Frank Mir: Last of a Dying Breed

The date was November 22, 2001 and the event was UFC 34 in Las Vegas.

This marked just a few events into the new regime of ownership for the UFC under the leadership of the Fertitta brothers and one time MMA manager Dana White, as they looked to right the ship of a once thriving fight company that had fallen on harder times of late.

The main event that night was a heavyweight title rematch between future Hall of Famer Randy Couture and early UFC mainstay Pedro Rizzo.

There were two more heavyweight bouts also on the main card that night including future UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez against Pete Williams, as well as Josh Barnett who faced Bobby Hoffman.

What may be most notable about that card however was the first fight of the night that kicked off the entire card and that was the debut of a brash young submission specialist named Frank Mir.

He took on fellow Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Roberto Traven, and Mir impressed everybody that night with a quick armbar submission to win in his debut and start the journey on career that would last more than 10 years with the company.

Mir points to his age as a major factor in the reason behind why he’s been around the UFC so long.

“My first fight in the UFC I was like 22 years old,” Mir told MMAWeekly Radio. “There’s not a lot of heavyweights right now that are in the UFC that are 22 years of age. I think being 32, I’m more on the average side as far as age group for heavyweights, I just got into it so early.”

On Saturday night May 26, Mir will battle for the UFC heavyweight title against current champion Junior Dos Santos with a chance to add another championship belt to his resume, but what may be most impressive about this feat is the fact that the Las Vegas based heavyweight is even in this fight to begin with.

Now you might be thinking that is in reference to Mir’s tragic 2004 motorcycle accident that claimed more than a year of his career, and almost took away his ability to fight all together but you’d be wrong.

See, Frank Mir fighting for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 146 is special for a multitude of reasons, but maybe none more than the fact that he is the last of the heavyweights from an earlier era where the big men ruled the Octagon, and he’s still at the top of the weight class today.

Longevity isn’t something that happens very often in MMA, and maybe even less in the heavyweight division.

When Mir started fighting for the UFC in 2001, Randy Couture was champion and as previously mentioned he defended his belt on the same card where Mir first started with the company.

From Couture the title bounced to Josh Barnett (who was stripped of the belt after testing positive for a banned substance following his championship win) then to Ricco Rodriguez who was then defeated by Tim Sylvia for the strap. Mir won the first of his UFC heavyweight titles by snapping Sylvia’s arm in 2004 before suffering the injuries in the motorcycle crash that nearly claimed his life and his career.

While the heavyweight division has always remained one of the most popular weight classes in all of MMA, it’s never been the most flush with talent so in many of the UFC cards between 2001 and 2004 you’d see many of the same names pop up numerous times.

Here are a list of heavyweights that competed in the UFC between Mir’s debut and his first championship run in 2004: Randy Couture, Pedro Rizzo, Josh Barnett, Bobby Hoffman, Ricco Rodriguez, Pete Williams, Jeff Monson, Andrei Arlovski, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Ian Freeman, Tim Sylvia, Wesley ‘Cabbage’ Correira, Gan McGee, Vladdy Matyushenko, Travis Wiuff, Alexandre Dantas, Tank Abbott, Sean Alvarez, Tra Telligman, Wes Sims, Vernon White, Kimo Leopoldo, Jonathan Wiezorek, Wade Shipp, Mike Kyle, and Ken Shamrock.

If there’s one glaring thing to notice about this list it’s the fact that not one of them outside of Frank Mir is still competing in the UFC’s heavyweight division currently.

Even when looking at the famous heavyweight division of Pride Fighting Championships during the same 3 year span only Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mark Hunt (Hunt technically debuted in Pride one day after Mir won his belt) remain as fighters actively competing in the UFC who performed on those shows between 2001-2004 when Mir debuted and won his first title.

Now of course there’s something to be said for the talent level of those days versus the talent level now, but the fact is Mir was able to change his game, improve on things he lacked back then and adapt. While this list focuses on the heavyweights, there are very few fighters from those years that are still in the UFC at any weight class so the ones that remain have to be looked at as something special.

Mir recognizes that he really is the last of a dying breed of heavyweight fighter that continues to perform at a high level more than 10 years after their debut.

“I was able to avoid getting burned out because of my ability to adapt and look at things, and keep me humble and look at film and go ‘oh, I need to improve this’ and I’ve always strived to improve,” said Mir.

“That’s why I don’t have the same coaches that I had 10 years ago. As coaches I’ve worked with and developed and I outgrew them, I went and searched and found where I could find better training at.”

The plan for Mir has worked pretty well considering how he’s always been hovering around the UFC heavyweight title for much of the last decade, something virtually no other fighter in any other weight class can claim.

Of course longevity doesn’t guarantee success, but it does show the type of talent and hard work that’s made Frank Mir one of the best heavyweights this sport has ever seen.

Follow @DamonMartin on Twitter or e-mail Damon Martin.
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