MMA: Frank Mir
You could see it in their faces. The difference in damage, that is.
With an impressive unanimous decision over Frank Mir at UFC 169 on Saturday, heavyweight Alistair Overeem fought for his UFC life and perhaps salvaged his standing in the sport of mixed martial arts.
In a battle reminiscent of Mir’s punishing 2009 loss to Brock Lesnar at UFC 100, Overeem pummeled Mir relentlessly while standing and on the ground. Overeem’s strategy was clear: be more efficient with his striking and push Mir against the cage to use his size and weight to smother Mir in front of a crowd of 14,308 at the Prudential Center in Newark.
Even when Overeem had top control over Mir just on the periphery of the circle, he would methodically push Mir toward the cage, where Mir sat powerless against Overeem’s massive leverage. This technique effectively rendered Mir’s jiu-jitsu inert, as Overeem would sit squarely on Mir’s upper body while raining down punches and elbows and staying clear of Mir’s legs and hips.
It had the look of a schoolyard bully taking a kid’s lunch money. The result was Mir’s face bashed to a pulp, highlighted by a massive hematoma above his right eye.
Overeem, on the other hand, looked immaculate and rather fresh by the end of the fight. Indeed there was something very different about this Alistair Overeem. His strikes were surgical and precise, he wasted little movement in stalking Mir around the Octagon and his conditioning was noticeably improved since his losses to Travis Browne and Antonio Silva in 2013.
“It’s been a while, yeah. For me it’s been a long year,” Overeem said. “I just never stopped training. Basically 10 months straight. So I’m going to enjoy a nice, long holiday. It feels great to be back on the winning track in the UFC.”
Further, even Overeem’s supreme confidence in his abilities seemed muted with a tinge of humility. He paid homage to Mir shortly after his fight.
“Frank is one of those fighters who stays dangerous to the end,” Overeem said. “I felt he was searching for a submission. And that’s his strength. He looks like he’s damaged, rocked. Goes down and you dive on him and unload and suddenly you’re in a leg lock. That’s why I kept [him under] control.
This new version of Overeem now resembles the world-class mixed martial artist UFC fans figured they would see upon his arrival in the league in 2011. His debut win over a shell of Lesnar at UFC 141 proved little and didn’t fully showcase his array of kickboxing and grappling skills. However, against Mir, it was all on display -- the combinations, stiff jabs, huge overhand rights, knee and leg strikes.
Presumably, this renewed, well-conditioned and focused version of Overeem has staved off notions that he teetered on the brink of being cut from the UFC. Overeem’s titanic size and personality bolsters the UFC’s heavyweight division, which is currently light on both. He remains a draw, and his dismantling of Mir could be the catalyst for a fast rise up the heavyweight rankings. But don’t expect him to drop any weight.
“What you do is you look at who you are fighting and you adjust,” Overeem said. “Obviously Brock was a big guy so you want to pack on a little bit more muscle. But if you look at the top of the division, Cain [Velasquez] -- 240 [pounds] -- I might drop some, but I’m big. If drop too much, it’s not going to be good.”
Meanwhile, Mir looks as if he could be finished in the UFC. The loss to Overeem marked his fourth straight defeat -- once again in overwhelming fashion. To be sure, Mir has run a veritable gauntlet of heavyweights over the last two years, falling to Josh Barnett, Daniel Cormier and Junior dos Santos.
Still Mir, who turns 35 in May, might have seen better days. The longtime veteran has fought in the UFC since 2001, but most believe this could have been Mir’s swan song.
For Overeem, perhaps consider this an upgrade. He called out Lesnar in his postfight interview, but said he was interested in anyone the UFC puts in front of him, including dos Santos.
“I proved to everybody I’m back tonight. Frank is a very experienced fighter, his game plan was to take me down, but I’m a well-rounded fighter, too, so I dominated him,” Overeem said. “This victory has motivated me a lot to go back to the gym and get ready for fighting again.”
NEW YORK -- UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo will seek his sixth title defense on Saturday, against Ricardo Lamas in the co-main event of UFC 169.
If everything goes well, this title defense could be his last.
Aldo (23-1) has long wished to test himself at 155 pounds. However, he’s left that decision completely up to his longtime coach, Andre Pederneiras.
Should Aldo win Saturday, it appears as if everything lines up for his move to lightweight and a title shot against champion Anthony Pettis. He and Pettis (17-2) were scheduled to meet at 145 pounds in 2013, but Pettis withdrew due to injury.
“Everybody is talking about that,” Aldo told ESPN.com. “It’s not up to me. Whatever they decide, I will be ready.
“You never know [what Pederneiras will say]. I’ve been waiting for this permission for a long time. I hope this time, he will allow me to go up.”
The UFC most likely has the same hope. Pettis, who is rehabbing from knee surgery, doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 contender to fight upon his return. Josh Thomson had assumed that role, but he lost to Ben Henderson via split decision last week.
UFC president Dana White told the media Thursday that he’d love to see Aldo take on Pettis for the lightweight championship. He did say the Brazilian would have to vacate the 145-pound title to do it.
“I think if he makes the move to 55, he should do it and drop the belt,” White said. “If he doesn’t like being at 155, he can drop back down and fight for the [featherweight] title again.”
Overeem, Mir fighting for their job?
White remains uncommitted on whether the UFC would cut the loser of Saturday’s heavyweight fight between Alistair Overeem and Frank Mir.
The two veterans have a combined record of 0-5 since May 2012. Both have been stopped twice in that span. Nevertheless, White said he has no concrete plans of dismissing the loser. It will depend on the fight.
“They need to perform,” White said. “Everybody keeps asking me if those guys are done -- if one of them is getting cut. What if the fight is a Mark Hunt, [Antonio] Silva[-type] fight? I’ll keep them both.”
Mir (16-8) told ESPN.com last week that win or lose, he does not intend to retire. Overeem acknowledged he ran out of gas in his previous two losses, but said he addressed that problem in his recent camp.
“Everybody knows I’m the guy who wants to knock guys out in the first round,” Overeem said. “That is what brought me here. That is what people want to see. The last two fights, it backfired. It’s something I dealt with in the gym.”
Vitor Belfort and TRT
White made headlines this week when he backed a stance taken by the Association of Ringside Physicians to ban testosterone replacement therapy in combat sports.
Despite that support, however, White shot down claims that he was publicly hoping the Nevada State Athletic Commission denies Vitor Belfort a therapeutic-use exemption for TRT for an upcoming title fight in Las Vegas.
Belfort (24-10) is expected to fight UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman in either May or July, and has said he will apply for a TUE. The Brazilian has legally used TRT during his past three fights, all of which took place in Brazil.
Different members of the NSAC have expressed doubt over whether Belfort will be granted a TUE, thanks to a positive drug test he submitted to the commission in 2006.
White defended Belfort’s use on Thursday. He added that if the NSAC denies Belfort’s use of TRT, he’s unsure of how it would affect Belfort's ability to use it in Brazil.
“I honestly don’t know the answer to that,” White said. “I don’t know how we would handle that. Hopefully this thing comes out soon and they just ban it. I’d rather seem them ban it -- do away with it. Then there’s no confusion.
“If you allow people to take TRT [though], why would you not allow Vitor to take TRT? You know what I mean? That’s my thing. If you allow it, then you allow it.”
Mir is on three-fight losing streak, while Overeem has lost his last two. Overeem has been in the UFC for just over two years, and a loss could mean the end of a UFC career that never really got started.
Overeem’s MMA career started in 1999 at middleweight -- with moderate success -- going 10-3. But the Dutchman’s breakthrough came in 2002 when he joined Pride FC. Overeem won his first three fights in the Pride ring before entering the 2003 middleweight Grand Prix. The tournament was a who’s who of fighters: Quinton Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, Murilo Bustamante and Overeem’s first round opponent, Chuck Liddell. In that bout, Liddell was the aggressor, outstriking Overeem 20-14 and eventually knocking out the Dutchman 3:09 into the first round.
After a 2005 loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Overeem entered the 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix and was paired with Vitor Belfort in the opening round. Overeem controlled the standup, landing 88 total strikes and forcing a tap-out due to guillotine choke at 9:36 of the 10-minute first round. Overeem would advance to the semifinals, where he would fall to Mauricio Rua.
Overeem’s career would take a downturn starting in 2006 and continuing into September 2007. “The Demolition Man” went 4-5, losing to Nogueira, Rua, Fabricio Werdum, Ricardo Arona and Sergei Kharitonov. Overeem was finished in all five fights (three by KO/TKO, and two submissions). But things would change when PRIDE folded, and Overeem went to Strikeforce.
In his first bout for the California-based organization, Overeem faced Paul Buentello for the vacant heavyweight title. Overeem took down Buentello three times and outstruck “The Headhunter” 110-14 in overall strikes. The fight came to a close at 3:42 of the second round when Buentello submitted due to knees in the clinch position.
Overeem would bounce between Japanese promotion Dream and Strikeforce over the next four years before the latter folded. He made the first defense of his Strikeforce heavyweight title in 2010 against Brett Rogers. Overeem outlanded Rogers 39-1 in significant strikes, eventually finishing the fight with punches from mount position at 3:40 of the first round.
Despite being the titleholder, Overeem was entered into the Strikeforce heavyweight GP in 2011. The tournament bracket revealed that if Overeem won, he could potentially face Fedor Emelianenko in the semifinals. First, however, Overeem faced Fabricio Werdum in a rematch. Werdum held the striking advantage 43-32, but Overeem stopped 11 takedown attempts en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Emelianenko lost his first-round matchup, so the dream fight would not happen. Overeem claimed that he wouldn’t be ready for the semifinal match against Antonio Silva, and he was removed from the tournament and replaced by Daniel Cormier.
The UFC ultimately signed Overeem, and it was announced his first fight would be against former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar. The fight happened at UFC 141 in December 2011, and Overeem emerged victorious in his 11th fight in the past 12 (a no-contest versus Mirko Filipovic being the only glitch on his record). Lesnar’s lone takedown was stopped and Overeem finished the fight with a kick to the liver at 2:26 of the opening round. With the victory, Overeem gained a title shot, but he failed the prefight drug test before his scheduled UFC 146 fight against champion Junior dos Santos. Overeem was subsequently suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for nine months.
Overeem returned to the UFC to face Antonio Silva, the man he was supposed to face in the semifinals of the Strikeforce GP. “The Reem” dominated the first two rounds, outstriking Silva 49-7 and looked to be on his way to an easy win. In Round 3, Overeem began to show overconfidence, and it led to his downfall as Silva landed 14 significant strikes, with one last salvo putting Overeem down for a knockout loss. History repeated itself in Overeem’s next fight against Travis Browne, the first two-fight losing streak for Overeem since 2006.
Now Overeem is matched up with Mir in a classic bout between striker versus ground fighter. Overeem has won 15 of 36 fights by KO or TKO and 19 fights by submission, but none since 2009. Of his 13 losses, only two have come by way of submission. With a third straight loss, Overeem’s UFC career could very well be over while a win could put the Reem back on track toward the UFC title.
Statistical support from FightMetric
Mir (16-8) will try to end a three-fight losing streak when he meets Alistair Overeem during the main card of UFC 169 on Saturday at the Prudential Center.
Regardless of the outcome, Mir, 34, says he can't even fathom this fight could be his last, and he's less than convinced the UFC would cut ties with him should he lose.
The former heavyweight champ is comfortable heading into the matchup, despite his recent skid. In fact, he views his losing streak differently than some others.
"I kind of know no matter what, it's not going to be my last fight," Mir told ESPN.com. "I'm still younger than a lot of the guys in the division.
"There are two ways I would consider retirement. One is losing to guys who are not top-level competition. The other is if I started losing where it's like, 'OK man, you were knocked out viciously and staring at the rafters.' I won't endanger my health."
Mir is steadfast in his belief that neither of those scenarios is currently playing out. He still shakes his head at referee Rob Hinds' decision to stop his most recent bout against Josh Barnett in the first round at UFC 164 after he absorbed a knee along the fence.
The other two losses -- to Daniel Cormier and Junior dos Santos -- were disappointing for Mir, but not inexcusable. And in no way evidence that his career is over.
"I'm sorry if those three losses aren't killing my ego," Mir said. "Let's see, the losing streak started with Junior dos Santos, the No. 1 heavyweight in the world at the time. Then I lost to Cormier in a pretty boring fight and then to Barnett, which to me was a no-contest because the fight had a very controversial stoppage.
"Look at who I've fought. I should retire? Wow. We'd only have five guys in every weight class, because everybody else would need to retire."
The Nevada State Athletic Commission requested Mir undergo additional brain tests for precautionary reasons last year when the UFC initially wanted to book his fight against Overeem at UFC 167 in November.
Mir agreed and says he passed every exam with no issues, although the fight was eventually moved to February anyway.
The delay actually produced several benefits, none bigger than the addition of former UFC heavyweight James McSweeney (12-11) to Mir's camp. McSweeney, who fights out of Las Vegas, has trained alongside Overeem in the past.
"McSweeney is a guy who was trained by the same trainer as Alistair," Mir said. "I really don't think I could find a better person to simulate him."
In addition to McSweeney, Travis Browne (16-1-1) was a part-time presence in Mir's camp. He was in Las Vegas for the final week of preparations before Mir flew to Newark. Browne (16-1-1) knocked out Overeem at UFC Fight Night 26 in August.
Like Mir, Overeem (36-13) is also battling a losing streak, having been stopped in consecutive fights by Antonio Silva and Browne. But as far as an opponent to try and bounce back against, Mir says he hasn't exactly been given a gimme fight.
That can be a problem when you're a former champion who sells tickets. A nice easy win over a no-name opponent might have been a good way to boost confidence. Mir claims, however, he's happy the UFC never steered him that way. The losses have made him grow as a martial artist.
"I prefer this route that I've taken," Mir said. "These hardships have made me stronger."
Frank Mir, the former UFC heavyweight champion, is taking on Alistair Overeem, the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion. Both men are veterans, but after similar career paths in different organizations for more than a decade, they will finally meet inside the UFC Octagon.
Mir entered the Octagon in November 2001 with a 2-0 record when he faced 6-1 Roberto Traven. Mir sunk in an armbar in the first round, resulting in a submission win and the start of Mir’s 13-year UFC career.
After another victory over Team Lion’s Den veteran Pete Williams, Mir faced the toughest test to date in his burgeoning career against Ian Freeman. Mir gained three submission attempts through the four-minute mark of the fight, but Freeman gained side control and controversially stopped Mir when the referee deemed Mir unable to continue after he was unable to stand up after a timeout.
Mir got back on track in 2003-2004 with one win against David Abbott and two against Wes Sims to set up a UFC heavyweight title fight against then-18-0 Tim Sylvia. While Sylvia was expected to keep the fight standing, he gained the only takedown of the fight. While in bottom position, Mir locked in an armbar, forcing a submission victory at 50 seconds when Sylvia’s arm broke in four different places. Mir became the UFC heavyweight champion and was expected to have a lengthy title run.
But in September 2004, Mir suffered a broken femur and tore all of the ligaments in his knee in a motorcycle accident. His career was put on hold, and he was forced to vacate the title. Mir made his return in February 2006 but suffered losses in two of three fights, forcing many to question if his best days were behind him.
Those notions were quickly dispelled in 2007 when Mir submitted Antoni Hardonk with a kimura 77 seconds into their UFC 74 fight. That set up a fight with Brock Lesnar at UFC 81, a battle between the wrestler Lesnar and the submission fighter Mir. Lesnar controlled the early minutes of the fight with a takedown and a number of hammer punches. Again, Mir used his superior jiu-jitsu skills to trap Lesnar in a kneebar, as the former NCAA champion tried to escape to a standup position. Lesnar was forced to tap 1:30 into the round, giving Mir the victory that validated his return.
Nine months later, Mir received a shot at the UFC interim heavyweight title in a fight against former Pride heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92. The two coached against one another on Season 8 of "The Ultimate Fighter" and now Mir looked to become champion again. Mir showed improved striking skills, landing 37 significant strikes (second most in his career at the time of the fight) and a career-high three knockdowns en route to a second-round TKO. Mir’s victory was just the second time in his career he had won a fight by KO or TKO. It led to a rematch with Lesnar at UFC 100, this time for the undisputed UFC heavyweight title.
Lesnar-Mir 2 was the main event of UFC 100. This time, the fight was all Lesnar, as he outstruck Mir 47-4 in significant strikes and finished Mir against the cage for the TKO victory.
Mir returned shortly after with a win over Cheick Kongo at UFC 107. This set up another UFC interim title fight, this time against Shane Carwin at UFC 111, as an ill-struck Lesnar was forced to the sidelines.
Mir was slow out of the fences and again found his back against the cage. He was outstruck by Carwin 49-3 and was knocked out 3:48 into the opening round.
At this point, Mir once again found himself in no-man’s-land: good enough to earn a title shot, but not quite good enough to topple the big guns of the heavyweight division.
Still, he managed to put together a string of wins. He scored a KO victory over Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic at UFC 119 and a unanimous decision against Roy Nelson at UFC 130 before a rematch with Nogueira.
Nogueira earned a knockdown early in the first round of their UFC 140 bout, but Mir battled back to secure a kimura, breaking Nogueira’s arm. The Brazilian did not tap, but the broken arm forced the stoppage at 3:38 of Round 1. Mir became the first man to submit Nogueira, and Mir had his first three-fight win streak since 2008 -- the previous time he defeated Nogueira.
Mir appeared on the cusp of another run at the title, but he has since suffered a career-high three consecutive losses to Junior dos Santos, Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett. Two of those losses have come by way of KO or TKO.
On Saturday, Mir steps into the Octagon with Overeem, a man with 15 KO and TKO wins in his career. Mir needs to avoid a fourth defeat and possibly another knockout, or it could mean the end of his illustrious career.
He has said on several occasions he is interested in pursuing a postfight career as an MMA commentator.
Two things are clear about Mir through the ups and downs in his 22-fight UFC career: He always comes ready to fight, and he has the ability to bounce back just when most are counting him out.
Statistical support from FightMetric.
The UFC was to crown its first ever superfight champion on April 7, 1995, at UFC 5. Royce Gracie, the three-time tournament champion against Ken Shamrock, whose only loss was to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master at UFC 1 in just 57 seconds. The two men fought for 36 minutes, with Shamrock gaining a takedown shortly into the fight and holding top position for the remainder of the 31-minute period. A five-minute overtime settled nothing and the fight was declared a draw. Despite being in top position, Shamrock landed 10 significant strikes (98 in total). And so began the legacy of the UFC rematch.
Over its 20-year history, the UFC has had more than 100 rematches. Some bouts such as Gracie versus Shamrock have changed the course of UFC history.
Battles that Changed History
UFC 52: Couture vs. Liddell 2
UFC 65: Hughes vs. St-Pierre 2 (aka Bad Intentions)
Matt Hughes had defended his UFC Welterweight Title twice when he fought Georges St-Pierre for the second time at UFC 65. Hughes won the first matchup at UFC 50 by way of armbar, with one second remaining in the opening round. In the rematch, St-Pierre dominated, outstriking Hughes 45-10 and landing a brutal head kick and punches to dethrone the champion. Hughes would fight St-Pierre at UFC 79 and lose again, his last shot at a UFC title.
UFC 77: Silva vs. Franklin 2 (aka Hostile Territory)
UFC 100: Lesnar vs. Mir 2
By November 2008, Brock Lesnar had become the UFC heavyweight champion. But there was one man who had his number: Frank Mir. Mir defeated Lesnar by heel hook at UFC 81, and after Mir became interim champion, it set up the rematch at the UFC’s century mark event. Lesnar would control the action from the opening bell, bloodying Mir and outstriking the interim champ 47-4 in significant strikes. Lesnar would make one more title defense before health issues and losing the title led to his departure from MMA in 2011.
UFC 100 would be a night of redemption for Lesnar, much like these rematches.
Battles of Redemption
UFC 49: Belfort vs. Couture 2 (aka Unfinished Business)
Randy Couture was the UFC light heavyweight champion when he defended his title against Vitor Belfort at UFC 46 in January 2004. The end of the fight was marred in controversy when the doctor halted the bout just 49 seconds into the opening round because of a cut on Couture’s eyelid from a Belfort punch. Belfort was awarded the title because of the doctor stoppage, resulting in an immediate rematch in August. In the rematch, Couture gained two takedowns and damaged Belfort on the ground, ultimately leading to a doctor’s stoppage after the third round. Couture landed 33 of his 50 significant strikes on the grounded Belfort.
UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn 2
UFC 46 also saw another title change in the co-main event when BJ Penn submitted Matt Hughes to win the UFC welterweight title. Penn would leave the UFC because of contractual issues, but would return in March 2006. He would again fight Hughes at UFC 63, but the result was much different. Hughes was the UFC welterweight champion, and proved why in defeating Penn by TKO stoppage in the third round. They would rematch once more in 2010 with Penn winning by KO 21 seconds into the fight.
UFC 83: Serra vs. St-Pierre 2
UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen 2
The matchup against Weidman will be Silva’s third rematch in his MMA career. In his second set of rematches in 2010 and 2012, Silva fought Chael Sonnen and picked up two victories. But the first fight was three minutes away from going to Sonnen. At UFC 117, Sonnen gained takedowns in each of the first three rounds and had Silva on his back in the final round up on the cards when Silva forced a tap out with a triangle choke and armbar. Many thought Sonnen had Silva’s number when the two would rematch at UFC 148, but the Brazilian had other ideas. Sonnen landed 76 total strikes on Silva while the champion threw just two, missing both. But Silva battled in Round 2, eventually striking after a Sonnen slip and finishing the fight with knees against the cage.
All of those battles took place over time, but some rematches remain timeless for their bad blood and exciting results.
UFC 61: Ortiz vs. Shamrock 2 (aka Bitter Rivals)
While Ronda Rousey-Miesha Tate may be the preeminent feud of today’s MMA, it all started with Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. The two fought at UFC 40 in 2002, at the time the most watched UFC PPV of all time. The fight was one-sided as Ortiz dominated Shamrock for three rounds before the fight was stopped. The rematch took place 3 1/2 later at UFC 61 after the rivalry reignited on Season 3 of the Ultimate Fighter. Ortiz, in the middle of his career, beat the aging Shamrock with strikes 68 seconds into the first round. They would rematch in October 2006, and again Ortiz pounded Shamrock into a stoppage. But the rivalry and the bad blood is what kept the feud going for almost 10 years.
UFC 66: Liddell vs. Ortiz 2
UFC 71: Liddell vs. Jackson 2
In 2003, Liddell was sent to Japan by the UFC to represent the company in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. Liddell would face “Rampage” Jackson in the semifinals and the winner was expected to face Wanderlei Silva in the final. Jackson would defeat Liddell by TKO due to corner stoppage in the second round. Fast forward to 2007, and Jackson became the No. 1 contender to Liddell’s UFC light heavyweight title. Once again, Jackson would catch Liddell with big punches, putting him to the mat and winning the bout 1:53 into the first round.
UFC 125: Edgar vs. Maynard 2 (aka Resolution)
The rivalry between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard began in April 2008, when Maynard beat Edgar by unanimous decision. Edgar would go on to win the UFC lightweight title from Penn in April 2010 and would defend it against Penn in August. After winning that rematch, it was time for UFC 125 and a rematch against Maynard, the only man to beat him. Edgar was knocked down three times in the opening round and Maynard looked to be on his way to another win. But Edgar battled back, outstriking Maynard 95-71 in significant strikes and earning a split decision draw. The two men would fight one more time in October 2011, but this time the clear winner was Edgar by fourth-round knockout.
This Saturday night, UFC 168 is headlined by not one, but two of these rematches. Will they be battles of redemption for the challengers, Silva and Tate? Or will Weidman and Rousey continue to cement their places as champions and put their foes out of the title picture for good? Either way, these fights will become part of the ever growing legacy of the UFC rematch.
TORONTO -- Former champions Frank Mir and Alistair Overeem will fight for much more than relevancy in the heavyweight division when they meet Nov. 16 at UFC 167. Their futures with the promotion will be at stake: The loser is likely to be released.
UFC president Dana White made that clear Thursday during a news conference to promote UFC 165.
“Definitely,” White said when asked if this is a do-or-die bout for Mir and Overeem. “Yes, definitely!”
The revelation doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Mir, a former two-time UFC heavyweight titleholder (lineal and interim), has dropped three fights in a row. He was stopped in two of those losses via strikes.
Overeem, who entered the UFC as the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion, has lost two straight. In each defeat he was knocked out.
But the position taken by UFC officials results from something deeper than losing skids. Mir and Overeem are main-card fighters, which puts them on the higher end of the promotion’s pay scale. And if they aren't producing victories, they become financial liabilities.
If Mir falls short at UFC 167, the likelihood of no longer seeing him inside the Octagon will take some getting used to. All but two of his 24 professional mixed martial arts bouts have been held inside that cage. Mir is as much a part of UFC history as any fighter.
Overeem, on the other hand, has competed only three times under the promotion’s banner. But he came into the UFC with very high expectations -- and at the moment, he isn’t close to fulfilling them.
It didn’t start out that way. Overeem was impressive in his Octagon debut at UFC 141 -- knocking out former champion Brock Lesnar in the first round. The victory made Overeem the top contender and set up a May 2012 title showdown with then-heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.
But the fight did not materialize after Overeem failed a prefight drug test and was denied a license to compete by the Nevada Athletic Commission. His testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio was 14-to-1.
Overeem would receive a Nevada fight license from the commission in January, clearing the way for a bout with Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 156 in February. After winning the first two rounds, Overeem got knocked out in the third. It was the first loss of his current two-fight slide.
It’s not just that Mir was the victim of a first-round TKO -- the stoppage was a bit premature. It’s that Mir has now lost three in a row, and wasn’t competitive in any of those fights.
Making matters more unfortunate for Mir is that the loss comes against a fighter who hadn’t competed inside the Octagon since 2002. Barnett is still a good fighter, but other than Daniel Cormier, he hadn’t faced top-level opposition of late.
This was the type of fight Mir was supposed to win, or at least be competitive in -- he did neither. Barnett punched him, kneed him and pushed him around. At no time in this brief encounter, which came to an end at the 1:56 mark, did Mir pose the slightest threat to Barnett.
Mir was simply outclassed in his third straight fight. And at 34, and showing little sign of improving, his future as a heavyweight to be taken seriously appears to have run its course.
Never in his professional mixed martial arts career had Mir dropped three fights in a row. If ever there was a worse time to experience such a drought, this was it. And at 34 years old, the odds of Mir rebounding from this hole to get back in title contention are slim.
What Mir has to fight for now isn’t a title shot; that option isn’t reasonable. His goal today is finishing his career on a positive note. It’s about getting wins, even if they must come against second-tier fighters.
“He may no longer be title-worthy, but Mir has achieved enough inside UFC to retain his spot on the promotion’s roster. No one should, for one second, think Mir will be released by UFC. It won’t happen and it shouldn’t.
It felt great to get this win here in the UFC. It's been a long time coming.” -- Josh Barnett on beating Frank Mir in his return to the UFC.
But his name should not even be considered for another co-main event as participants are being bantered about by matchmaker Joe Silva. This isn’t a knock on Mir, especially when he is down -- it’s just facing reality.
Mir looks slow in the cage these days, even with the improved physical conditioning he’s been receiving under the guidance of Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, N.M. And Mir deserves credit for taking the extra step to train in Albuqurque, spending weeks away from his family in Las Vegas.
The determination to succeed remains. It’s just that Mir is struggling to find a way to do so in today’s UFC.
Barnett, on the other hand, shouldn’t be pumping his chest too hard. He had the good fortune to catch Mir on the down side of his career. Regardless, competing and winning in the Octagon for the first time in years had Barnett in a jovial mood.
“It felt great to get this win here in the UFC,” Barnett said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The best time to gauge where Barnett truly stands at this point in his MMA career will be in his next fight. Hopefully, it will be against a fighter on the upswing.
Travis Browne comes to mind. Byt hat might be stretching it a bit. How about Ben Rothwell, who showed tremendous resolve in his come-from-behind, third-round TKO of Brandon Vera in an earlier main-card bout.
"I hope in passing the torch to Josh he will represent the sport in a positive way, and I know he will," Couture said following UFC 36. "He's going to be a great champion."
It didn't work out the way anyone would have imagined, which is why Saturday's fight against Frank Mir at UFC 164 in Milwaukee marks Barnett's first appearance in the Octagon since dethroning "The Natural" 11 years ago.
At ease in a sun-drenched emerald green room with a view on the morning of March 23, 2002, his new belt within arm's reach, Barnett, then 24, believed he should be paid much more than he'd ever been paid in his career.
But his contract was up -- something Zuffa learned not to let happen with future would-be champions -- and rumors were he wanted $1 million per fight from the UFC. Just back on pay-per-view, doing mostly dim numbers on television, the promotion was hardly in position to break the bank. It balked at the young champion's demands.
"I fought when no one was fighting for money, really," Barnett, 35, recalled during a recent conference call. "I fought when you couldn't get MMA gear at your local sports store. We had to make it ourselves. I fought when most of the time we didn't even wear gloves. We were under attack from all angles."
Mir, a two-time UFC champion holding the most victories and submissions of any heavyweight ever to fight in the Octagon, knows this period well. He signed with Zuffa in 2001 -- not something worth bragging about back then, he said -- and was in the midst of starting his career the night Barnett became champion.
"It wasn't something you went and told a girl when you were trying to go on a date with her that you were aspiring to beat people up in the Octagon," said Mir, now 34. "In fact, even if I tried to describe it a few times, it was like no one had a clue what you were talking about. So it wasn't something really to garner fans."
Mir moved to 4-0 at UFC 36 thanks to an iconic shoulder lock against Pete Williams. That win, coupled with his first in the UFC, a fast armbar over Roberto Travern, prompted people to mention Mir as a future champion.
However, he knew he wasn't ready for the likes of Barnett, and showed it in his next fight against Ian Freeman. Mentally, Mir said, he just didn't have it in him then to beat the blond brawler Barnett.
"I think I [would have] had an opportunity early on in the fight to get him, a submission to catch somebody, but if the first couple failed, I would have been in a lot of trouble," Mir said.
Said Barnett: "On paper, I had a lot more fights and experience, but, hey, Frank was going out there and beating plenty of experienced guys, and tapping them out," Barnett said. "I think people would have been interested to watch the fight back then, just as much as they'd like watching the fight now."
Neither fighter is especially hot. Within 11 months of one another, each lost decisions to Daniel Cormier, who's preparing to leave the division and fight instead at 205. They're not kids anymore, either, though Cormier suggested that each man remains capable and because of their styles, the bout should be fun to watch. That could be especially true if they grapple. Mir is thought of as the UFC's best heavyweight submission artists. That may have been Barnett, had he stuck around.
From Cormier's perspective, Barnett's the better, faster fighter right now.
Any chance of seeing a contest a decade ago between youthful submission mavens took a tumble shortly after Barnett became king. His fate with the UFC was sealed when he became the first fighter to face discipline from the Nevada State Athletic Commission for steroid use. The news came a month after he defeated Couture and shook UFC's heavyweight division. Zuffa stripped Barnett of the title, creating a scenario, by Dana White's own estimation, in which the belt wasn't worth much for a while.
Matt Hume's strong ties to Japan, the place to be in MMA at the time, created a current that carried his charge Barnett overseas. It was a fine fallback: A few months after Barnett bested Couture (a result that stands because NSAC guidelines at the time didn't allow a result to be overturned due to a positive drug test), Pride and K-1 collaborated for an event that drew more than 91,000 fans to Tokyo National Stadium. This was fantastical stuff for U.S.-based mixed martial artists. Also, from a sport perspective, Pride champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was the best heavyweight in the world, and the following year he was eclipsed by Fedor Emelianenko.
Barnett picked up five wins against a mixed bag of opponents before settling into Pride on Halloween 2004. Mir returned to form following his loss to Freeman by defeating David "Tank" Abbott and Wes Sims. This was enough to get him a shot at the beleaguered UFC belt owned by Tim Sylvia. It wasn't the prettiest period for UFC heavyweights, but the Las Vegas native looked to offer salvation when he snapped Sylvia's forearm.
Mir went from winning the title to vacating it after a motorcycle accident kept him sidelined for two years. He has since fought for some version of a UFC heavyweight belt four times, winning once. Barnett took his share of important fights, but lost big ones as well. He also had more run-ins with performance-enhancing drugs, costing him, most prominently, a contest against No. 1-ranked Emelianenko in 2009.
Having finally returned to the UFC, despite intense moments of disagreement with Zuffa that made any reconciliation appear impossible, Barnett's confidence in his ability to win fights and hurt people at the highest level remains strong.
"The first time around I went all the way to the top and won the heavyweight championship of the world," Barnett said. "I don't expect any different -- other than to get paid a lot more money and a lot more stardom and fandom out of this whole thing because of the explosion of MMA as a whole."
As Mir (16-7) and Barnett (32-6) prepare to face off at UFC 164 for a long overdue, yet barely discussed bout, they'll do so in the final stages of successful, though ultimately wanting, careers.
Cormier is that good. He hits hard, has quick hands, is physically powerful, can take it on the chin and to the body, possesses solid defense -- standing or on the ground -- and his wrestling is better any other mixed martial artist in the division.
He is arguably the fighter best suited to dethrone UFC heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez, who happens to be his close friend and training partner.
But despite his successful Octagon debut Saturday night in San Jose, Calif. -- a unanimous decision over two-time UFC champ Frank Mir -- it would be in Cormier’s best interest if UFC delayed offering him a title shot.
Cormier, 12-0 as a pro, is not yet ready to fight for the UFC crown. And he would agree with this assessment.
“I’m not happy with my performance,” Cormier said. “Even if [UFC officials] say I’m going to fight Cain Velasquez next, I don’t think this performance warranted a title shot.”
Cormier has been fighting professionally for less than four years. And with so few high-profile bouts under his belt, it is not far-fetched to classify him a newcomer among the elite.
Each training camp has been a crash course, every fight the equivalent of a cram session. But fortunately, the highly intelligent 34-year-old is a very fast learner.
Cormier has a tremendous ability to absorb information, quickly apply what he has learned and make adjustments on the fly. So in the days leading to his UFC debut with Mir, he was confident of remaining unbeaten.
Then Cormier arrived at HP Pavilion, heard the music blaring throughout the arena, fans screaming at the top of their lungs and realized he had arrived; he’d made it to the big time. And Cormier lost his nerves.
It’s the one thing that hours upon hours of training with some of the best fighters in MMA couldn’t prepare him for. Facing Mir, one of the top heavyweights, on MMA’s biggest stage, under its brightest lights was a bit much for the 2012 Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner to handle.
“I was nervous and I can’t explain why,” Cormier said. “It must’ve been this big-fight feel. Before I walked into the cage I felt nervous.
“I always laughed when [UFC president] Dana [White] said there’s jitters that come along with this. I was like, ‘My career prepared me for this.’ But man, I was nervous today. I was so nervous.
“More than anything I got tired. I’ve never felt tired in a fight. I think it was my nerves.”
I always laughed when [UFC president] Dana [White] said there's jitters that come along with this. I was like, 'My career prepared me for this.' But man, I was nervous today. I was so nervous.” -- Daniel Cormier
Competing in UFC for the first time proved to be Cormier’s latest MMA learning experience. He gets a passing grade for weathering the nervous storm, surviving his latest cram session.
Defeating Mir, who appeared to be in the best shape of his career Saturday night, is a major accomplishment for the man who entered the bout with only 11 pro fights. Mir was determined not to drop two fights in a row, something he had never done in UFC.
So give Cormier credit, he was facing the best that Mir had to offer and he won. It wasn’t a memorable performance -- too much holding against the cage, not enough striking and nothing by way of ground attack. It was a win for Cormier -- methodical, but a good one nonetheless.
Though his cardio came into question for the first time -- nervousness did have much to do with it -- this win cements Cormier as one of the two or three best heavyweights in MMA. But UFC officials should not offer him a title shot, not yet.
Cormier needs one or two more fights inside the Octagon. He needs to know, not believe, that on fight night he will leave the arena victorious. Every step must be taken to never allow his nerves to betray him again.
A fully developed Cormier, physically and psychologically, could become a great UFC champion. And that would serve the promotion well.
So give Cormier one or two more appearances in the Octagon. Let him put on the type of high-octane performance inside the UFC cage that fans were used to seeing from him during his days with Strikeforce.
Allow Cormier to get his nerves completely under control. Then offer him a heavyweight title shot. He will not disappoint.
UFC president Dana White told reporters on Thursday he’ll talk to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre soon. The two haven’t spoken since St-Pierre recorded his eighth consecutive title defense over Nick Diaz at UFC 158 last month.
Expectations have been that St-Pierre (24-4) would face Hendricks (15-1) later this year, but White said that bout would go on hold should St-Pierre express interest in a long-anticipated, lucrative superfight with middleweight champ Anderson Silva.
“I am literally going to call Georges St-Pierre today and see what he wants to do,” White said.
“If Georges says to me, ‘I want to fight Anderson Silva,’ you think I’m going to go, ‘No, you’re not. You’re fighting Johny Hendricks’?”
Silva (33-4) is scheduled to defend his 185-pound title against Chris Weidman at UFC 162 in July. In yet another superfight wrinkle, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will defend his title against Chael Sonnen at UFC 159 next week in Newark.
White said he’s interested in any fight that involves two of the three champions, saying if both St-Pierre and Jones wanted Silva, “that’s a good problem to have.”
Hendricks would be the clear loser if St-Pierre opts to fight Silva next. The former collegiate wrestler is on a six-fight win streak and was already leapfrogged earlier this year by Diaz, who was coming off a drug suspension.
White said St-Pierre would not vacate the 170-pound title if he took the Silva fight, meaning Hendricks would have to wait or accept another fight.
“If [St-Pierre] lost, he could still go back down and fight Hendricks for the title.”
Mitrione fined, suspended -- but forgiven
UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione has been fined an undisclosed amount and remains suspended for comments made last week regarding transgender fighter Fallon Fox.
The UFC quickly suspended Mitrione following an appearance on “The MMA Hour,” where he referred to Fox as a “freak.” Fox is scheduled for her third pro fight in May.
Mitrione (6-2), who defeated Philip De Fries via first-round knockout earlier this month, spoke with UFC president Dana White following the incident and took responsibility for his actions -- but there is no timetable for his return.
“It’s up to us,” White said regarding Mitrione’s suspension. “I’m not mad at Mitrione. He did something stupid. He knows he didn’t handle it the right way.
“I’m sure he wants to know [when he’ll fight again]. We’ll let him know when we decide. He was fined, too. Enough to make him call me three times.”
• A Brazilian fan attacked UFC light heavyweight Chael Sonnen during an event last weekend in Las Vegas, according to White.
Sonnen, who challenges Jon Jones for the 205-pound title next week at UFC 159, was in Las Vegas to attend "The Ultimate Fighter" finale at Mandalay Bay Events Center. According to White, he was involved in a minor scuffle during the show.
“I don’t know if any of you guys saw this, but he was there shaking hands with fans and one guy says, ‘Chael! Chael!” White said. “Chael goes over there and the guy started swinging at him, trying to punch him. The guy goes, ‘I’m from Brazil!'”
Sonnen (27-12-1) was involved in a heated rivalry with Brazilian middleweight champ Anderson Silva from 2010 to 2012. He went 0-2 in two fights against him.
• Whether his teammate claims the UFC lightweight title on Saturday or not, Nate Diaz says he’s moving back to 170 pounds.
Diaz (16-8) meets lightweight Josh Thomson on Saturday. His teammate, Gilbert Melendez, will look to dethrone champion Ben Henderson in the night’s main event.
Regardless of the outcome of either fight, Diaz says he intends to move back to welterweight, where he compiled a 2-2 record from 2010 to 2011.
“I already fought everybody at lightweight,” Diaz said. “I don’t think there is anything for me in the lightweight division. I already beat everybody or fought everybody. The only person who beat me was Ben. What, I’m going to sit around and fight all the same guys again? That’s boring. There’s no motivation in that.”
• Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier still wants to fight UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones -- just maybe not as soon as he once thought.
Cormier (11-1) faces arguably the biggest challenge of his career on Saturday as he takes on former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in the night’s co-main event.
The former U.S. Olympic wrestler has been quietly shedding weight for a potential trip to the 205-pound division. Cormier’s teammate, Cain Velasquez, currently holds the UFC heavyweight title.
Cormier has publicly expressed interest in fighting Jones previously, but now says he’d probably want a test fight at 205 pounds first. The 34-year-old experienced kidney failure while cutting weight in 2008 but is confident he can make 205.
“At first, I was so emotionally tied to [fighting Jones],” Cormier said. “I’ve thought about it, and I wouldn’t be opposed to fighting one time down there just to see how my body reacts to the weight cut. It would be very difficult to fight him in my first fight, a five-round fight.
“What if I get in a fight and I can’t do anything but wrestle because my arms are tired and my body isn’t responding to the weight cut? I don’t want that guy to be Jon Jones. Seriously, can you imagine standing in with him and not feeling your best?”
Expressing supreme confidence in his ability to remain undefeated on Saturday against former heavyweight champion Frank Mir at the HP Pavilion, Cormier, 34, believes that "when it comes to heart and drive I beat [Mir] every time."
"When I sit back and I honestly think about the fight I have a lot of advantages, and if I use them I should be OK," Cormier said prior to a recent training session at the American Kickboxing Academy. "He's a good heavyweight but when you really think about it there's a difference between a lifetime athlete and a guy that started doing something a little bit older. I think it's going to show in the fight.
"I've been competing my entire life. It's what I do. That's what I plan to do on April 20th. And if he's ready to raise himself to that competitive level then I'm going to have a tough fight on my hands. But if he isn't, then I'm just gonna run right over him."
Cormier makes his Octagon debut three and a half years after transitioning from amateur wrestler to professional mixed martial artist, and while it conflicts with his general disposition, the Strikeforce Grand Prix champion admitted that even he's surprised by how quickly he picked stuff up.
"I didn't anticipate having these kind of fights as soon as I did," Cormier said.
Stopping Antonio Silva and dominating a five-round decision against Josh Barnett sent a clear message that Cormier, squat and quick, is a name was worth remembering. Expectations set in, especially after Barnett, and he was matched with Mir for a bout late last year on one of the last Strikeforce cards. When Mir was injured, the fight was postponed and Cormier went from facing a highly dangerous and respected former champion to facing Dion Staring.
The contrast messed with Cormier, especially on fight night.
Competing in hostile environments around the world since he was a teenager didn't help make the situation any more comfortable for Cormier. Fighting Staring, an opponent nobody thought could win, prompted Cormier's impermeable confidence to spring a leak. Everything was about him and his future and not the competition, and that was different and uneasy.
"I think the most pressure situation I had was the last one because I knew that if I won that fight I was in for some really big fights," Cormier said. "I don't know what would have happened if Dion Staring would have beaten me, and that's what scares you: the unknown.
"There was a lot of pressure to just go out there and beat him up. That's not how it works. We're all professional fighters."
Yet if things line up the way Cormier expects them to, he sees himself running through Mir en route to the top of the heavyweight division, which is currently ruled by his friend and training partner Cain Velasquez. As a result there have been calls for Cormier to drop to 205. Mir suggested that he'll be the guy who proves Cormier's less-than-prototypical heavyweight frame will cost him at the highest level -- though results against Silva and Barnett suggest the opposite.
History. His, to be specific.
He trusts his competitive experience and his natural ability will carry the day against all comers. It sounds cocky, but it's not. Cormier's confidence is infectious and heavily influenced by his drive and determination to be good at whatever it is he chooses to do.
The package, as Cormier described it, is the antidote of fear rather than the disease of arrogance.
"I'm determined to be the best that I can be, whether that be UFC champion or No. 1 contender or maybe I never fight for a belt," he said. "But if that's the best I can do as Daniel Cormier, then that's the best I can do. I'll be able to go on to the next phase of my life and be OK. I have a desire to be good at everything I do and I work my tail off to accomplish it.
"I'm fighting the best guys in the world now, you never know what's going to happen, but for me personally on April 20 I anticipate winning that fight in a manner that's going to make my teammates and coaches proud of what I did."
As a matter of fact, mixed martial arts is an exercise in proving what you're made of.
Cormier's success hasn't required that he show the world any special mettle yet, however "I know if I need to I'll be willing to."
UFC on Fuel TV 8 takes place from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan this Saturday, the sixth time the UFC has traveled to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” The main event sees Wanderlei Silva battle Brian Stann at light heavyweight while Stefan Struve takes on Mark Hunt in a heavyweight bout. Here are the numbers you need to know for Saturday’s fights:
6: Fights Silva has had against an American fighter since his return to the UFC in 2007. He is 1-5 in those bouts, losing his past four (Rich Franklin twice, Chris Leben and Quinton Jackson). “The All-American” has fought just one Brazilian fighter in his career, defeating Jorge Santiago at UFC 130.
Wanderlei Silva, UFC Career vs. American Fighters:
UFC 147 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 132 Chris Leben L, KO
UFC 99 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 92 Quinton Jackson L, KO
UFC 84 Keith Jardine W, KO
UFC 79 Chuck Liddell L, UD
6: Times Silva has been defeated by KO or TKO in his 48-fight career. Four of those knockouts have come inside the UFC Octagon, while the other two were his last two PRIDE fights against Dan Henderson and Mirko Filipovic. The "Cro-Cop" fight was the last time Silva fought in Japan, which served as the home for PRIDE organization. Stann has nine KO/TKO wins in 17 career fights.
75: Percent of wins by "The Axe Murderer" that have come by KO or TKO (24 of 32). When Silva defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 110 by unanimous decision, it marked his first win not by KO or TKO since November 2003 at PRIDE: Final Conflict.
3: The combined takedowns by both fighters in their UFC careers (Silva 2, Stann 1). Each fighter attempts less than one takedown and one submission attempt per 15 minutes. In other words, it would be shocking to see this fight go to the ground unless one of the fighters gets knocked down.
2010: The last time former WEC light heavyweight champion Stann fought at 205 pounds, where he is 8-3 in his career. Stann will be dropping back to middleweight after this fight with Silva, where he holds a 4-2 record.
9: The reach advantage for 7-footer Stefan Struve in his co-main event bout against 5-foot-10 Mark Hunt. Struve’s reach is 83 inches while Hunt has a 74-inch reach. The 83-inch reach for Struve is second behind Jon Jones (84.5 inches) for longest reach in the UFC.
9: Wins for Struve inside the UFC Octagon, tied with Junior dos Santos, Gabriel Gonzaga and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez for third among active heavyweights. With a win, he would join Frank Mir, Cheick Kongo, Andrei Arlovski and Randy Couture as the only UFC fighters with double-digit wins in the division.
Most UFC Wins, Active Heavyweight Fighters:
Frank Mir 14
Cheick Kongo 11
Cain Velasquez 9
Junior dos Santos 9
Gabriel Gonzaga 9
Stefan Struve 9*
*Four-fight win streak
3.9: Submissions attempted per 15 minutes for "The Skyscraper," fifth highest in UFC history and first among heavyweights. "The Super Samoan" has six submission defeats in seven career losses, all arm-related (three by armbar, two by kimura, one by keylock). Of Struve’s 16 submission victories, only three are by armbar (13 submissions by choke).
2: The main and co-main events are the only fights on the card not to feature a fighter from Japan or South Korea. There are nine Asia versus The World contests on the card. Japan is represented by Takanori Gomi, Yushin Okami, Mizuto Hirota, Riki Fukuda, Takeya Mizugaki, and Kazuki Tokudome. The South Koreans are represented in three matchups by Dong Hyun Kim, Kyung Ho Kang and Hyun Gyu Lim.
Mir, 33, plans to join Jackson in Albuquerque, N.M., for an eight-week camp beginning later this month. It’s the first time the Las Vegas native will train for a fight outside his hometown.
Following a second-round TKO loss to Junior dos Santos for the UFC title in May, Mir says he felt a need to modify his standard routine.
“I’ve always felt I have great trainers so there was no reason to leave, but my wife and I were talking about how I needed to change things up,” Mir told ESPN.com. “One of the things was maybe I should get out of town and get more focused.
“I’ve always been impressed with Greg Jackson’s game planning. I figured, before I retire, I want to be a part of that and see what makes this guy so successful.”
I've always been impressed with Greg Jackson's game planning. I figured, before I retire, I want to be a part of that and see what makes this guy so successful.” -- Frank Mir, on moving to Albuquerque to train with Jackson
During the eight weeks, Mir (16-6) plans to fly home every weekend to see his family. He says the longest he’s ever gone without seeing his three children is four days. An eight-week absence was out of the question.
Five days out of the week, though, his career will receive his full attention. That hasn’t been the case, really, since he started a family. Recently, the two-time UFC heavyweight champion skipped a workout to sign his daughter up for softball. That kind of thing won’t happen in Albuquerque.
“I ended up working out in the garage with dumbbells,” Mir said. “I still got something in, but was it the same quality as if I went to the gym? No.”
Mir’s longtime head trainer Jimmy Gifford will join Jackson in the corner. Gifford says he is excited to see Mir willing to make changes this late in his career.
“Too many coaches want to make it about them. It’s about the fighter,” Gifford said. “Anything that makes my guy better, I’m fine with. This guy has been at the top of his game for years. For him to still search out ways to get better is great.”
Having Cormier as an opponent has appeared to motivate Mir. A former Olympic wrestler, Cormier (11-0) carries lots of momentum into his UFC debut.
After scoring a second-round TKO victory in his final Strikeforce appearance, Cormier publicly called for an April bout against Mir. Gifford texted his fighter that night to see if he was watching, and Mir responded, “I’ll sign his cast after the fight.”
“Level of competition is important,” Mir said. “He’s done most of his damage in Strikeforce. Not to downplay Strikeforce, but it’s not the UFC.
“I think it’s going to be another one of those things where people are destined to be disappointed. After our fight, he’s already said he’s going to 205 pounds. That doesn’t sound like a confident guy who wants to stay at heavyweight.”
Nothing gets Cormier's juices flowing like a fight. He loves competition -- the tougher the opposition, the better.
Cormier faces a relative unknown in Dion Staring on Saturday night in Oklahoma City in what will be Strikeforce's final event. While a fight with Staring wouldn't normally push Cormier's excitement to peak levels, the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner hasn't been in the cage since May, when he claimed the tournament title with a lopsided unanimous decision over Josh Barnett.
An involuntary eight-month layoff is a long time for Cormier, so he is ready for the opportunity to again put his fists into another man's face.
"I'm a competitor. I love competition," the 10-0 Cormier told ESPN.com. "I want to get the rush of the emotions of going out there and fighting or wrestling. I want the rush of competition.
"It's the best gift that anyone can give me -- the ability to compete on a consistent basis. That's all I want."
It's also the reason Cormier can't wait for Saturday's bout. No disrespect to Staring -- he's the guy who said "yes" when Zuffa LLC officials offered him the fight.
Staring (28-7) isn't as high-profile as Cormier's original opponent, former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir, but he always comes to fight.
What Staring might lack in physical skill and level of competition he makes up for with determination and aggression and will come to fight. Cormier is looking forward to facing an opponent who doesn't back down.
While Cormier is giving Staring the high-profile-opponent treatment, he is extremely confident of victory. When the horn sounds to start the three-round bout, Cormier intends to put a vicious beating on Staring.
Cormier will attack the heavy-handed Staring as if he is trying to derail the personal goals Cormier has mapped out for his not-too-distant future. After helping to pull the curtain down on Strikeforce, Cormier will turn his full attention to becoming a UFC champion.
He’s a fight, maybe two at most, from landing a title shot; Cormier knows that much. What he can't say definitively is who will be opposite him in the Octagon on championship night, other than it won't be current UFC heavyweight titleholder and training partner Cain Velasquez, who enlists Cormier as his wrestling coach.
UFC can't put enough money on the table to persuade these two to square off in the cage. That just isn't going to happen.
But Cormier has a Plan B in place when UFC calls with a title-shot offer. He will drop to 205 to fight light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
While it's a tentative plan, here’s how Plan B works: Cormier dismantles Staring -- as most expect he will -- before taking on Mir. Being that Cormier would like to fight every three or four months, the bout with Mir could take place sometime in April, with a source telling ESPN.com the fight could likely find its way to San Jose, Calif.
With former Strikeforce heavyweight champion and top UFC contender Alistair Overeem recently cleared to resume his fighting career, a win Feb. 2 over Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva is sure to earn him a title bout with Velasquez.
Cormier will be watching that bout closely with his next move hinging on the outcome.
"That's when I have to make my decision," Cormier said. "I have to sit there and watch Overeem fight Cain and hope with everything in my body that Cain can beat him. I'm hoping that Cain can keep his belt and I move down to 205 by the end of the year. I would love to just go fight for that [light heavyweight] belt."
Cormier has already begun weighing in lighter for his heavyweight bouts. He checked in for his fight against Barnett in May at a lean 238 pounds.
He says the weight cut for that fight wasn't difficult and that he'll continue preparing himself for a possible high-profile showdown with Jones. Expect him to tip the scale under 240 pounds for Saturday's fight against Staring before weighing even less if an April tilt with Mir materializes.
By the time he potentially meets Jones later this year, an excited Cormier said he expects to be faster, more agile and just as strong.
"[Cutting to 205 pounds] would be tough," Cormier said, "but I would cut a lot of weight for wrestling. I would weigh in at 5 p.m. and wrestle at 9 a.m. If I weigh in at 4 p.m. [for MMA] and have more than 30 hours to recover and get my body back to feeling good, I should be OK. Thirty hours is a really long time.
"If anything, it's going to help me athletically. As I lose weight, I get faster. I can only imagine that I will be faster as I keep going down. But with that being said, even if I was to go down there and get a championship fight, it's an uphill battle. It's not like I'm going down there to fight somebody easier than the champion in the heavier division. Jon Jones is a tough hill to climb. It will be a very tough fight, but I will be up for it."
Nothing gets Cormier more excited than thoughts of becoming a UFC champion. The final few steps toward achieving that goal start Saturday night in Oklahoma City.