On paper, it was a fight most people wanted to see, even if only to believe that the most resilient fighter of this era, former PRIDE and UFC heavyweight champion “Minotauro”
Nogueira was still able to rise from the proverbial dead to pull off an improbable victory.
But for the man scheduled to be facing Nogueira on September 25th in Indianapolis, Frank Mir, it was going to be one of those fights where a win would be expected and a loss would be catastrophic. And after delivering a one-sided thrashing to Nogueira in their first meeting in December of 2008, how could he possibly top the emotional victory that earned him the interim UFC crown?
“I was very motivated for the fight just because of some of the things that were said afterwards with his (Nogueira’s) staph infection and knee injury or whatever the excuse was for why the fight took place the way it took place,” said Mir. “That in itself gave me the motivation to engage Nogueira. But it’s still just something we’ve already done. And in the back of my mind I kind of knew it was like ‘well, if I go there and I don’t knock him down four times in seven minutes,’ or let’s say we go out there and I beat him soundly but I win on a decision people are going to say you’re slipping.”
In other words, topping a second round TKO of one of the sport’s legendary heavyweights was going to be a lose-lose situation. So when Nogueira went down with a hip injury and was forced to withdraw from the fight, bringing in Mirko Cro Cop on short notice, Mir had a fight for the UFC 119 main event on September 25th, and a fight that amped him up even more mentally. And at 31 years old and with nearly a decade in the fight game, anything that can help get you out of bed a little easier to go to the gym is always welcome. That’s not to mean the change of opponents was a seamless transition.
“I had to change a lot of things,” said Mir. “But the enthusiasm behind the change actually helped motivate me. The idea of fighting Nogueira again, obviously it's a fight and I understand that he wants to have a rematch, but because I came out successful in our last fight, I'm not as ambitious towards that rematch as he would be. And I understand that; obviously if I lose to somebody I would like to fight them a lot more than they probably want to fight me. But with fighting Mirko, once I heard about that challenge, regardless of what other people say about his notoriety in America, I know who he is. And so I like the idea and the challenge. I realize that he's a dangerous opponent and a former PRIDE superstar, I was very motivated by the idea, and I look at it like this is definitely an improvement for me as far as what I have to gain over my last opponent.”
The upside is immense for Mir, who is looking to get back in the title race after a disappointing first round loss to Shane Carwin that would have earned him a record-tying third heavyweight title (albeit two of the interim variety) and a shot at a rubber match with current heavyweight boss Brock Lesnar. Now it’s back to the drawing board, but with his motivation on high and his evolution as a fighter continuing, he’s in a good place, especially since he may be hitting his physical prime.
And speaking of the physical part of the game, Mir has somewhat abandoned his quest of the last year and a half to get bigger in order to compete with the Lesnars and Carwins of the division. That doesn’t mean he’s starving himself to 220 pounds, but he doesn’t expect to clock in at 265 on weigh-in day either.
“Right now I’m walking around between 250 and 255, which depends on what I ate the night before,” said Mir on September 15th. “I still work on biometric and ballistic training, but whereas in the past I got obsessed with the larger I am the more advantage I have inside the Octagon, I started seeing that for how I operate and how my style of fighting works, that wasn’t an advantage.”
It was a fact that hit home in the Carwin fight, as he was bulled into the fence and beaten up there before being finished on the ground. It was as emphatic a lesson as Mir could have received, but as one of the most cerebral fighters in the game, it was one he quickly absorbed and learned from. And even slimmed down, he will likely be the bully, size-wise, against Cro Cop, which means he can probably dictate where the fight goes. Most expect that Mir would opt for a ground fight, where, as a jiu-jitsu black belt, he holds a solid edge. But Mir has never been one to shy away from testing himself, and what better way to test your growing standup game than to do it against one of the sport’s legendary strikers?
Or as Mir puts it, “If you go out and you want to be a safari hunter you don’t want to shoot small lions. I want to go shoot the strongest and the scariest one possible.”
And when it comes to striking, Cro Cop is certainly scary.
“I can go out there and be beating Mirko for fourteen minutes and 59 seconds,” said Mir. “And if I drop my hands for a second or I make a mistake and he puts his shin across my liver and I take a knee and the fight is over, man, that is intriguing to me. You have to not make a mistake.”
So will curiosity knock out the cat, or will Mir play it smart and use his size, athleticism, and ground technique to win the UFC 119 main event? That remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure – Frank Mir is pretty happy about fighting Mirko Cro Cop, and that’s never a good thing for a Frank Mir opponent.