UFC 169 will be marked by two title fights at the top of the card, but it’s the third pay-per-view bout that is a defining one in terms of MMA heavyweight folklore.
Frank Mir, the former UFC heavyweight champion, is taking on Alistair Overeem, the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion. Both men are veterans, but after similar career paths in different organizations for more than a decade, they will finally meet inside the UFC Octagon.
Mir entered the Octagon in November 2001 with a 2-0 record when he faced 6-1 Roberto Traven. Mir sunk in an armbar in the first round, resulting in a submission win and the start of Mir’s 13-year UFC career.
After another victory over Team Lion’s Den veteran Pete Williams, Mir faced the toughest test to date in his burgeoning career against Ian Freeman. Mir gained three submission attempts through the four-minute mark of the fight, but Freeman gained side control and controversially stopped Mir when the referee deemed Mir unable to continue after he was unable to stand up after a timeout.
Mir got back on track in 2003-2004 with one win against David Abbott and two against Wes Sims to set up a UFC heavyweight title fight against then-18-0 Tim Sylvia. While Sylvia was expected to keep the fight standing, he gained the only takedown of the fight. While in bottom position, Mir locked in an armbar, forcing a submission victory at 50 seconds when Sylvia’s arm broke in four different places. Mir became the UFC heavyweight champion and was expected to have a lengthy title run.
But in September 2004, Mir suffered a broken femur and tore all of the ligaments in his knee in a motorcycle accident. His career was put on hold, and he was forced to vacate the title. Mir made his return in February 2006 but suffered losses in two of three fights, forcing many to question if his best days were behind him.
Those notions were quickly dispelled in 2007 when Mir submitted Antoni Hardonk with a kimura 77 seconds into their UFC 74 fight. That set up a fight with Brock Lesnar at UFC 81, a battle between the wrestler Lesnar and the submission fighter Mir. Lesnar controlled the early minutes of the fight with a takedown and a number of hammer punches. Again, Mir used his superior jiu-jitsu skills to trap Lesnar in a kneebar, as the former NCAA champion tried to escape to a standup position. Lesnar was forced to tap 1:30 into the round, giving Mir the victory that validated his return.
Nine months later, Mir received a shot at the UFC interim heavyweight title in a fight against former Pride heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92. The two coached against one another on Season 8 of "The Ultimate Fighter" and now Mir looked to become champion again. Mir showed improved striking skills, landing 37 significant strikes (second most in his career at the time of the fight) and a career-high three knockdowns en route to a second-round TKO. Mir’s victory was just the second time in his career he had won a fight by KO or TKO. It led to a rematch with Lesnar at UFC 100, this time for the undisputed UFC heavyweight title.
Lesnar-Mir 2 was the main event of UFC 100. This time, the fight was all Lesnar, as he outstruck Mir 47-4 in significant strikes and finished Mir against the cage for the TKO victory.
Mir returned shortly after with a win over Cheick Kongo at UFC 107. This set up another UFC interim title fight, this time against Shane Carwin at UFC 111, as an ill-struck Lesnar was forced to the sidelines.
Mir was slow out of the fences and again found his back against the cage. He was outstruck by Carwin 49-3 and was knocked out 3:48 into the opening round.
At this point, Mir once again found himself in no-man’s-land: good enough to earn a title shot, but not quite good enough to topple the big guns of the heavyweight division.
Still, he managed to put together a string of wins. He scored a KO victory over Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic at UFC 119 and a unanimous decision against Roy Nelson at UFC 130 before a rematch with Nogueira.
Nogueira earned a knockdown early in the first round of their UFC 140 bout, but Mir battled back to secure a kimura, breaking Nogueira’s arm. The Brazilian did not tap, but the broken arm forced the stoppage at 3:38 of Round 1. Mir became the first man to submit Nogueira, and Mir had his first three-fight win streak since 2008 -- the previous time he defeated Nogueira.
Mir appeared on the cusp of another run at the title, but he has since suffered a career-high three consecutive losses to Junior dos Santos, Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett. Two of those losses have come by way of KO or TKO.
On Saturday, Mir steps into the Octagon with Overeem, a man with 15 KO and TKO wins in his career. Mir needs to avoid a fourth defeat and possibly another knockout, or it could mean the end of his illustrious career.
He has said on several occasions he is interested in pursuing a postfight career as an MMA commentator.
Two things are clear about Mir through the ups and downs in his 22-fight UFC career: He always comes ready to fight, and he has the ability to bounce back just when most are counting him out.
Statistical support from FightMetric.