Mir: Better to know your enemy

NEIL SPRINGER, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:29 PM ET

TORONTO - It wasn’t too long ago the UFC heavyweight division was as deep as a kiddie pool.

Around the same time Antonio Rodrigo (Minotauro) Nogueira was battling Mirko (Cro Cop) Filipovic for the PRIDE interim heavyweight belt in Japan, the best title fight the UFC could put together was Tim Sylvia against Gan McGee.

No one knows this better than Frank Mir, who is the only heavyweight on the current roster that competed back in the UFC division’s darker days.

“The one thing is, back in the day, the fights got spread out a little bit further because there weren’t as many guys to get matched up against,” Mir said at a UFC press conference in Las Vegas Tuesday.

“Any time you try to make a run towards the title, the worst thing in the world is getting an opponent that when you tell people you’re fighting him, they ask who that is. At least now we don’t have that issue. Almost everybody in the top 10 of the UFC is a household name and recognizable.

“It makes it much more pleasurable to train and fight because there’s always a risk when you walk into the octagon. I’d rather take that risk against a guy that’s considered dangerous than take a risk against a guy who’s an unknown.”

Mir gets another big name next, as he’s set to meet former champ Cain Velasquez in a No. 1 contender fight at UFC 146 in Las Vegas, May 26. The bout is part of an all-heavyweight main card, a first in UFC history. The event will be headlined by a title scrap that will see Junior dos Santos defend the belt against Alistair Overeem.

Mir knows he has his work cut out for him if he wants another shot at the gold. The two-time UFC champion’s only recent losses were to powerful wrestlers — Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin. A former NCAA Division I wrestler, Velasquez’s style could certainly give Mir fits.

“I think wrestling is a huge factor in all the fights,” Mir said. “Typically the guys who are good at wrestling get to decide where the fight goes — whether it’s standing or on the ground. I just hope to make it so both of those aren’t viable choices.

“It concerns me greatly. Wrestling is one of the styles I have a hard time with. It’s always going to be an issue and is something for me to constantly improve on in the gym.”

Previously undefeated, Velasquez’s most recent outing only lasted 64 seconds, as he fell victim to a brutal knockout at the hands of dos Santos in November. The sole blemish on his MMA career cost him the heavyweight championship.

But Velasquez has tasted defeat before on the amateur-wrestling circuit. He said there’s no point stewing over a defeat.

“In wrestling, like MMA, you get a loss and it’s not the end of the world,” Velasquez said. “You have to come back stronger, healthy and just see what you did wrong. You have to learn from your mistakes. That’s all you can do. You can’t dwell on what you did wrong. You just kind of move on forward and try to get better.

“(I learned) to implement the game plan sooner. I kind of hesitated on that and Junior just capitalized on it.”

UFC 146 has the makings of a great showcase for the heavyweight division, but things didn’t just change over night. The death of PRIDE in 2007 and the recent acquisition of rival promotion Strikeforce have helped make it what it is today.

UFC president Dana White feels his current roster stacks up with PRIDE’s legendary weight class.

“Their heavyweight division was awesome,” White said. “That’s where a lot of legends were built over there. I think that’s where our heavyweight division is finally getting. The division’s been great and stacked for a few years now.

“No doubt this is the strongest it’s ever been. There are so many great fighters now in the heavyweight division and a lot of great fights to be made.”

Though the big boys have always been a staple of combat sports, the UFC has managed to thrive off lower weight classes over the years. It wasn’t until Lesnar joined the roster that the heavyweights starting pulling some of the promotion’s largest pay-per-view buyrates.

But at the same time, no matter how good the fights are in the lower weight classes, fight fans always want to see a top-notch heavyweight tilt.

“I think it works in the sense that you see a 135-pound fighter fighting and he could be the baddest dude at 135 pounds,” Mir began. “But I think a lot of people, when they’re watching the fights, in the back of their mind they kind of feel like,’ Yeah, but I’m 220. Even though I don’t fight, I could probably kick his ass.’

“We’re the heavyweights. If you’re thinking that, you’re stupid.”

THE HEADLINERS

UFC 146 will mark the promotion’s first-ever all-heavyweight main card.

Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem

Cain Velasquez vs. Frank Mir

Roy Nelson vs. Antonio Silva

Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Shane del Rosario

Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve


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