by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Some professional athletes never fully recover from a devastating injury. Others can’t seem to get back to their previous form after a great loss. Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir will have to do both of these things on Saturday night when he faces off with Dan Christison at UFC 61.

When Frank Mir debuted in the UFC, he surprised many people who had never heard of him when he defeated Abu Dhabi submission grappling champion Roberto Traven with an armbar submission. It was only Mir’s third professional MMA fight.

Mir continued to make waves, as he made short work of Ken Shamrock student Pete Williams in his second UFC fight. Mir’s confidence started to show right away, and his brash attitude got a harsh reaction from many fans. When he traveled to England for UFC 38 and lost to brawler Ian Freeman, it looked like he may have received a necessary reality check in his still flourishing career.

It was Mir’s fight against the returning Tank Abbott in February 2003 that helped to catapult him to star status. Prior to the bout, it looked as if the UFC was hoping to feed Mir to the lions, so to speak, and let him get pounded by the original bad boy of the Octagon so that they could hype Tank’s comeback even more than they already were. Fortunately for Mir, he actually trains in mixed martial arts and was able to submit Tank in under a minute, thus putting his own name in the spotlight instead of Abbott’s.

After a couple of interesting bouts with Wes Sims, both of which were won by Mir, it looked like he was finally ready to climb to the top of the UFC’s heavyweight mountain when he took on Tim Sylvia for the title in June 2004.

Almost immediately after the fight went to the ground, Mir secured an armbar that broke Sylvia’s arm in two places, causing referee Herb Dean to stop the fight and making Mir the new UFC Heavyweight Champion. With his charismatic style and look, Mir seemed to be the heavyweight star that the UFC had long sought. Unfortunately, a motorcycle accident a few months later would end Mir’s run as champion before he could ever defend the title, and would almost put him out of the sport forever.

During Mir’s absence, the top contender for Mir’s title, Andrei Arlovski, ascended the ranks of the UFC as its new Heavyweight Champion and started to tear through competitors, just waiting for the Las Vegas native to return to action. After months of injury rehabilitation and speculation that he might not return at all, Mir finally made his return to the Octagon at UFC 57 this past February.

Frank Mir set foot in the Octagon for the first time in over 19 months, as another grappling practitioner, Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz, stood across from him, ready to welcome him back to action.

The return was very anti-climactic and disappointing to anyone who was hoping for Mir to win quickly and impressively, as he seemingly always did prior to his injury. Cruz stopped Mir’s triumphant return at 4:10 of the first round by referee stoppage when Mir was no longer able to intelligently defend himself due to a very nasty cut and an accumulation of punches on the ground from Cruz.

Mir was bloodied and looked out of place, something fans hadn’t seen from him since his loss to Ian Freeman almost four years earlier. Mir looked almost too bulked up, as it seemed that he took his injury rehab time to build up in the gym. While it wasn’t expected that he would come back at 100% of his former self after such a lengthy lay-off, he just didn’t look the same at all in his battle with Cruz.

Now Frank Mir will step back into the Octagon for another shot at redemption, taking on Dan Christison at UFC 61. No one from the UFC has even hinted at the possibility that this is a make or break match for Mir, if for no other reason because the UFC is still short on great heavyweights.

At only 26 years of age, Mir still has a long time to go in this sport, but fans’ memories are short these days, and the images of Mir snapping Tim Sylvia’s arm might have disappeared when Sylvia knocked out Andrei Arlovski to take back the title. Stepping into this fight, Mir is the clear favorite, fighting again in front of his hometown crowd against an opponent who is relatively unknown outside of his time spent on The Ultimate Fighter 2.

What Mir has to know in the back of his mind is that this may very well be his best and only shot to get back into the title picture. If he’s able to go out and look as dominant as he did before his motorcycle accident, a title fight involving Frank Mir could be the next big ticket in the heavyweight division.

It has been stated before that the heavyweight pool of fighters is pretty shallow in the UFC these days, and Mir could potentially be matched up against the winner of Sylvia vs. Arlovski III. However, Jeff Monson might have something to say about that since he beat Cruz a few months after Mir lost to Cruz

Regardless of who wins between Sylvia and Arlovski, Mir would still in a great position to get a title shot pretty quickly if he’s able to pull out a victory against Dan Christison at UFC 61. Sylvia vs. Mir could happen as a big rematch, or Arlovski vs. Mir could happen since Arlovski has wanted to fight Mir for the past two years. But will Mir be able to look strictly at his opponent across the cage on Saturday night and not focus prematurely on a showdown with Sylvia or Arlovski?

To his credit, Dan Christison has nothing to lose and everything to gain in this fight, and he has a great training team headed by MMA guru Greg Jackson. Not a rookie by any means, Christison holds wins over such fighters as Ben Rothwell and Jimmy Ambriz, as well as his most recent victory over TUF 2 heavyweight finalist Brad Imes on the Ultimate Fight Night undercard in April.

At 6’8″, Christison will have a definitive height advantage, and with the majority of his professional wins coming by submission, he is formidable on the ground.

Frank Mir has to look at this fight with “crisis mode” in the back of his mind because a loss could send him packing if he’s not careful, while a dominant performance could easily carry him back to main event status.

The fact that Zuffa put Frank Mir is on the main card of UFC 61, while putting Jeff Monson is in a prelim fight, says a lot about who might get the next title shot, but all of that will be a moot point if Mir doesn’t win his fight against Dan Christison.

On Saturday night, we’ll find out if Frank Mir is truly back, or if he’s on his way back to the drawing board.