LAS VEGAS – Frank Mir has five inches and nearly 90 pounds on B.J. Penn, but Dana White says that when he looks at Mir, he often thinks of Penn, the UFC's mercurial lightweight champion.
And vice versa.
Like Penn, Mir is one of the most naturally gifted men in mixed martial arts. He's big, strong, quick and is among the best big men ever at submissions.
Mir once held the UFC heavyweight title, but is largely viewed as a disappointment by the MMA community.
"Frank Mir is so talented, when I think of him and try to draw a comparison, the only person I can think of who is a fair one is B.J. Penn," said White, the UFC's outspoken president. "When they came into the UFC, they were young and cocky and had all the ability in the world. They were able to do things that other guys never could even think of doing, so they didn't have to work as hard as the others did.
"But now they're getting older and that window is closing. B.J. is finally taking his game completely seriously now and wants to leave his mark on this sport. He went out and said he would do it and he did. And now that's where Frank Mir finds himself. A committed and dedicated Frank Mir can be a very, very big factor in the heavyweight division."
Mir will face former WWE champion Brock Lesnar on Saturday at UFC 81 in a bout pivotal to his career. A win would put him back into contention for the heavyweight title. And if Tim Sylvia claims the interim belt in Saturday's main event by defeating Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mir with a win would probably become the No. 1 contender for the title based on his history with Sylvia.
A loss to a fighter with only one fight, and less than 90 seconds of professional experience, though, could be as devastating to Mir as the motorcycle accident that nearly killed him.
Mir's agent, Dean Albrecht, understands the situation, but knows that Mir has the ability to defeat Lesnar.
Albrecht, though, qualifies as a true believer. A long-time football agent and a former general manager in the Canadian Football League, Albrecht decided he wanted to work for Mir at a strange point in Mir's life.
Mir wasn't on the precipice of a huge payday or a big fight when Albrecht came calling. When Albrecht flew 2,500 miles from his home in Sarasota, Fla., to Las Vegas and found Mir working as a bouncer in a local strip club, Mir was as low as he could be professionally.
The 28-year old Nevada native had suffered what could have been – perhaps, should have been – career-ending leg injuries when he was involved in a motorcycle accident on Sept. 16, 2004. He flew 90 feet through the air and landed on his head after colliding with a car that had turned in front of him.
He broke his femur and tore every ligament in his knee. He still has the helmet he was wearing that night, which has a piece of the sidewalk embedded in it.
Walking was going to be a challenge, let alone returning to the top in one of the most demanding sports.
Albrecht had never met Mir and didn't tell him he was flying to Las Vegas to meet him. But a few months before, Albreach had decided that he wanted to get back into representing pro athletes and began to research MMA.
He was so taken by Mir that he decided one night while sitting in front of his computer that he wanted to represent Mir to try to make a difference in his life.
"This was a guy who was as athletic as anybody in the sport, who was brilliant at jiu-jitsu, who had everything you would look for if you were looking to put together a guy who would be a star, but he was at a stage of his life where he needed someone to help him," Albrecht said. "I really believed this guy could do something and I really believed I could help get him there."
To steal Lesnar's pro wrestling nickname, Albrecht basically thought Mir could become MMA's next big thing.
When Albrecht showed up at the Spearmint Rhino topless bar where Mir was working, Mir was skeptical, but he was willing to hear Albrecht out.
Nearly four years later, they're nearly at the peak of the mountain. A win over a fighter with Lesnar's notoriety would make Mir one of the biggest names in the game once again. "He's bringing a ton of attention to this fight because of his pro wrestling background," Mir said of Lesnar. "Some guys are upset because we've all been in the game a lot longer and have worked to build this sport up basically from when it was nothing to a point where it's really becoming a major sport. But I think it's great that he's coming in, because all those fans he has will be fans of mine when I beat him and hopefully will become fans of this sport."
Mir is a former high school state champion wrestler, but knows his wrestling won't be able to compare to Lesnar's. And though Mir is among the strongest men in the sport, he doesn't expect to be able to compete with Lesnar in any feats of strength.
Mir is comfortable with the fact that he'll probably be taken down, perhaps repeatedly.
"I'm not going to outwrestle the guy and it's no secret he's going to be stronger than me," Mir said.
But Mir's jiu-jitsu is as good, if not better, than Lesnar's wrestling. And Mir figures to have the advantage striking. He's worked long and hard with noted striking coach Ken Hahn and believes he's a far better fighter today than he was when he snapped Sylvia's right arm to win the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 48 on June 19, 2004.
"Oh, way better," Mir said. "Dramatically better. It's not even close."
Mir (10-3) is only 2-2 since the accident and hasn't won back-to-back fights yet, but finally feels the effects of the accident are behind him and he's fighting at full capacity.
White said when Mir is right, few in the game are better. But Mir wasn't always pushed, said White, who believes Mir relied too much on his natural ability.
"Frank is a big heavyweight, but he moves on the ground like he's a 155-pounder," White said. "He is so talented. A lot of people will tell you that Frank doesn't try as hard as other guys, but for the longest time, it's because he hasn't had to try as hard.
"Early in his training, he wasn't surrounded by a camp like American Top Team or AKA (American Kickboxing Academy) where there are tons of great guys you can work with. Guys like (Jon) Fitch and Josh Koscheck and (Mike) Swick at AKA get better by working with each other.
"But Frank was always the top dog and so much better than everyone else. He'd submit guys left and right. Now, it goes back to what I was saying about the similarities between him and B.J. This is a huge opportunity for him. He understands it and he's taken this fight seriously. So if Brock Lesnar beats him, Brock Lesnar is a (expletive) animal because he's fighting a guy who is as talented as anyone out there."