The UFC has officially stripped Frank Mir of the UFC Heavyweight Title, nearly 14 months after his last fight. As is always the case when there is an “Interim Champion” in boxing or MMA, the Interim Champion becomes the full-fledged champion if the previous champion is stripped of the belt. As a result, the up-until-now Interim Champion Andrei Arlovski is now the Undisputed UFC Heavyweight Champion.
While Interim Champions are a common occurrence in boxing, their history in MMA is much more limited. When Tito Ortiz refused to fight No. 1 contender Chuck Liddell in 2003 (instead demanding a $1.1 million contract), the UFC created an Interim Title, which would be awarded to the winner of the fight between Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell at UFC 43. When Couture won that fight, he became the Interim Champion, and Ortiz re-signed with the UFC shortly thereafter. Ortiz then face Couture to unify the belts, and Couture became the Undisputed Champion when he won that fight.
In a different situation that also created the need for an Interim Champion in 2003, Fedor Emelianenko was unable to fight in Pride’s desired timeframe due to injury, so an “Interim Title” was created and put up for grabs in a fight between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop. Nogueira won the fight by submission and became the Interim Champion. In 2004, the 16-man Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix ended with Nogueira and Emelianenko fighting to a no-contest in the finals of the tournament, due to a massive cut on Emelianenko’s head. Both the normal championship and the interim title were put on the line on December 31, 2004 in a fight that Emelianenko won by unanimous decision, making him the Undisputed Pride Heavyweight Champion once again.
Unlike Tito Ortiz or Fedor Emelianenko, Frank Mir’s story does not involve a hold-out or a training injury. Mir was last seen in the Octagon in June 2004, when he became the UFC Heavyweight Champion by breaking Tim Sylvia’s arm and winning the fight by referee’s stoppage.
In September 2004, Mir was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. The specifics of the accident are that an elderly driver ran a stop sign and rammed into the side of Frank Mir’s motorcycle, with the impact of the collision striking Mir’s leg. The force of the collision threw Mir a great distance in the air, to the point that he is very lucky to have not been killed in the accident. Mir escaped the accident with his life, but he suffered numerous injuries, the most serious of which was a badly broken leg.
It was expected that Mir would be out of action for approximately 12 months. The UFC chose to create an Interim Heavyweight Title, which Andrei Arlovski won in February of 2005 and successfully defended in June of 2005. Mir had initially gotten back into training sooner than expected and was hoping to be ready for a summer 2005 return, but that was an unrealistic timetable, and his unification fight with Arlovski was delayed until October 2005.
Normally, a UFC champion is stripped of his title if he goes an entire year without defending the title. The UFC waived this rule for Tito Ortiz when he went 14 months between title defenses in 2001-2002, and the UFC also waived this rule for Frank Mir by not stripping him of the title this past June when the one-year mark had passed since his last fight.
At some point in the past several months, Mir began working once again as a security guard/bouncer at the Spearmint Rhino, which is a strip club in Las Vegas. Also, the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer cited sources who raised serious questions about how committed Frank Mir was to training for his MMA comeback. Additionally, the nature of Mir’s leg injury was such that the leg may or may not ever be as healthy as it was before the motorcycle accident.
In the last couple of weeks, it became clear that Frank Mir would not be ready to fight in October, leaving the UFC with two choices. They could delay Andrei Arlovski’s next scheduled fight until December and plan the heavyweight division around the Mir-Arlovski fight taking place in December. Alternatively, the UFC could schedule Arlovski to fight someone else in October, and consider the possibility of stripping Mir of the Heavyweight Title.
The UFC went with Option #2, as there continue to be serious doubts about whether Mir will be ready to fight even in December, and the UFC has scheduled Andrei Arlovski vs. Paul Buentello to take place at UFC 55 on October 7. Now, instead of being for the Interim Heavyweight Title, the fight between Arlovski and Buentello will be for the full-fledged UFC Heavyweight Title, as Frank Mir has finally been stripped of the title.
The UFC’s official statement on Frank Mir reads, “We extend our admiration and respect to our former heavyweight champion Frank Mir who is still rehabilitating himself from the injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident in September 2004. We are hopeful that Frank will eventually recover from those injuries and look forward to the day he is medically cleared to return to the Octagon.”
At this point, Frank Mir remains on good terms with the UFC, but it’s not known when or if he will ever return to active fighting. Frank Mir got married last October and has a young child, and we as MMA fans should all hope that Mir has a happy life outside of MMA in the unfortunate event
that he is not able to continue in his MMA career.
If he never fights again, and that’s a big “if,” Mir’s career will go down as a great career that also had a huge amount of unrealized potential, and was cut short due to a motorcycle accident. Mir could have been (and still could be) a great ambassador for the sport, not only because he’s a heavyweight who specializes in ground-fighting, but also because he’s one of the most well-spoken fighters in the UFC.
Given how young he still is (he just turned 26 years old a few months ago), there is still plenty of hope that Mir will eventually be able to return. In the meantime, the UFC’s heavyweight division will now be built around the October 7th fight between Andrei Arlovski and Paul Buentello the Undisputed UFC Heavyweight Title.