Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008 | 7 a.m.
The funniest part of Tuesday’s Ultimate Fighting Championship’s press conference for its end-of-the-year show, UFC 92 this Saturday at the MGM Grand, came when Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira were posed for their showdown photos.
First, there was the standard stance with their fists raised while the two combatants stared each other down.
Then all of the sudden the man that Mir calls “one of the greatest fighters” broke into a cheesy smile with his thumbs pointing upward. Mir had no choice but to break from his square-off position and follow suit with his own big grin, of course, after he and all the media members present shared a big laugh.
“Obviously everyone knows I have nothing malicious to say to make this exciting,” Mir said of his bout agains the UFC’s interim heavyweight champion. “It’s an honor to step in the ring with Nogueira. I’ve always looked up to him.
“He’s always put technique and heart in everything he’s ever done. Very few people get the opportunity to fight someone they’ve idolized for a while. The title has actually been on the back burner with the thought of fighting Nogueira.”
Nogueira, as is the case with his personality, graciously responded to Mir's complements with praises himself.
"It's a pleasure to be a part of this card, it's the best card I've ever fought on. I got a lot of respect for my opponent, he's a very good ground fighter," said Nogueira (31-4-1-1 NC), who earned the interim crown in February with a third round submission over Tim Sylvia.
However, the Brazilian-born mixed martial artist said that the challenge of fighting someone who he became a friend with because of their close relationship on the Ultimate Fighter: Season 8, is no different than fighting a person he doesn’t share any bond with.
“I respect him the same as my last opponent, that’s how I was taught as a martial artist. But when we step in the cage we forget about being friendly. I’m very competitive and I’m going to show that in the cage come Saturday,” he said.
Win or lose Saturday night, Minotauro, who first earned his half-man, half-bull nickname for his legendary bouts in Japan’s PRIDE organization, has noticed a new-found fan base because of his coaching duties on SPIKE’s reality fighting show.
“After the show my career in America changed a little bit. Everyone comes up to say ‘Hi,’ or get a picture with me,” Nogueira said. “I enjoy it, I’ve been treated very good here.”
That will likely continue as MMA fans have salivated over this fight for four years, wanting to see whose jiu-jitsu skills were better between Big Nog, the only fighter to win both the UFC and PRIDE heavyweight belts and the former UFC heavyweight titleholder in Mir.
"Both of these guys have been known as two of the greatest ground fighters in the heavyweight division," UFC president Dana White said. "A lot of people for a long time have been wanting to see what would happen when these two get on the ground together. Saturday night we’re gonna find out."
Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.