Frank Mir’s Long Road Back to Title Contention Begins at UFC 119
On the surface, Frank Mir has the resume and credentials to quickly climb back up the heavyweight ladder and gain another chance at championship gold.
A two-time former heavyweight champion himself, Mir has split a pair of meetings with current title holder Brock Lesnar, was the first man to finish Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and has added solid striking to the impressive Jiu-Jitsu skills that make him the most dangerous grappler in the division. Unfortunately, the road back to contention isn’t as short as it may seem.
In his last two title fights, Mir was beaten – badly – by Lesnar and Shane Carwin, left lying in the center of the Octagon, blood painting his face. No amount of championship history or pre-fight bravado can erase the images of a fallen Mir slowly rising from the canvas groggy and defeated.
If a third opportunity against arch enemy Lesnar is what fuels Mir’s fire, the 31-year-old Las Vegas native will need to channel that motivation into a string of impressive performances, starting with his bout against Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 119.
Originally planned as a rematch opposite UFC 92 opponent Nogueira, the Brazilian veteran was hit with numerous injuries in preparing for the bout, opting to undergo surgery to correct lingering problems rather than push through at less than 100% against Mir for the second time.
Instead of the declining Nogueira, Mir will face the seemingly resurgent Cro Cop, who came to life during his week in Vancouver for UFC 115. In addition to opening up with the media for the first in forever, the former Pride Grand Prix champion earned a submission win for the first time since tapping out Kevin Randleman in 2004. Mir, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, was not impressed with the finish.
“The rear naked choke that he nailed on Pat Barry was not a good choke by anybody's standards,” Mir told Fighter’s Only Magazine in advance of this weekend’s main event, adding his assessment of the technical flaws in Mirko Cro Cop’s technique and Barry’s condition at the time of the submission.
In addition to being unimpressed with the Croatian’s submission win over Barry at UFC 115, Mir didn’t take to what he perceived as Cro Cop establishing a pre-fight avenue for excusing a potential loss. Specifically, the former champion took offense to Cro Cop’s insistence that he will not be 100% coming into this fight after taking the bout five weeks out.
Instead of being annoyed with his opponent’s comments and jokingly stating that he too has decided to come into this bout less than 100% , perhaps Mir should take a good, hard look at what it will take to once again stand across the cage from whoever is wearing the UFC heavyweight title.
While Frank Mir always feels superior to his opponents inside the cage and wastes little promotional time telling anyone who will listen exactly that, the fact of the matter is that a twice beaten former champion isn’t as high on the list of future challengers as he may like.
First in line is Junior dos Santos, confirmed as the next opponent for the winner of the October title bout between Mir’s nemesis and the unbeaten Cain Velasquez. Though a clear contender after dos Santos has not been established, it will take more than a single victory to put Mir back into the title picture.
With a lack of immediate challengers delineated at the top of the division, this is a chance for the UFC to stretch out their heavyweight title fights and give some guys the opportunity to establish themselves as legitimate threats.
Because he’s been beaten by two of the top four bigs in t he division, Mir will have to put together at least two impressive performances before being mentioned as a title challenger again. That waiting period can be stretched further depending on the performances put forward by other heavyweight hopefuls as well.
Shane Carwin did enough against Lesnar in the first round to potentially earn another kick at the can with a lone win. Rumors of a bout with Roy Nelson have circulated for some time, and an impressive victory over the TUF 10 winner would be more than enough for the UFC to insert the Colorado native into a title bout. The same goes for Nelson should this fight come together and the rotund former IFL champion come away with a quality win.
Veterans Nogueira and Cheick Kongo are on the fringes as well, while Dutch giant Stefan Struve could climb into contention with a couple more memorable wins like the one he earned over Christian Morecraft at UFC 117.
The best prospect in the division, TUF 10 runner-up Brendan Schaub, is still a couple wins away but can narrow the gap by earning another decisive win over Gabriel Gonzaga before Lesnar and Velasquez take to the cage in Anaheim. Unbeaten Travis Browne could even put himself on the outskirts of the conversation with a victory over Kongo at UFC 120 next month.
Winning this bout is a must for Mir if he ever hopes to see an opportunity for heavyweight gold presented before him again. The loser of this fight will, for all intents and purposes, be bounced from contention for the foreseeable future. Though they will still have a place on pay-per-view events and inside the division’s top 10, the loser will fall behind the men listed above become more of an upper echelon gatekeeper.
Those guys don’t earn title fights. Ask Gabriel Gonzaga.
That is what makes winning this bout imperative for Mir and his designs on once again challenging for the heavyweight title.
No matter how much you tell everyone you belong in the title picture, the only thing that puts you there are quality wins inside the Octagon.
That goes for everybody, former champions included.