MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Frank Mir has long been one of the finest fighters in the world.
Suddenly, though, it seems he's morphed into the Eddie Haskell of mixed martial arts along the way.
He angered Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar so much, Lesnar stomped around the ring in the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas after defeating Mir at UFC 100 and didn't really want to quit fighting.
"Believe me when I tell you, Brock really hates him," UFC president Dana White said.
Cheick Kongo, a respectful, soft-spoken man who speaks five languages, has become so enraged by Mir that prior to their bout Saturday at the FedEx Forum, as part of the UFC 107 main card, he resorted to gutter language to try to make his point.
A black belt in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kenpo karate, Mir took the unusual step for a mixed martial artist of trashing an opponent's game. He said Kongo, a kick boxer, has the worst ground game in MMA.
That didn't sit too well with Kongo, who was asked Thursday about the reason for the dislike between the men.
"He's a former UFC heavyweight champion and that's good, he did a good job," Kongo said through clenched teeth. "I respect that. But as a person? No. I can't let anyone judge me or treat me like a piece of (expletive), and he did."
Mir once was like the majority of fighters and would always speak in near-reverential tones about his opponent. He'd praise them to the hilt, ignore any weaknesses and by the time he was done speaking, you'd worry for his safety against this monster he was about to fight.
As he's learned what sells fights and become more confident in himself, Mir has changed. If you ask him a direct question now, he gives a direct answer. Mir sugar coats absolutely nothing.
Asked again about his comments about Kongo's ground game, Mir beamed but didn't back off or try to explain away his comments.
"There's one other heavyweight I can think of in the division who is (worse), but you know, it's just some of the mistakes he makes on the ground, the body stuff," Mir said. "He just scrambles to get back up on his feet. Honestly, he's one of the least dangerous guys (on the ground). If you asked me to rank 10 guys who might arm-bar me and ask where he's on that list, I'd have to say probably dead last. The only thing I do give him credit for is he's actually very good on ground and pound.
"One thing I've worked on improving from my last fight is to nullify that more and not be so open and look for submissions and sweeps and be more controlling. It worked out conveniently because I think in the (Antoni) Hardonk fight and the (Mirko) Cro Cop (Filipovic) fight (Kongo showed) that he is very good within your guard, punching and stuff. Also, though, that's not guys who are trying to take his arm off, either."
Few MMA fighters have ever called out an opponent the way Mir has called out Kongo. But Mir's realized for that kind of talk not only helps sell fights – there's more interest in a fight when there are intense feelings one way or another – but it may also give him a competitive advantage.
He's clearly angered Kongo and understands that if Kongo attacks, it will open more opportunities for him to clinch, take the fight to the ground and work a submission. The odds of him winning a boxing match with Kongo aren't nearly as good as they are of winning a grappling match. So if Mir can help sell the fight at the same time he's giving himself an edge, why not?
"It has a lot to do with marketing and speaking," Mir said of his newly found blunt talk. "One thing about my personality, I never, ever make anything up. I just go ahead and exaggerate, maybe embellish a bit. There are things I say that if we're just friends sitting around talking, you'd go, 'Oh yeah, that guy's going to kill him,' but then if someone turns the camera on, all of a sudden it's, 'Yeah, I have a lot of respect for him. I think he's a really good fighter.'
"It's crazy. I'm a fighter. What, am I supposed to worry that he's going to beat me up if he hears me say that? We're going to fight anyway, so I think I might as well just say what I'm thinking. So I've kind of gone that route."
He's an intelligent and observant guy, and would routinely hear fighters talking one way about their opponents in the gym and then hear them say something completely opposite of that in interviews.
That didn't sit well with Mir, who has decided to be, well, as frank as possible.
"The whole super-polite thing (in interviews), man," Mir said, shaking his head. "It's not that I'm out there trying to be rude to anybody, but if something is true, it's true. I have this weird thing where people sit there and go, 'You shouldn't say that his ground skills are bad,' and I'm like, 'But they are.'
"Would anybody have an issue if I told you he was going to go do a jiu-jitsu competition and compete as a white belt? You'd go, 'Yeah, that's safe. That's what he should be competing at.' You wouldn't go, 'Oh, he's sand bagging. He should at least be competing at purple belt level.'
"All I really do now is that conversations I would have, I see no reason to hide statements. If that's how I think about something, I throw it out there and say it. People are going to like you or hate you either way, so be honest and say what you feel."
Mir's side job is as the expert analyst on Versus' broadcasts of World Extreme Cagefighting. He's taken much grief from fans in that role for his outspoken ways, particularly for his passionate belief in former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres.
Like it or not, though, that Mir is here to stay. Fighters make more when they're noticed more, when people pay to watch them. Mir, one of the game's most eloquent and introspective men, is never afraid to share an opinion.
He's unlike many of his peers in that he's an incredibly gifted athlete who probably could have succeeded professional at other sports had he given them a shot. But he's mostly unlike them for his decision to escape the cookie cutter mold and speak his mind as plainly and as bluntly as possible.
"How we get paid in the UFC is not indicative of whether people like us or hate us, but whether they pay attention to you," Mir said. "Bottom line, that's all it comes down to. If someone tunes in when you're interviewing or someone flips on the television to watch you fight, then you have star power and you command attention. That equates over to financial status. I've always been big about that. Would I fight for free? Absolutely. I like fighting. I fought for a lot of my life without getting paid.
"But it takes so much time and so much effort on my part to follow my hobby. But by me being financially set, I can justify to my wife why I'm in the gym all day. The kids are in private schools, we have a nice house, cars. So if I can go ahead and be myself, and that helps me get paid better, why not? I think a lot of fighters are too scared."
He grinned like a Cheshire cat and shook his head.
"It's weird, but fighters of all people are so scared what people think of them," he said. "They're scared and they're so worried about saying something right. I'm like, 'What do you care?' You know what I hate? When I say something I know I'm being overly polite about and people still give me a derogatory comment back. I'm like, 'Wow, I wasn't even being myself and you don't like me.' At least if I'm myself and you go, '(Expletive),' all right, that's fine. If you don't like me, don't have a beer with me. I don't care. And I feel comfortable that I came out and I am how I want to be and not sit around and say what I think someone wants to hear to make other people happy.
"Fighters are also afraid to be outspoken because they're afraid they'll end up eating their words. That's crazy. But does it really suck any worse losing whether you were polite or you opened your mouth and popped off? That's what I hate. (Say) what you feel."