Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008 | 7 a.m.
- UFC 92
- Evans wins light heavyweight title (12-27-2008)
- Unassuming champ ready for challenge (12-27-2008)
- Video: Griffin vs. Evans (12-27-2008)
- Enough action for several cards (12-26-2008)
- Slideshow: UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008 (12-25-2008)
- Respectful heavyweights ready for title fight (12-24-2008)
- Revamped ‘Rampage’ ready for return to Octagon (12-23-2008)
- ‘Axe Murderer’ aims to silence ‘Rampage’ again (12-22-2008)
- UFC’s best not burdened by holidays (12-17-2008)
Frank Mir didn’t have to say he was officially back Saturday night, his emotions inside the Octagon said it all.
Moments after becoming the first man to ever stop the legendary Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the 29-year-old Las Vegas native buried his face inside his hat to fight back tears.
Sure the win once again made him the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s heavyweight champ, albeit only an interim belt. A future rematch against Brock Lesnar will decide the true king of the organization’s largest weight class.
More importantly, the Bonanza High grad’s third-round TKO of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu artist signaled the completion of a four-year journey that saw Mir go from the top of the UFC to the very bottom of his own existence after a life-threatening motorcycle wreck thrust him into a severe depression.
“I faced those demons after my wreck to come back and fight the best heavyweight who ever fought in the UFC,” said an emotional Mir, addressing the sellout crowd of 14,103 at UFC 92 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“Everybody look at your lives; people always say you can’t do (expletive). I’m proof you can do things. Even I didn’t think I could beat Nogueira. If I was a betting man, I wasn't on Mir's side tonight. I came through this with the love of my family, my children, my wife, everybody."
Instead the nearly 4-to-1 underdog put on a career performance, dismantling one of the finest fighters to ever grace the Octagon with superior striking. Mir (12-3), who has won his last three fights, knocked Nogueira (31-5-1) down three times in the first round before flooring him for good in the second stanza.
“I was never more afraid than when I came in here tonight. Minotauro is the perfect name for him. I faced my mythological monster,” said Mir, who joined the select company of Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson as the only fighters to ever defeat Nogueira.
Nogueira, who became good friends with Mir when the two were coaches this fall on Season 8 of the UFC’s reality TV show the “Ultimate Fighter,” had little explanation for the loss — other than saying Mir was the superior fighter.
“He had a great fight tonight. He is a great fighter, had some good shots in the beginning of the fight that changed things,” Nogueira said. “He threw some strong hands. I have to come back stronger and faster.”
Immediately after the match Mir found Lesnar near the Octagon.
“I told him you have my belt. I don't want any of this (expletive) that I'm half the champ," Mir said. "I beat Nogueira. (Lesnar) beat a champion in Randy Couture.
“Let's see if he can make it out of the first round, but hey, this time I'll make him famous on the break that I do to him.”
Lesnar smirked, then the former WWE wrestler pointed two fingers to his own eyes and then to Mir.
The threat didn’t matter. Saturday was a celebration as a joyous posse led by his trainer, Ken Hahn, and father, Frank Sr., met Mir in the Octagon.
Before reflecting on his well-chronicled journey back from the devastating motorcycle wreck in the postfight press conference, Mir said he never imagined stopping Nogueira the way he did.
“I visualized winning the fight, but never by stoppage,” he said. “I imagined knocking him down because I’ve seen what I’ve been doing in my standup. I just wanted to go out and win more rounds than him.”
“But I didn’t want to get overzealous and get caught. There are a whole lot of great fighters who have made that mistake against him. I just wanted to win the most rounds and come out the winner at the end.”
Mir did, and not only in the Octagon.
He reflected on his accident in September of 2004 when he was struck by a car at a high rate of speed and skidding some 60 feet. When he landed he had broken his femur in two places and ripped every ligament in his knee.
The mental anguish was even worse, Mir said. Not knowing how to handle having his world turned upside down and not being able to fight led Mir to alcohol abuse and drugs.
With his marriage on the rocks, his wife, Jennifer ignored the advice of Las Vegas specialists who said he would never fight again.
“I knew the only way for him to come out of the hell that he was in, was for him to fight again,” said Jennifer, who actually signed Mir back up to return to the UFC.
After 18 months outside the Octagon and stripped of the title he couldn’t defend, Mir lost in his return match against Marcio Cruz. A lackluster victory over Dan Christison and a loss to Brandon Vera left Mir at another crossroads.
However, a first-round submission against Antoni Hardonk in August 2007 showed Jennifer all she needed to know.
“For me coming full circle, it was over after the Antoni Hardonk fight,” she said.
“But for Frank, it’s not going to come full circle until he gets the belt back.”
The interim one will do fine for now for Mir, although Saturday night he had to play referee as his two young children, Kage and Isabella, playfully fought for control of their daddy’s biggest prize.
Mir quickly corrected that statement, saying the biggest prize in his life was the family that supported him when he was at rock bottom.
“When I came back from what I came back from, I wish I could make the statement that the odds were against me but I never quit,” Mir said. “It’s not true. I wanted to give up.
“Your heroes, when you look at them, they’re not always what you think. The only reason I am where I am now is because of the support of my wife, my family, my parents, my children.”
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.