Over his career, Frank Mir gave us three of the best submission finishes ever seen on the heavyweight level in mixed martial arts. I see his technical skill, obvious horsepower and respect his ruthlessness in victory, but wonder if there are caveats with his victories. Are they as impressive as they seem? Where does Mir rank among the landscape of MMA grapplers - or even within the heavyweight division itself?
Despite the UFC 140 "kimura to the bitter end" being one of the finest technical submissions anywere, I cannot help but think that I would not rank Frank Mir within the top five heavyweight grapplers, much less grapplers in the sport as a whole. Submissions are not the best measure of grappling skill, despite their obvious value as fight-winning tactics. Everything from the standing footwork, clinch, takedown offense, takedown defense, positioning, instincts, strength and that little pinch of magic that the very best MMA grapplers have needs to be considered. Pure grappling is different from MMA-based grappling, as strikes tend to make a big difference in positioning and the gloves prevent full range of movement.
All of that is why - in terms of MMA-based grappling knowledge and ability - I would tentatively rank Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Fabrico Werdum, Josh Barnett, Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier above Frank Mir. In that order, too. I would even go as far as saying that Brock Lesnar might approach Mir now that he has had a few years to work his submission defense and top attacks. At the same time, Mir figuratively has Sylvia's arm, Hardonk's arm, Lesnar's leg, Kongo's head and Big Nog's arm on his hypothetical fight trophy wall. What to make of all this success? Does this muddy the waters? Is Mir now the top dog in MMA grappling?
After the jump, more discussion, more Mir grappling video and a pair of excellent videos featuring Mir's grappling coach, Ricky Lundell.
Not all amazing Brazilian jiu jitsu wizards, judo Olympic medalists or college/international wrestling superstars transition their lifetimes of grappling experience to the cage well. But some do and in the heavyweight division, enough have done so that I think Mir, despite his vastly improved grappling technique, strength and skill, is still not near the pinnacle of the sport as an MMA grappler.
Does that look like a man who would eventually snap the arm one of the best grapplers in the sport? Not quite. There is a bit of an excuse as Mir was rehabbing from a shoulder injury - on top of the lingering effects from the motorcycle accident that nearly derailed his career - and was beaten on points. The short-lived video of Roy Nelson decisioning Mir in a grappling tournament showed how Mir could be controlled on the ground - eight years ago.
Video of their first match in which Mir just about insta-tapped Nelson never surfaced, but both men agree to the 1-1 record. Although Mir could be controlled and beaten on the mats back then, he has since packed on muscle, improved his control of opponents, honed his timing and re-found the mean streak that gave him so much early success. Against Big Nog, Mir did a wonderful job of clamping onto the free arm and shifting the weight of Nog and his own in the right directions at exactly the right times. What led to the submission was not pure luck, but years of training, listening to clamoring instincts and intuitively knowing where the limbs and centers of gravity have to be.
Mir has long been in charge of his own training and usually brings in training partners and coaches as he wills for his training camps. However, some of his grappling related improvement may be attributed to Ricky Lundell, a coach Mir trusts enough to incorporate his tactics, techniques and corner advice fully into his fights and preparation.
Jokes aside, Lundell is one of the more impressive figures in the grappling world. The Orem, Utah product achieved his Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt at age 19 from Pedro Sauer, who received his belts from legends like Rickson Gracie and Helio Gracie. Lundell then was recruited by Cael Sanderson, NCAA Division I wrestling legend and then-Iowa State head coach, to come to the Cyclones team as a college senior and wrestle at 149 lbs. Ricky had no formal wrestling background at that point and to walk onto one of the premier programs into the country was unheard of. Lundell still has a strong connection with wrestling, as his friend, Justin Ruiz, the U.S. Team Trials winner for the 96 kg Greco-Roman division, lives in Orem and Sanderson still has a good training relationship with Lundell.
Ricky and Cael demonstrating an ankle pick after Cael's move from Iowa State to Penn State, where Cael is still training national title contenders and strong, strong wrestling teams.
Lundell has been relatively quiet in terms of competing in prominent competitions, yet his physical skills and technical brain have been in demand as a coach and trainer for years now. Joe Lauzon has been vocal in getting word out about Lundell's great gameplans and other lightweights like BJ Penn and Sean Sherk have worked with him in the past. The dude gets around and has a ton of good will from prominent MMA, grappling and wrestling figures following him.
However, stability ball tricks and cogent coaching only goes so far. Mir has to train those techniques until they become near lizard-brain instinct and then employ them in the cage. Within his Suffer gym in Vegas, Mir has put in years of sweat and blood to get this far and the man has basically turned into a human bear trap whenever a free limb flashes by.
Despite all of this and his obvious position as one of the best grapplers on the planet, I cannot help wondering if this further improved Frank Mir would be able to do the same against one of the heavyweight wrestlers. Lesnar was able to stifle any sort of bottom game from Mir in their last bout, as Kid Nate breaks down in a Judo Chop. Josh Barnett has never been submitted and has his own nasty brand of submission grappling that works beautifully and viciously within MMA, as KJ Gould shows in his own Judo Chop. Daniel Cormier was a world caliber wrestler and basically cannot be taken down by conventional means. Rumors abound of nobody being able to stand with Cain long within the training facilities.
Could Frank Mir beat all of these guys on the ground like he did Big Nog? I still stand by my tentative rankings from up above, but Mir has made a career out of surprising and smashing expectations along with limbs. What do you guys think?