LAS VEGAS – Frank Mir yanked his T-shirt above his head to reveal a new tattoo covering his back that is, in some ways, the story of his life. The complex tattoo depicts a samurai warrior on a motorcycle with a rhino's head on one end and a machine gun across the middle.
It was elaborate, but what was startling wasn't so much what was painted on his back as what was strapped around his waist.
Mir, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's interim heavyweight champion, had a pair of real handguns on his hips and two large knives around his midsection. A fierce advocate of the Second Amendment, Mir holds a concealed weapons permit and believes there would be less crime if more people carried guns.
A skeptic questioned why Mir, one of the finest mixed martial arts fighters in the world, would need more weaponry than a small-town police force for protection. Mir didn't budge.
"No question about it, I need them more than you," the powerfully built, 6-foot-3, 250-pound Mir said to a middle-aged, out-of-shape reporter. "If someone's coming after me, they're probably not going to come after me 1-on-1. And they're probably going to come after me with the intention of doing me harm or doing my family harm."
There are a lot of people who think Mir will need a weapon or two to defeat heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar for a second time when they meet Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center at UFC 100. Not surprisingly, Mir isn't among that group, though he is planning to use another weapon other than his physical skill: His mind.
Mir, who is attempting to defeat the one-time professional wrestling champion in the granddaddy of all mixed martial arts cards, believes he's gotten into Lesnar's head, not only because he submitted him with a knee bar at UFC 81 but also with his near nonstop chatter. The heavyweight, who has taunted Lesnar at every turn, was a mental mess little more than 30 months ago and seemed unable to handle the pressures that come with facing elite heavyweights in the world. It took a chewing out from his wife, Jen, after a shockingly one-sided loss to Brandon Vera at UFC 65 in Sacramento, Calif., on Nov. 18, 2006, for Mir to become mentally tough enough to take advantage of his vast physical skills.
About 2 ½ years before the loss to Vera, Mir had been in a life-threatening motorcycle accident. Two doctors told him he'd never fight again. He had recovered from the myriad injuries he sustained in the incident by the time he stepped into the cage to fight Vera.
He was ready physically. His mental recovery took much longer.
After getting pummeled by Vera, Mir wallowed in self pity in the hotel room. He spoke of retirement and no one on his team other than his manager said a word. Jen Mir, though, heard him feeling sorry for himself and quickly put an end to it.
"We were in the hotel room and I remember he was talking with his manager and everybody else kind of was quiet," she said. "What do you say to a guy after something like that? So they weren't talking. I was sitting next to him on the bed and he said, 'You know, I guess I don't have it any more. I'm not the same.' He was feeding into what everyone else was saying. And I'm sure maybe he believed that, too, 100 percent, that he didn't have it any more.
"He said, 'I'm not going to fight any more. I'm going to retire.' Right when he said that, I said, 'No, absolutely not. That's not what's happening.' I was kind of how a parent is with a kid: 'If you want to cry the whole way to school and be that way, fine, but you're still going to go to school.' I said, 'You don't have to train and you don't have to do anything, but you're still going to fight. Not a chance you're quitting. You're still going to fight.' "
Mir has fought three times subsequent to the bludgeoning he absorbed from Vera. He submitted Antoni Hardonk at UFC 74 and Lesnar at UFC 81 and became the first man to stop former PRIDE champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira when he did it at UFC 92.
The man who originally won the title by gruesomely snapping Tim Sylvia's forearm during an arm bar at UFC 48 wouldn't have been able to overcome the adversity he faced last year in winning the Lesnar fight. Lesnar took Mir down within seconds and was battering him with hammer fists, at one point connecting with nearly 40 in about 18 seconds. Mir, though, never panicked and was constantly looking for submissions.
He concedes he would have folded under similar circumstances in 2004, prior to his accident.
"The car accident grew me, mentally and spiritually, by leaps and bounds," Mir said. "If I would have been in a situation [like UFC 81] at that point in my career, well, I was just a frontrunner. I had a bully mentality. I was pretty much where Lesnar is now, used to always being the aggressor in the fight, the person who would go out there fast.
"My first couple of fights in the UFC, it came to me so easily. Now, since life itself had gotten so difficult, in the Lesnar fight, no matter how bad the beating became, I never thought about anything besides trying to finish him."
He learned to compose himself fighting while working as a bouncer at Spearmint Rhino, a topless club in Las Vegas a couple of blocks from where he'll fight on Saturday. He would analyze the encounters he had with testerone-filled young men who had too much to drink and find a way he could defuse the situation without getting into a physical confrontation.
"I really enjoyed that, talking to someone who is pissed off and angry and who is looking for every reason in the world to make it physical," Mir said. "And I was able, by the end of the night, to have the guy be my best friend and turn the situation around. Any gorilla can pound someone's face in. That takes no skill. Hell, if my wife grabbed a baseball bat, she could beat me down. Physical violence, if that's what you resort to, is not that impressive as a tactic.
"The mind game, screwing with people, I love that. How do you screw with your opponent's head? How do you say things? Maybe your opponent has a weak mind and his coaches are keeping him away from you. So now you screw around with his coaches, and say they don't know how to teach martial arts. … You have to throw lots of jibs and jabs different ways. I enjoy that aspect of it."
Mir is enjoying the mind games with Lesnar and Lesnar's camp. He said he would use moves to defeat Lesnar that Lesnar could not even understand. "I'll tell you what those moves were at the end of the fight, Brock," Mir said.
But in his early days, he wasn't strong enough to handle that kind of warfare. It's the same problem, he said, that felled once-feared boxing champion Mike Tyson.
"He was a victim of his own success," said Mir. "I understood that, because that's how I was early in my career. You go in there and you start knocking guys out once a month in 30 seconds, and then someone stands up to you 30 fights later, how do you deal with that? In the gym, everyone is afraid of you, your coaches are afraid of you. But what happens when, in the fight, the guy isn't scared of you?"
He has put together a team of coaches, a cast of five top-flight specialists that cost him $60,000 for this camp. He's using Robert Drysdale and Ricky Lundell as jiu-jitsu coaches and Ken Hahn, Mark DellaGrotte and Jimmy Gifford as his striking coaches.
He's set them up so there is a head coach, coordinators and position coaches, as there is in football.
He's strong enough mentally now that he doesn't need to have his ego massaged and wants to hear about his weaknesses.
As hard as he's worked to prepare for Lesnar – "I've never been in this kind of condition," he said – he's still enjoying the mental battle just as much.
"I'm the guy who just loves to keep poking at the bull," Mir said, beaming. "I just can't resist."
The bull, in the form of a rock-hard, 290-pound heavyweight champion, is going to charge at him Saturday. And Mir's weapons, Second Amendment rights or not, are going to do him no good when the cage door is locked and Lesnar storms at him.
"I just keep thinking about the fight and I'll think, 'You know, it's going to suck to be Lesnar when he gets beat by the same guy again, because he'll go to the bottom and have long look back up to the top,' " Mir said. "That's not going to be fun. I'll enjoy it. But for him, staring up out of that hole, that's not going to be a bit of fun."
Mir knows the position. He was in that hole before and climbed out to win a championship. On Saturday, he'll have the chance to prove it was no fluke. But he'll have to do more than just poke the bull to keep his belt.