Former UFC champ Frank Mir was once sitting atop the heavyweight division before a motorcycle accident nearly ended his career. His road back has been a rocky one. A couple tough losses had him questioning his decision to keep fighting, but he has since rededicated himself to the sport and has found new life after a high-profile victory over Brock Lesnar.
Now he’s coaching opposite Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in season eight of “The Ultimate Fighter,” premiering Wednesday night on Spike TV. In this exclusive interview with CagePotato.com, Mir talks about his impending fight with Nogueira, Randy Couture‘s return, and just how much he hates cardio training.
CagePotato.com: Frank, we’ve heard past coaches say they don’t like how long the show keeps them out of action, how they’re fighters and not coaches. What was your experience like coaching “The Ultimate Fighter?”
I found it quite enjoyable. I really didn’t think it was all that difficult to be honest with you. Obviously nothing’s easy in the fight game, but it wasn’t like I resented the position at all. It opened my eyes up to a lot of new things as a fighter, seeing other people and how they react to different situations, how they deal with things, and helped me understand how to help them out by thinking about what I would need in that situation. It was kind of nice to jump back that way because it gave me a better understanding of myself.
What does it do to your climactic fight with Nogueira now that Randy Couture is back in the UFC and they’re hyping his match with Brock Lesnar, a man you beat, for the heavyweight title?
I definitely think it takes some of the wind out of the sails. That’s for sure. But I love the fact that Randy’s back. I think he’s a great representative of the sport and I thought it was a travesty that he might have ended his career in a courtroom.
The fact that he’s back, I think that’s great. I’m not upset with that at all, but I think that Nogueira obviously should have been his first fight back, since he’s holding the interim belt. But since Nogueira and I are already slated to fight each other I thought that with him coming back he would wait to fight the winner of Nogueira and myself. I think that would have worked out perfectly. But with contract negotiations and all that I don’t know what the deal was.
The only thing I’m at odds with is that he’s fighting a month before Nogueira and I fight, and that brings up the question of what we’re fighting for. Now he’s fighting Lesnar and he’s getting a shot at the heavyweight title while I’m getting a shot at the interim title. Since I just beat Lesnar, that’s kind of interesting.
Interesting is one word for it. Obviously you’re focused on fighting Nogueira now, so how do you think you stack up against him? What do you do better than him?
I think basically we’re the same. It’s really difficult to say if there’s anything I do really better than Nogueira. I think it’s in the details. I’m a much more explosive athlete. When I submit people, I kind of explode for the submission and take people out more. Nogueira will kind of grapevine you up and all of a sudden you’re trapped and the submission comes slowly as the doors close in on you.
His endurance has been shown to look better than mine has in the past, so that’s one area I think he’ll try and capitalize on. I think he’ll try and wear me out and stay out of trouble and then once I’m tired try to submit me. If I was Nogueira, that’s what I’d be looking for. But knowing that’s what he’s looking for, that’s what I’m preparing for. There’s not going to be a moment in the fourth or fifth round where I’m defenseless due to a lack of conditioning.
I read the Real Fighter cover story on you where you said you’d rather get beaten with baseball bats than run a mile. Do you really hate conditioning that much?
Yeah, I think straight conditioning I hate, but I’ve figured out a way to overcome that. I don’t like to get on a treadmill and just run, but I love fighting. I would much rather jump in and spar six different, fresh guys until I can’t go anymore and really push myself to the limit. It’s hard cardio, but it’s doing something I enjoy doing.
I’m also the last person to volunteer to get up early on a Saturday morning and go down to a track and run laps, but I know I need to run so instead me and the other fighters get together and play flag football. So I’m running sprints up and down the field, everybody’s gassed out, and for about an hour and a half we’re doing cardio but at the same time I’m entertaining myself. I think every fighter has to do that as he gets older, learning, these are my strengths and these are my weaknesses.
I also read that you went through some tough moments after some of those losses where you thought about retiring and your wife talked you out of it. How did you get through those dark moments to get to where you are now?
I contribute it to my wife. I told her that she was going to be the offensive lineman in my career. I’m not going to gain a single yard without her, but at the end of the day I’m the one doing the press conference like it was all me. Just like in the NFL, the linemen do all the work and the running back gets the glory. My wife definitely came to my rescue, and she didn’t do it for financial gain, she didn’t do it because she wanted me to be a fighter, but she did it because she saw how miserable I was when I was injured and couldn’t compete. She didn’t want me to go out from a choice and not circumstances. If it was circumstances and I had given it my all, she knew I could live with it. But she didn’t want to see me at forty years old wondering what would have happened if I had done all I could.
By her being on my ass the way she is, she really helped me. She said things that, let’s face it, I’m 6’3” 255 or 270 pounds at times, so there are a lot of people who aren’t going to tell me the things I need to hear. My wife, even though she’s 5’4”, she told me what I needed to hear, and sometimes it hurts to hear the truth, but I needed it.
Looking at your career when you started and you were just running through people, then looking at coming back and losing a couple of fights, does it seem like two separate careers?
Yeah, definitely. My first career, it came very easily. I’m very confident as an athlete, and throughout high school I excelled at every sport I ever did from track to football to wrestling, and fighting was the same way. I’ve been fighting my whole life, and it came easily at first. The mental aspect didn’t come around because I didn’t need it as much.
But the second part of my career, I had to develop my mind because my body was slow to come around. Those matches I fought I wasn’t able to dominate people with just physical prowess, so I had to rally myself up. I’m glad it happened, though I wish I could have learned the mental aspect in some other way, but fate had it that I got a crash course. I had to learn it in a much harder way, and it was just a rough stretch there.
Does working your other job as a WEC commentator ever seem like a distraction from your training and your fighting career?
Not at all. Martial arts, most of it’s mental. If it was all physical, more people could do it. Right now I could go down to the local gym and find eighty guys who are killing themselves on the machines and on the weights, but that’s not going to help them in a fight against someone of my caliber because of the mental aspect of it. So when I’m sitting there analyzing fights, I’m getting better at understanding fighting. I might not be doing reps, but your body has to rest anyway. Your mind doesn’t. You can study it all day.
It seems like you and Nogueira are the opposite of what they usually look for in TUF coaches. Neither of you are hotheads, you don’t hate each other, there’s just no animosity between you. Is that accurate?
Yeah, I have a ton of respect for Nogueira. He’s a legend in our sport. He’s the heavyweight I’ve most tried to emulate in my career. So being around him was a pleasure. At the same time, we’re both very competitive. I don’t have to hate you to want to beat you. And I think it’s the same for him.
The only time people have to build up hatred for an opponent is because they need to build up courage, and I don’t have to build courage to fight. I’ve done it enough times that it’s not about being scared for me. It’s a competition for me. I don’t need to get you to say something to make me pumped up. For me it gets in the way and clouds your mind.
I’m sure you expect to come out on top against him, so who do you think you’ll be facing in the finals of what we’re now calling the heavyweight tournament?
I think Brock Lensar has a lot of potential and eventually he’s going to be a tough person to beat, but I think it’s early in his career and he’s facing a guy with a phenomenal wrestling background as well whose been in this sport a long time now. Randy has a lot of experience and I just don’t see in a five-round fight Lesnar being able to take him out.