Mir ready for Barnett at UFC 164

Frank Mir will have to make his mind as strong as his body to get a win at UFC 164.
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Mike Chiappetta

Mike Chiappetta has documented the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts since 2006 for news organizations including SB Nation, NBCSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, AOL and ESPN. He appears regularly as an analyst on countless television shows and radio programs, including CBS Radio and MMA Beat. Follow him on Twitter.



Josh Barnett had just finished laying down the gospel of pain as only he can. A fighter's mind set is always unflinching, unyielding belief in himself. No fighter would ever admit he would have lost to another one, even in a hypothetical scenario. Surely not one who was about to face the person in said hypothetical scenario.

And then, Frank Mir spoke. The thing about Mir is that he has always looked at the world as a critical thinker. He is analytical, with an objective perspective on life that extends even to himself. In other words, he's not your typical warrior-athlete. And he couldn't have agreed less with what Barnett said.

In less than two days, the two will square off in the UFC 164 co-main event, but Mir isn't so stuck on his ego and a fight mode mentality that he is incapable of assessing himself in realistic terms. And so it happened that when he was asked who would have won a matchup between him and Barnett back in their early UFC days, he declined to make the seemingly obvious choice.

"I think if we fought back then I definitely would’ve given the fight to Josh," he said during a recent teleconference. "I think mentally I wasn’t as prepared and not as strong. I think Josh right from the beginning of his career had a very strong mind set. Mine, not so much. I think it’s developed over the years, acknowledging it was weak to begin with to even work on it. So I think I might have had an opportunity early on in the fight to get it, a submission to catch somebody. But if the first couple submission attempts would have failed, I think I would have been in a lot of trouble."

There have always been whispers that Mir has a fragile psyche, a reputation that has haunted him since his first loss, which came to Ian Freeman back in 2002, just a couple of months after Barnett won the UFC title.

At the time, Mir (16-7) was seen as a quitter, knocked out not by punches but by exhaustion after attempting three submissions and then eating a series of ground strikes. Eventually, Freeman returned to his feet and invited Mir to stand up with him, but it took him several warnings to stagger to his feet, and he remained hunched over and winded, forcing referee John McCarthy to halt the action.

Beforehand, Mir was a hot prospect, but the loss cooled him off considerably and lengthened his road to his eventual championship. The result colored Mir's career for a long time, even after won the title, and even after he courageously returned from a devastating motorcycle crash to compete within two years.

With two straight losses on his docket, Mir will need to summon his willpower to avoid a skid that could prove disastrous to his status as a top-tier heavyweight. At 34 years old, he still harbors a desire to recapture the championship, which he first held in 2004 (he later won the interim belt in 2008).

It has been a long journey already. When he began competing in 2001, Zuffa was still finding its way with the organization, having just bought it within the previous year.

"I remember when I first started and I signed UFC contract, I didn’t brag to anybody about it," he said. "It wasn’t something you went and told a girl and you tried to go out on a date with her, you were aspiring to beat people up in the octagon. In fact, if I even 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, or if I went and picked up a girl and told her father, ‘Yes, I plan on being a fighter for a living,’ it was the quickest way to end the date."

Mir was 22 years old at the time. He's 34 now, married with four kids. With complexities comes better understanding of solutions. That's true both in family life and athletic competition.

In Barnett, he will be facing someone who has been considered one of his only peers in ground skills. Along with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, they are considered the top submission grapplers in heavyweight history. Since Mir's most consistent route to victory has been threatening limbs or blood flow, and since Barnett is more likely to resist those attempts than other opponents, Mir will no doubt need to call upon his mental strength.

“I’ve fought people before that never tapped to submissions," he said. "I think you have to have a respect and knowledge of what your opponent is capable of but at the same time you can’t let it nullify your offense. You can’t sit there and second-guess yourself and go, 'Well, I’m not going to go for this because he’ll obviously block it.' I think that’s when sometimes respect goes too much into apprehension and it causes you to hesitate. I think that you just fight the fight and prepare to know that I’m probably going to have to link four or five or six different attempts together. Obviously I don’t see Josh falling victim to the first submission attempt that I just jump on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not going to go and attempt it anyways.”

We tend to look at the fighters before us as fully formed machines. After all, their performances lead to finite results; either they win or they lose. We also assume one has to have incredible courage and fortitude to do what they do. Neither is necessarily true. Sometimes, they are only a fraction of what they will be. And sometimes, they go in the cage to find their true character, not because they already have it.

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