed by his comeback and the heart he displayed to get there, disagreed. And his insistence on showing just how tough he was (especially since early in his career he was tagged as a fighter who relied on talent, not hard work, to get by) led him to UFC 169 and what he assumed was the end of his road.
“Sometimes when you’re in the center of the storm, you don’t see what’s going on,” he admitted.
“At the beginning of my career, it was a choice that I wasn’t prepared properly,” Mir explains. “Then, in the middle of my career when I finally got back up and fought Nogueira, I trained very diligently and hard—almost to the point where I think the mistake I made was that I wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. So I trained harder in the gym than anybody else. If you spar five rounds, I’ll spar 10. You’re doing five-minute rounds, I’ll do six-minute rounds. I’ll make sure that no one who actually watches me train can sit there and ever tell me that I don’t train. Then all the abuse to my body caught up to me. Then my training wasn’t as top notch—not through choice and not through laziness, but through circumstance.”
As Mir explains it, injuries that happened in the gym during training camp were exacerbated by his insistence on working through them instead of either pulling out of a fight or rehabbing the injury. It got to the point where it was almost a game to see just how far he could push himself and still perform on fight night.
“People want to talk about mental toughness, but there’s a certain point where your physique is breaking down,” he said. “I’m still flesh, blood and bone, and the body has its limitations.”
Add in the fact that Mir put that intellectual spin on his performances and overanalyzed everything—even during a fight—and it was a recipe for disaster.
“It’s hard to prepare for a battle and really break yourself down and evaluate,” he said. “I compare it to a race car. Someone says you have a race on the weekend: You’re really not pulling the motor around and combing through the system. You’re gonna patch up whatever needs to be done to get you through the race. And that’s really what I’ve done over the last several fights. If I have a problem with a certain injury or a certain hang-up, then what’s the fix? And I did that instead of breaking it down and taking the time to build it from the ground up.”
Mir lost his rematch to Lesnar at UFC 100 in 2009, and then put together a 4–1 run before his recent four-fight skid. It was a painful five years, but when he got home following the Overeem bout, the work in the gym didn’t stop. Only this time he was doing it for himself. He wasn’t preparing for a fight, so he didn’t push too hard, and he healed up all the aches and pains.
“I said I’m just going to sit back and be an outside eye on my own life instead of being on the inside,” Mir said. “This isn’t about me fighting; this is about me just being back in tune with myself, and that’s how I’ve approached my training for the last six months since April. This is a fun thing, it’s not a thing of urgency. I don’t have to be my best tomorrow, I just have to be a little bit better.”
As time went by, Mir started to feel good again. And you know what happens next.
“About a month ago I looked at the guys around me and said, ‘Hey, I really want to fight,’” Mir said in December. “And everybody was like, ‘We’re glad you feel that way, because we’re seeing what kind of physique you have and what kind of movements you’re making and what you’re doing in the gym, and we’d be very disappointed if you chose to do otherwise.’”
Mir’s grappling coach Ricky Lundell agreed that it was time for his charge to give it one more run.
“We took into account where he’s at in his career and his age and had a pretty serious discussion. And if he wants to do this, it’s now or never,” Lundell said. “We can’t retire for three years, then come back and say let’s try it now. We either try it now or it doesn’t happen.”
For Mir, “now” is February 22 in Brazil, the night he faces Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in what has to be seen as a must-win match. He agrees that the outside world’s perception of the fight is that he either wins or retires for good, but it’s not that cut and dried for Mir.
“If I fight at the level I know I’m capable of and I come out with a loss, I can sleep at night,” he said. “But if I fight poorly before that moment and I end up with the W, I’m going to be miserable.”
He laughs, knowing that most people can’t understand his mindset when it comes to the fight game, and that’s OK with him. Mir has never been one to follow the pack—for good or bad—and he’s not about to stop now. It’s not in his DNA. Neither is the idea that if he makes yet another miracle comeback he will say “I told you so” to the world.
“No, I think it takes something away from it,” he said. “Sometimes when I have a discussion with somebody and I corner them, there’s that look that two people kind of have which says, ‘I know that you know I got you.’ And it’s almost even better that I don’t gloat over it. I can just smirk and go ‘uh-huh.’”
Call it the Frank Mir Face.
Like Mir, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva is looking to break back into the win column at UFC Fight Night, making this an intriguing crossroads battle. When asked if Silva is the kind of fighter to help push him to a higher level, Mir said, “I believe so. He’s a dangerous opponent. The guy has ham hocks for hands, and he’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu, so I don’t think he’s going to be completely out of his element on the ground. His basics are very sound. His stance, his hands, he throws good combinations for such a heavy guy, he moves around well and he’s mentally tough too. He doesn’t really ever check out. I remember watching the Overeem fight, and for 10 minutes he’s getting stomped. Then in the third round, he turns it on and is able to win. I think he has great assets to push back against.”
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