Frank Mir isn’t the first name many people think of when figuring out who will eventually be in the UFC Hall of Fame. Yet, despite his career being on the brink of collapse numerous times, Mir has continuously evolved to become a mainstay on the UFC roster.
The word evolution, when used in relation to an athlete, is typically a word that describes progress. It’s used in a linear sense to outline the athlete’s improvement, as in “Fighter A has evolved his striking game.” In Mir’s case, evolution isn’t so much a straight line from basic to professional. It’s a few left turns mixed with a few right turns on the winding road to becoming something entirely different.
Mir exploded onto the scene all the way back in 2001. In only his second professional MMA bout, he tapped out his opponent in just over two minutes. Another first-round submission, this time in 65 seconds, set the stage for a showdown with Pete Williams, one of MMA’s early stars. The fight with Williams would be a defining moment in Mir’s career, as he produced a highlight-reel worthy submission many have dubbed the “Mir lock.” It was a move one of Mir’s original Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructors claimed he’d only seen the day prior to the fight.
Mir put together the longest winning streak of his career through 2003 by winning four consecutive fights. At UFC 48, Mir won his first UFC heavyweight title. Not only did he defeat the seemingly unbeatable (at the time) Tim Sylvia, but Mir did so in dramatic fashion. The jiu-jitsu expert secured an armbar from the bottom and ended up snapping Sylvia’s arm. The gruesome submission victory was another notch on the submission master’s highlight reel, complementing his shoulder-wrenching submission of Williams. The sky appeared to be the limit for the newly crowned UFC heavyweight champ, who was only 24 years old.
However, Mir’s time on top would be short-lived. Only a few months removed from winning the title, Mir was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. Mir suffered such grievous injuries that he would end up being stripped of his UFC title before ever defending it. Mir sat on the sidelines for nearly two years before returning to the Octagon at UFC 57. The returning Mir was clearly not the same man who had won the UFC title. He was noticeably out of shape, and he was completely outclassed by Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz. Mir lost by TKO to Cruz, who was nothing more than a pure grappler. Mir managed to score a victory over Dan Christison, but it was anything but inspiring. Another loss, this time to Brandon Vera, put Mir’s fighting career in serious jeopardy.
It would be nearly another year from the Vera loss until Mir once again stepped into the Octagon. At UFC 74, Mir returned and defeated kickboxer Antoni Hardonk by first-round submission. After the victory, the former UFC heavyweight champ looked into the cameras and proclaimed, “I’m back!” Indeed, Mir did look rejuvenated and back to proper form, which helped set up a showdown with former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar. Although there was some controversy in the bout, Mir would secure a tapout that set the wheels in motion for the former champ to secure another title shot.
After filming season eight of The Ultimate Fighter, Mir and MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira squared off at UFC 92. The event marked the next phase of Mir’s evolution. Once thought of as only a grappler, Mir displayed crisp striking throughout the contest and dropped Nogueira on numerous occasions. He became the first fighter to stop Nogueira via strikes, a method of victory virtually nobody had considered going into the bout. Mir also looked noticeably better in terms of physical conditioning, and it appeared he’d finally turned the corner on becoming a complete martial artist.
In his highest-profile contest, Mir came up short in a rematch with Lesnar at UFC 100. Not only did Mir lose, but he lost badly, being controlled by Lesnar’s superior wrestling and size throughout the contest. Although he was defeated, Mir took away a valuable lesson for his career moving forward. With fighters like Lesnar and Shane Carwin becoming the cream of the heavyweight crop, the age of the “super heavyweight” was upon the MMA world. Guys who had to cut down to make the 265-pound limit were becoming the be-all-end-all in the division. Mir took notice and began a new strength-and-conditioning regimen that produced a brand new look.
After bulking up, Mir embarked upon a 4-1 run to establish himself as a stalwart near the top of heavyweight division. Through a stroke of luck — that luck coming thanks to Alistair Overeem’s mistakes — Mir found himself in yet another title fight. Mir performed admirably considering virtually nobody gave him a glimmer of hope against Junior dos Santos, but he was stopped via TKO in the second round. The loss sent Mir stumbling down the ranks. He lost four fights in a row. It appeared, once again, that Mir’s days were done.
However, the former UFC champion has clearly proven that he’s not ready to go quietly into the night. Against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, Mir displayed his new boxing skills. He utilized a nice short left hook to drop Silva and then pounced on the downed fighter to finish him off with elbows. In his most recent fight against the younger Todd Duffee, Mir again displayed his boxing technique in the middle of a brawl with his opponent. Mir continuously landed his straight left against the right-handed Duffee. Mir even managed to take some of Duffee’s vaunted power punches and move forward.
The man is a virtual lock for the UFC Hall of Fame despite a modest record on paper (18-9 overall). He holds the most wins, most fights and most finishes in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Are the days of Mir being an elite fighter still ahead of him? Unlikely. However, with the recent career resurgence of fellow MMA veteran Andrei Arlovski, nothing is out of question. The one thing that’s always been the biggest obstacle to Mir’s success is himself. When the man is locked in and focused, there are few fighters that are better than Mir. He’s seemingly in a good place in his life, appears to be focused on continuing to hone his craft in the martial arts world and is, without a doubt, one of the more knowledgeable fighters when it comes to understanding the fight game. We’ve counted Mir out numerous times throughout his career, yet he continues to prove he has more lives than a cat. Perhaps it’s time for fans to buy in to the fact that Mir still has some good years left in the gas tank.