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Las Vegas heavyweight superiority up for grabs in UFC 130 co-main event

Frank Mir and Roy Nelson downplay their friendship and ties to each other

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Sam Morris

Frank Mir smiles during a work out as he prepares for an upcoming fight Thursday, May 19, 2011.

Mir vs. Nelson

As the two most accomplished heavyweight mixed martial artists in Las Vegas, Frank Mir and Roy Nelson have always gotten along. But they'll set their friendship aside this weekend when they meet in the co-main event of UFC 130 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

UFC 130 - Nelson Workout

Roy Nelson warms up for a work out as he prepares for his upcoming fight against Frank Mir at UFC 130 Thursday, May 19, 2011. Launch slideshow »

UFC 130 - Mir Workout

Frank Mir smiles during a work out as he prepares for an upcoming fight Thursday, May 19, 2011. Launch slideshow »

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UFC heavyweight Frank Mir used to cool off from grueling morning workouts by sharing what he called “drawn-out conversations” with another one of the division’s top fighters, Roy Nelson.

Mir and Nelson, two Las Vegas natives, both spend some of their training camps working out in a private UFC gym. They usually were there at the same time until recently.

Although Mir and Nelson would break off and train in separate parts of the facility, they would never avoid each other and liked to interact when possible.

“We’re cool with each other is the expression I would use,” Mir said. “We have always gotten along. I like his outlook on things.”

Mir (14-5 MMA, 12-5 UFC) and Nelson (15-5 MMA, 2-1 UFC) will set aside their friendship, though they both insist they are not close, Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena when they meet in the co-main event of UFC 130. It’s only the fourth time in UFC history that two fighters from the same hometown clash in a headlining bout.

But Mir and Nelson say that fact means little to them. They don’t want their fight billed as a turf war or MMA’s version of the Las Vegas Bowl.

“I’m not here for bragging rights,” Nelson said. “The only thing we’re fighting for right now is gym time.”

Mir and Nelson discontinued their concurrent training schedules at the gym near Red Rock about 2 1/2 months ago. One of Mir’s coaches didn’t like the friendliness between the two.

“He thought it was appropriate that we didn’t see each other in the gym,” Mir explained. “He didn’t want to give the wrong impression to everybody that these guys are way too buddy-buddy leading up to the fight, so we had to be at opposite times. I had seniority, so I had first pick.”

In some respects, it’s surprising an MMA bout between the two took this long to materialize.

They’ve clearly headed toward it by becoming elite fighters for more than a decade. The 34-year-old Nelson graduated from Cimarron-Memorial High in 1994, four years before the 31-year-old Mir got his diploma from Bonanza High in 1998.

It didn’t take long for either to go after a professional fighting career. Mir first started learning jiu-jitsu in 2000 at a gym at the intersection of Valley View and Sirius. By that time, Nelson was already firmly entrenched at John Lewis’ jiu-jitsu academy across the street.

“Our paths have definitely crossed,” Nelson said. “I just did all my fighting outside of the UFC and he did it in the UFC.”

The highlight of Nelson’s career before breaking into the UFC by winning the 10th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” was capturing the International Fight League heavyweight belt. Mir has held both the UFC heavyweight championship and interim heavyweight title.

Though separate organizations kept Mir and Nelson from encountering each other in a cage, they did face off in a grappling competition. A nine-minute video that has more than 400,000 views on YouTube shows Nelson beating Mir in a 2003 Grapplers Quest tournament.

Nelson said because it was a different sport, the win would have no effect on their fight Saturday. Mir agreed, but did learn one thing from revisiting the experience.

“I’ve got to show up in better shape,” Mir said. “If you watch the grappling match, I went out there and actually threw him and was on top. He escaped a submission attempt and got up to his feet. At that point, you can see, I put my hands on my knees and that was all I had in me.”

Their upcoming fight has split the Las Vegas MMA community. Most people heavily involved with the sport locally are friends of both Mir and Nelson as the two are part of the same social circles.

For example, one of Nelson’s current corner men was the best man in Mir’s wedding. T.J. Lavin, a BMX pro and television personality who trains in MMA, has known both of them for more than five years.

“I don’t think they are thinking like it’s a battle for Las Vegas at all,” Lavin said. “I think they both want to go out and put the fight of the night on. That’s what I want to see from both of them.”

Neither Mir nor Nelson wants to be known as the second-best heavyweight in town, but that’s as far as they’ll go. Mir said he would take some pride in knowing he was the best in his hometown, but those feelings would fade away after a day or two.

“Bragging rights don’t really matter to me,” Nelson said. “If you’ve got to brag to let people know you’re cool, that’s not for me.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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