LAS VEGAS – People tend to have a greater appreciation for something once they've lost it, particularly when they're not sure they'll ever get it back.
Such is the case with Frank Mir and the UFC heavyweight title.
Mir has already had three different brushes with the belt. He won the undisputed title as a precocious 25-year-old at UFC 48 in 2004 when he snapped Tim Sylvia's forearm less than a minute into their bout.
He never defended the belt, though, losing it after being involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. When Mir returned to competition, he was far from the athletic, powerful heavyweight he'd been when he'd won the championship. He sandwiched losses to Marcio Cruz and Brandon Vera with an unimpressive win over Dan Christison in his first three bouts back.
Eventually, though, Mir regained his game and stopped Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the interim belt at UFC 92 on Dec. 27, 2008. He lost that to Brock Lesnar at UFC 100, then had a third crack at the belt when he was knocked out by Shane Carwin for the interim title.
On Friday, though, he got an unexpected gift when the UFC pulled Alistair Overeem from his UFC 146 match against champion Junior dos Santos and replaced him with Mir. Overeem failed a surprise drug test by the Nevada Athletic Commission and on Friday, feeling it didn't have time to wait to see if Overeem could successfully argue for a license, the UFC yanked him.
For Mir, it was an unexpected bonanza, and one he'll cherish more now that he's a veteran and knows how hard it is to continually climb back up the mountain.
"At this point in my life, I realize that my fighting career will have a finite timetable and that there aren't going to be a lot more chances," he said. "At 24, 25, you don't think that way. You just don't know any better, to be honest with you. But I've been fighting 10 years now and I'm a lot smarter about the business and how it works and I understand how precious these [title shots] are, and how rare. So, it means a little more to me than before, because of that and because I know that you're never guaranteed anything."
Mir said that he's physically superior to when he was in his mid-20s because he's approached his conditioning and strength training scientifically.
He also works out better to help him prepare for fights. His sparring now incorporates full mixed martial arts sessions. Previously, he would work on his boxing with oversized boxing sparring mitts on. When someone would go down, instead of continuing as one would in a fight, they'd get up, reset, and start over.
He said he's using open-fingered gloves in his boxing training so they can more closely simulate the circumstances of a fight.
"You know the old saying, I wish I knew then what I know now and I wonder how much better I would have been," Mir said. "Back in those days, we never really did full MMA fighting until the night of the fight. We did our jiu-jitsu and our boxing and our wrestling all as separate things. Now, we work it all together."
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Mir has never faced anyone like dos Santos, who has superb striking skills. Dos Santos is 14-1 with 10 knockouts and seemingly has the best boxing skills in the division, if not the entire UFC.
When he started in 2001, Mir had rudimentary boxing skills, but he's improved markedly. He out-struck Cheick Kongo, a high-level kick boxer, at UFC 107. It's totally different with dos Santos, but Mir is nothing if not confident.
They have two common opponents. Each won a decision over Roy Nelson, while Mir was beaten by Carwin and dos Santos pummeled him.
"They're totally different situations," he said of their fights with Carwin. "It's not like Shane Carwin was picking me apart out in the open. I think when we were in the open, I was landing the better shots. But Shane Carwin pushed me against the cage and grinded me and got his shots off there.
"It's a different style than dos Santos fights. Junior was smarter when he fought Shane than I was, because he stayed away from the cage. But I don't think you can really fairly compare those two situations."
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