TORONTO -- If his previous two wins didn’t signal his seriousness about contending for the heavyweight title again, Frank Mir’s victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira should do the trick.
Mir took on a revitalized Nogueira in the co-main event of UFC 140 and became the first fighter to submit the former Pride champion in 41 professional bouts. It wasn’t so much the novel feat that stood out in the end, but rather the devastating way in which he did it. The 260-pound Mir overcame some early damage from the crisp-striking “Minotauro” and latched on to a Kimura that ultimately left Nog's arm in shambles. There was no official word on the severity of the shoulder/elbow injury, but it had a mission-like feel for a guy who needed a good showing to make a leap back into the title picture.
If any of this seemed familiar, it’s because Mir broke Tim Sylvia’s arm at UFC 48 in 2004 for the vacant heavyweight belt. Familiar, too, because he beat Nogueira back at UFC 92 in 2008 -- a victory that was met with a hung jury after revelations of a staph infection were thought to have tainted Nogueira’s effectiveness.
Well, Mir can close the book on the Nogueira chapter of his life and wait to see how the title picture plays out.
“As far as tonight, I came out feeling a little too much trying to look at what Nogueira was going to do, seeing what his game plan was and being too reactionary,” Mir said at the postfight news conference. “When he caught me with the right hand, at that point it turned into a war, and I just started moving, and he tried to do jiu-jitsu for jiu-jitsu with me.”
This time, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Mir capitalized on a mistake by Nogueira and didn’t stop until he felt the pop, as Big Nog refused to tap. It was a moment that made for a collective wince among the 18,303 people at the Air Canada Centre, as Nogueira’s arm lay next to him, disfigured on the canvas. Afterward, Dana White called it the submission of the year, and Mir earned $75,000. With the emphatic finish to his third win in a row, Mir is one step closer to a title bid.
“The guys I train with are pretty good -- Ricky Lundell, Mike Whitehead, Robert Drysdale,” Mir said. “When [Nogueira] finally peeled back from the guillotine, I was able to end up on top and went for the Kimura ... I’d seen that move before with Antoni Hardonk [at UFC 74].”
If it is the last fight for Nogueira, it was a sour note to go out on after upsetting Brendan Schaub at UFC 134 in August in Rio de Janeiro. Nogueira looked good early, throwing the jab effectively and eventually stunning Mir with a big right. But he got caught as he forewent the ground-and-pound that looked like it could end the fight and instead found himself fending off a Kimura. It was his undoing.
Yet it was a timely victory for Mir. After two decisive yet lackluster wins over Mirko Filipovic and Roy Nelson, he hadn’t made much headway in his quest to reclaim the title. That changed in Toronto, as he put an exclamation mark on his winning streak by breaking yet another opponent’s arm.
“The only difference [from the Hardonk fight] was when I locked up Nogueira, I had a strong inclination he was not going to tap,” he said. “So I took a deep breath, and, well, you guys saw what happened.”
We did, and it’s an image that will stay with us for a long time. The question now is, what happens next?