Mir brings boxing, wrestling up to speed

It was a horrific sight.

Three weeks before the biggest fight of his career, Frank Mir stood inside a boxing ring at Striking Unlimited in Las Vegas looking like a fish out of water.

There was no pop behind his jab; by professional standards, his footwork was atrocious; and the sparring partners assigned to get him ready for a rematch with then-UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar displayed limited stand-up skills.

But what professional boxing trainer Jimmy "Giff" Gifford, who just happened to visit the gym on that hot steamy day, found most appalling was that after a round of sparring there was no water in Mir's corner.

To quench his thirst, the former champion had to step outside the ring, walk to a men's room and sip from a faucet. That was too much to bear. An angry Gifford immediately asked his close friend and fellow trainer Mark DellaGrotte to formally introduce him to Mir. DellaGrotte obliged, and Gifford quickly went to work in Mir's corner.

"I looked at Mark and I said, 'This guy is fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world and he has no water in his corner right now! Are you kidding me?'" Gifford told ESPN.com. "That stuck out with me.

"This guy had a [crappy] training camp going on. I didn't like what I'd seen. His sparring partners weren't great. The camp was kind of Mickey Mouse, if you know what I mean."

Gifford made changes right away. The first order of business was to get bottled water in Mir's corner. Gifford's girlfriend went to a nearby store and purchased several gallons. Many more changes have since followed: Mir no longer conducts prefight business at Striking Unlimited. He now has his own gym -- Suffer Training Center in Las Vegas, where Gifford imports top-level boxers. Recently WBC/WBO bantamweight titleholder Nonito Donaire spent time at Mir's gym. The two have worked together and Donaire has offered Mir several pointers.

Mir now has a full-fledged professional camp.

Gifford didn't have enough time to get Mir fully ready for that fight with Lesnar, who retained his title with a second-round stoppage at UFC 100. But Mir refused to let that defeat discourage him. Mir, who turned 32 on Tuesday, doesn't get discouraged easily. It's what sets him apart from many mixed martial artists.

He worked diligently to improve his boxing skills, and that dedication paid off in his next fight when an overhand left from the southpaw send dangerous striker Cheick Kongo to the canvas, where Mir -- possibly the best heavyweight jiu-jitsu practitioner in MMA -- applied a guillotine to finish the bout.

"He is one of the few mixed martial artists who was around 10 years ago to evolve with the sport," Gifford said. "That's one of the great things about Frank; he takes his weakness and it becomes an obsession, whether it's been his boxing -- which has come a long way -- or now, [where] lately it has been his wrestling after the loss to Shane Carwin.

"He is always willing to work on improving his all-around game, whether it's his boxing or his wrestling, which were two of his weaknesses. But now in the stand-up game, I like my guy against any heavyweight in UFC. That's a testament to how hard he's worked and how far he's come."

It's the improvements in these areas that have both Gifford and Mir (14-5-0) expecting an impressive victory Saturday night against Roy Nelson at UFC 130.

Nelson is no one's pushover -- especially standing, where his looping overhand rights can put any heavyweight to sleep. But Gifford is confident that Nelson's bread-and-butter punch will work to his detriment at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

"Throwing those overhand rights -- we're going to beat him to the punch and nail him with a left hand," Gifford said, "or he's going to miss it so badly that he's going to get hit with an uppercut or a knee.

"You can bank on that; within the first 20 seconds of this fight, there are going to be fireworks, and we're going to initiate those fireworks."

To ignite those fireworks, Mir will have to put his friendship with Nelson aside for 15 minutes. They've trained at the same gyms and their wives know one another; there is no hostile blood between them.

Despite it all, each man says he plans to suppress his feelings and dish out punishment.

"At first, I kind of struggled with it a little bit mentally," Mir said during a recent conference call. "But Giffy and I were talking about it, and honestly, I'm sure Roy is in training hitting more people than he does in fights."

Nelson (15-5-0) countered: "We get paid to win, so you put your family before all your other friends. If you're going to derail your friends, it has to be at your family's cost."

Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.