Frank Mir overcame injuries, alcohol to become a top UFC fighter able to balance career and family

LAS VEGAS – Jennifer Mir chuckles heartily at the notion that the real Frank Mir is the massive brute who snapped Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's forearm during a fight in December and then insisted afterward that breaking a human bone like a twig was all in a day's work.

She pulled out her telephone and started flicking through pictures. There was Mir dressed as the Mad Hatter, ready to go to a Halloween party with his kids. And there was a photo of him as Jack Sparrow, the Johnny Depp character from "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Then she pulled up photo after photo of her husband asleep at home, with their four children and one or more of their seven dogs sprawled on top of him.

That, she said, is the real Frank Mir.

Mir is arguably the most decorated fighter in UFC history, and with a win on Saturday over Junior dos Santos at UFC 146 at the MGM Grand will become heavyweight champion for a record-tying third time.

Mir's 14 wins are the most in UFC history by a heavyweight and are tied for seventh-most overall. His eight wins by submission lead all UFC heavyweights and ties him with Kenny Florian and Nate Diaz for the most in the UFC.

Three of the four fastest submissions in the UFC were pulled off by Mir and he's tied for first with Matt Mitrione and Cain Velasquez for most knockdowns (three) in a heavyweight match.

Fighting is what he does, yet it's not who he is. He's the guy who built and operated his own gym so he could bring his children – Marcus, Isabella, Kage and Ronin – with him and not worry about angering his training partners or the gym's owners.

If you go to Mir's gym in Las Vegas, do so with the knowledge that it's almost like a playground for his children.

"However many hours a day I train are more hours I'd be away from my kids if I trained at somebody else's place," he said. "At my own place, I do what I want to do. If guys come to work with me, they have to accept that my family is going to be with me. If they don't like it, it's like, 'Hey, thanks bro, but there's the door.' I'm not going to apologize for wanting my family around me, and by having my own place, I don't have to make accommodations."

[Related: Junior dos Santos fulfills 9-year-old boy's dream by taking him to UFC 146]

He nearly did have to make the ultimate accommodation and give up his career altogether in 2004. A motorcycle accident nearly robbed him of his ability to compete. He was thrown through the air and suffered multiple injuries, including a broken leg and a torn knee. A rod was inserted into his leg during surgery.

He began drinking heavily to soothe the pain. Jennifer Mir said her husband's life all but spiraled out of control.

Mir was the UFC heavyweight champion at the time and couldn't defend his belt because of his injuries. As many do when they're faced with a life-altering problem, he found solace in a bottle. His wife pleaded with him to stop, but she soon realized he wasn't sober enough to listen.

"When you're dealing with someone who is not in a sober frame of mind, you're not dealing with reality," Jennifer Mir said. "I had to get him to a point where he was sober more often than he was intoxicated. At that time, it was seven days a week, 24 hours a day, literally. I knew that once I got him there, I would be able to reason with him."

Mir says he threw himself into the alcoholic stupor because of two conversations he had with doctors. The first doctor told him he'd never fight again.

He was distraught, but his wife urged him to seek a second opinion. He had the appointment for that second opinion on a day when she had to work, so he went alone.

Jennifer Mir got a phone call from her husband at work after his appointment ended and knew from the anguished sound of his voice that she had to get home, and fast.

Things had reached a crisis stage: The second doctor confirmed the findings of the first and told Mir he would never fight again.

It took her just 40 minutes to gather her things, leave work and reach home, where she discovered the then-reigning UFC heavyweight champion sitting behind the wheel of his car in the driveway, crying unabashedly.

Jennifer Mir knew how much martial arts meant to her husband. She also knew that he realized he wouldn't be able to provide for his young family the way he thought he should.

She encouraged him to prove the doctors wrong and to work to heal himself. And he did. Though results were initially not good – he lost bouts to some fighters he'd have beaten easily pre-accident, and he seemed more like a fringe guy than an elite athlete – he took her advice and kept working.

And though there was never that "Ah ha!" moment where things turned around, it slowly began to change.

"One time, I was sitting there thinking about it trying to figure out, 'When was the moment I changed?' " Mir said. "I was thinking about it as I watched this show about old-time Samurai sword makers. And I said to myself, 'I wonder which one of those strikes made the sword what it is today. Which strike was it? Was it that hammer blow or the hammer blow after it?'

"But it was just really a slow progression, ultimately. There were times I'd take a step forward, only to take two steps back. Sometimes, it seemed like it was 20 steps back. It just went from where it was six bad days to one good day to four and three and then three bad ones for every four good ones. Then it got to where it was five or six good days, but it was just very much of a gradual thing."

As he started to improve, he quit drinking and has now become a certified homebody. His occupation is a fighter, but to his wife, Frank Mir is a full-time kid.

He has a passion for movies and has already taken the family to see "The Avengers" twice. Every year, they make multiple trips to Disneyland, where she said Mir delights in the rides even more than his kids.

"We go there so much, the people at Disneyland all know us," Jennifer Mir said. "One of them told Frank that we're at Disneyland more than any celebrity other than [musician] Travis Barker, and he lives in LA. Frank just loves it."

[Related: Kevin Iole: Best heavyweight in UFC 146 might not be on the main card]

He loves to fight as well, and has honed his craft tremendously from the early days, when he had rudimentary stand-up skills and below-average wrestling.

He's at a point now where he is as well-rounded as any big man in the sport. But he's well-rounded outside the sport, too.

Fighting is his job and it's the vehicle that allows him to send his children to private school and indulge their every need, but life exists beyond the Octagon.

And if there is anything that frustrates Jennifer Mir, it's that most folks see her husband as this trash-talking guy with super human strength and skill who can snap another man's arm and not as the fun-loving, story-telling guy he is 98 percent of the time.

"Frank is a big, tough fighter, but I'm the aggressive, hot-headed one in the family," she said. "He's just a big softie. He's an inspiring man, very inspiring. He's somebody who, if you have a son and your son grows up to be like Frank Mir, you've accomplished something great as a parent. …

"Even if he doesn't win on Saturday, what he's already accomplished in the UFC is phenomenal. He could walk around with an ego like, 'Hey, I'm Frank Mir,' but that's so not him. He's one of the softest, most low-key guys you'll ever meet."

Except, that is, if you meet him in the Octagon. Then, well, good luck. You and your arms will need it.

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