UFC 146 is tonight and Frank Mir is set to face off with current UFC Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos for all the heavyweight marbles. While many fans remember Frank Mir best for his antagonizing of Brock Lesnar or like to joke about his chin, what gets lost is that Mir has had an extremely successful MMA career.
Mir has weathered time, a motorcycle accident and an evolving Heavyweight division to remain a consistent member of the top 10 for years on end. The average MMA fan tends to have a very short memory and very little awareness of the sport's history. So it isn't surprising that Mir's career often isn't put in the proper context.
From 2001 to 2004 Mir went 6-1 in the UFC. At UFC 48 Mir was matched with then 16-0 and UFC Heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. Mir broke Sylvia's arm with an armbar and claimed the UFC title at the age 25.
It became very apparent in his run in the UFC that he brought a level of submission grappling skill not seen before in at heavyweight in the UFC. Even though Mir has never excelled in competitive grappling at the international level, his ability to grab submissions in scrambles transferred extremely well to MMA.
Mir looked like a next generation kind of heavyweight; extremely athletic, technically skilled and still very young. Then came his motorcycle accident. In September of 2004, Mir was struck by a car and thrown from his bike, breaking his femur and tearing all the ligaments in one knee. It was the kind of accident that ended careers at worst and at best had a permanent effect on athletic ability.
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After over a year of surgery and recovery, Mir was stripped of his title and the general consensus is that he would never be the same again. Those voices were given strength when in his first fight back Mir suffered a TKO loss to Gracie Barra jiu jitsu ace, Marcio "Pe de Pano" Cruz.
After an uninspiring win over Dan Christison, Mir received a severe beating at the hands of hot heavyweight prospect Brandon Vera in November of 2006. At this point Mir seriously considered retirement, but with support from his wife rededicated himself to the sport.
Almost a year after his loss to Brandon Vera, Mir returned to the Octagon in August of 2007 and won a quick submission victory over Antoni Hardonk.
The Heavyweight scene was changing rapidly in 2008. Old warriors like Pedro Rizzo and Ricco Rodriguez were long gone from the UFC, and established UFC champions like Tim Syliva and Andrei Arlovski were released from the UFC as new talented flooded in from the Pride merger. And a huge, hulking and athletic wrestler, Brock Lesnar, came to the UFC. Mir was tasked with welcoming this imposing newcomer to the UFC. After absorbing a great deal of damage on the ground, Mir locked up a kneebar to win a dramatic comeback.
With that win Mir secured a spot on the Ultimate Fighter opposite Pride legend and Interim UFC Heavyweight Champion Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira. Legendary for his ground skills and respected for his boxing and toughness, many expected Nogueira to make short work of Mir. But it was Mir who dispatched Nogueira, using boxing that was much improved from his previous fights.
Now Interim Heavyweight Champion, Mir was slated to rematch Brock Lesnar, who had just claimed Randy Couture's long dormant Heavyweight title. While Mir would loose the bout, UFC 100 remains the most watched UFC card of all-time.
Looking at Mir's career as a whole, it is an impressive feat. He started out as a fighter in the dark ages of the UFC heavyweight division, fighting Pete Williams, Tank Abbot and Wes Sims. He then became a picture perfect tragic athletic figure, the young man thrown from a motorcycle just after the biggest victory of his life.
But what makes Frank Mir truly a special fighter is that after that motorcycle accident, that very easily could have ended his career, come his biggest victories. His knock out Cro Cop, the domination of Roy Nelson, the submission over Brock Lesnar and both Nogueira wins all came after Mir suffered a life changing injury.
Mir is the only Heavyweight remaining in the division who was also on the UFC roster in the early 2000s. He has withstood the test of time, and during that span he continually evolved his skills to remain a Top 10 fighter throughout. He will never erase those losses, but in a division were the longest UFC title reign was composed of two defenses a fighter who wins consistently with a few losses scattered in cannot be discounted.
So now Mir finds himself in his fifth UFC title fight and should he lose to Junior dos Santos it will not change his legacy much. While Mir will not be in consideration as the greatest MMA heavyweight of all-time, his name will come up in the discussion of great heavyweights.
If Mir wins, he could very well become known as one of the most enduring names in the history of that division.