Frank Mir, Fedor Emelianenko and a true legacy fight

LAS VEGAS -- It's a Tuesday evening at Drysdale Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, one week before he's scheduled to fly to Chicago for Bellator 198, and Frank Mir's back is acting up.

Nothing serious, but it's enough to call practice early. Play it safe. These are the final preparations for Mir's upcoming fight against Fedor Emelianenko in Rosemont, Illinois, and there's no sense risking injury this close to the bout.

And if Mir's being honest, the last 20 minutes of a practice in 2018? He'll be well-prepared without them. In fact, Mir has been prepared to beat this guy for a while.

Saturday's Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix matchup between Mir (18-11) and Emelianenko (36-5) is a long time coming. Both were champions of their respective promotions in 2004 -- Mir with the UFC, Emelianenko with Pride Fighting Championship. A cross-promotional fight between them would have been massive at the time, but it never came to fruition.

On booking this historical matchup in the first round of the Grand Prix, Bellator president Scott Coker said, "I've learned in this business, you put the fights together when they're there, and this was a fight to make."

One of the great rivalries in MMA history is UFC versus Pride. Historically, Mir has had some success in that debate, as he defeated Pride legends Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira after they transitioned into the UFC.

But the Emelianenko fight has always eluded Mir, until now. And even though Pride is long gone, and this fight will take place under the Bellator banner, Mir remembers the old rivalry.

"It's an argument for old-school fighters, whether UFC or Pride was No. 1," Mir told ESPN. "I've gotten to prove my side of it many times, and this will be another guy on that list. Fedor was No. 1. I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it all the time."

This fight -- as well as this tournament -- might have been the best thing that could have happened to Mir as he approaches his 39th birthday.

Saturday will mark his first appearance since March 2016. He served a two-year suspension for testing positive for a banned substance under the UFC's anti-doping program. Mir still maintains he has no idea how the substance entered his system. It eventually led to him securing a release from the UFC and signing with Bellator.

The layoff was difficult for Mir and his family. He admits dealing with depression, and he found out he is apparently an "emotional eater." His weight wandered north of 300 pounds.

"My family wants to take a trip to Disneyland -- when I was fighting, I didn't think about it," Mir said. "We just planned the trip. All of a sudden it was like, 'Well, that's not happening.' I had two homes when the suspension began, and we consolidated into the first house I bought. There were a lot of things that came to a halt.

"This camp was fresh because it was taken away from me. I very much enjoyed living the lifestyle of a fighter again. It makes it easier to go to the gym."

When asked what he's looking to gain out of whatever's left of his career, Mir shrugs and says it's the same it has always been. He wants to compete, and make a living do it.

But even though it's 2018 and neither fighter is in the prime of his career, perhaps this matchup can still have a significant effect on how each is remembered. It won't determine the greatest heavyweight in the world right now, but it might impact an old debate about the greatest of all time.

"It's hard to say Frank is not one of the greatest of all time and I'm puzzled why he doesn't get that more," said Mir's coach, Angelo Reyes. "When they talk about Fedor, they say, 'Oh, he's the greatest of all time,' but Frank revolutionized the game. When you talk about heavyweight submissions, you can't not say Frank Mir.

"The biggest validation would be for Frank to win this fight, run the table and win a title with a second organization. You can't say he's not the greatest heavyweight of all time then."