September 19, 2010

by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com Short notice fights and short notice opponent changes are just part of the game when you sign up to compete in mixed martial arts.

Looking to bounce back from a loss to Shane Carwin in March, former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir was matched up with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a fighter he had finished just three fights ago. An injury put Nogueira on the sidelines, and in stepped former Pride Grand Prix champion Mirko CroCop.

Stylistically, CroCop is almost the complete opposite of Nogueira, but to hear Mir tell the story he knows that there wasn’t much he could do to top his last performance against the Brazilian, and anything less may have been perceived as him losing a step.

“The Nogueira fight I was very motivated for also just for the reason being some of the things that was said afterwards with his staph infection and (the) injury or whatever was a lot of excuse for why the fight you know, took place the way it took place,” said Mir recently.

“That in itself gave me motivation to do so to engage Nogueira. But it’s still just something we’ve already done. And in the back of my mind I kind of knew it was like well, if I go there and I don’t knock him down four times in seven minutes let’s say we go out there and I beat him soundly but I win on a decision people are going to always see you slipping.”

Instead of the rematch with Nogueira, he gets Mirko CroCop. Known as one of the deadliest strikers in MMA history, Mir knows he has to be on top of his game because one wrong move could cost him the fight.

“With Cro Cop it’s like wow, this is a fresh new slate for somebody who possesses his own dangers and the ability to you know, that’s always intrigued me to the idea that if I make one mistake the fight could end,” Mir stated.

“I can go out there if (I’m) beating Mirko for fourteen minutes and 59 seconds, and if I drop my hands for a second or I make a mistake and he puts his shin across my liver and I take a knee and the fight is over with one maneuver. That is intriguing to me. You have to not make a mistake.”

Mir is also realistic where he stands in the heavyweight division and what a win over either Nogueria or CroCop would mean for his career. Losing two fights in a row is extremely hard to bounce back from in the UFC and get back into title contention with any ease, whereas a win erases some of the memory of that loss and gives everyone a fresh image to remember.

A vision of victory.

“I still think that I’m still, I’m building up,” Mir commented about his place in the heavyweight division currently. “I think that a win over Mirko is a very – would be a very high profile and noticeable win, but as far as moving me up, I still think that Cain Velasquez is obviously is up to the top of the list, having the first match up with Brock.

“I think that Junior dos Santos is heavy on their heels, and then I think the rest of the heavyweights are going to fall around that middle area. I think I’d put myself in that area.”

Being in the middle isn’t a new place for Mir to visit, but not a home he likes to stay at for very long. When Mir recovered from a motorcycle accident a few years ago, his comeback was stalled with lackluster performances and an uneasy time in the Octagon with a few opponents.

Bouncing back from that, Mir was able to hand Brock Lesnar his only career defeat, pick up the UFC heavyweight title, and place himself back among the elite big men in the sport. Trying to avoid that middle area for very long, he knows that Mirko CroCop is the test standing in front of him, and one he has to pass.

During his rebirth in the sport since that motorcycle accident, Mir has become an even bigger student of the game, and that’s given him the comfort to switch opponents just weeks out from the fight. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s looking to trade kicks with CroCop though.

“If Mirko has his choice he’s going to want to keep the fight on his feet and exchange strikes there more so than to try to engage with a submission fight with me.” Mir said.

“I feel comfortable in all aspects of the arena of fighting right now. As far as comfortable to where I’m relaxed enough to allow him to fire off one of those kicks at my body or my head, no, no, no. A healthy sense of fear is always what keeps you sharp.”

Frank Mir will face Mirko CroCop in the main event of UFC 119 in Indianapolis this Saturday night.