Los Angeles, Calif. - The UFC’s breakthrough reality show “The Ultimate Fighter” gears up once again for its eighth season premiering tonight on Spike TV. Current interim UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir will both be featured as coaches this season and after completing an interview last week with Nogueira, FiveOuncesOfPain.com was also afforded the opportunity to speak with Mir.
While Mir was made available in order to promote TUF, he was more than willing to discuss everything and anything MMA in what proved to be an intriguing interview. During the course of the conversation we asked Mir to share his thoughts on the recent return of Randy Couture, the surprise upset win of Rashad Evans over Chuck Liddell, his experiences being on the show and the motorcycle accident that nearly ended his career.
As any regular fan of the UFC, WEC, or ESPN’s “MMA Live” knows, Mir’s ability to convey his thought and opinions is second to none and in this one-on-one interview with 5 Oz.’s he was never at a loss for words.
Gary Ibarra: The publisher of FiveOuncesOfPain.com recently wrote a piece about ESPN’s reaction to UFC 88 the upset victory of Rashad Evans over Chuck Liddell. He said that he was all set to write a piece chastising ESPN for its lack of coverage but was pleasantly surprised when SportsCenter aired a ringside satellite segment with Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg breaking down the fight and discussing the outcomes. How much effect do you think a show like TUF has on the perception of MMA to the mainstream sports media and the public in general who watch the show?
Frank Mir: I think the show goes a long way towards humanizing the sport and the guys. By having the cameras in the house it acts as sort of a window into the real lives of the people who take the sport seriously, and how they really are when they are not in the ring, they’re mostly just regular kids. I mean let’s face it, the public’s perception of MMA is not exactly fantastic. Every time guys like Tank Abbot or Krazy Horse (Charles Bennett) fought or even now with Kimbo Slice; every time Kimbo fights it sets the sport back. Guys like that just reinforce the idea in the public’s eye that we are all blood thirsty barbarians who just want to pummel each other and that there is no skill required. Guys like them do the sport a disservice.
Gary Ibarra: While the formula of the show usually involves playing up some of the confrontations between members of the cast and a little trash talking between the coaches as I’m sure this season was no different, how does it feel to go back and forth with someone whom you’ve said previously is like an idol to you?
Frank Mir: Anyone who’s expecting to see any animosity or back-and-forth between me and Noguiera, as is usually the case between coaches on the show, is going to be extremely disappointed. There wasn’t any of that. Sure there were times when I didn’t like him just as much as I’m sure there were times he didn’t like me, but we let our guys do the fighting for us. We definitely fought vicariously through them this season.
Gary Ibarra: This season I’m sure there are several fighters who you saw that have the potential to make a a career in MMA. But was there any one fighter that you can talk about who you saw that you thought immediately “That guy is going to make it”?
Frank Mir: That’s what I would say is the difference between this season’s cast and the previous casts: the talent level; there is a lot of depth here this season. So much so that I’ve even pulled training partners to help me prepare for my fight with Noguiera. The number of guys that you’ll see on undercards and prelims in the UFC is a definitely high with this group. I would go as far as to say its actually easier for me to pick out the guys who won’t make it just because there were so few of them, I would definitely put this season’s 16 guys against any of the other 16 from previous seasons.
Gary Ibarra: The list of people who were contestants or who have been coaches previously reads like an A list in the UFC: Liddell, Couture, Ortiz, Shamrock, Penn, Pulver, Griffin, and Jackson to name a few. Most of these guys are surefire Hall of Famers. Do you think adding Mir to this list means that you will be there as well?
Frank Mir: Yeah, I would say I will. Obviously it’s going to depend on my next couple of performances, but I do think my name belongs with those others, absolutely.
Gary Ibarra: You’ve been training martial arts almost your entire life, was it difficult for you to become a coach?
Frank Mir: No, not really. My dad owned a martial arts school and I’ve been training my whole life so it wasn’t that much of a stretch. I love martial arts. I like learning new things myself. I’m always sharpening my skills and trying to get better so I liked the teaching aspect of the show.
Gary Ibarra: What would it mean to you to have this season’s winner come from your team?
Frank Mir: It would be satisfying, no doubt, but I couldn’t take too much credit for it. All we as coaches do is impart the knowledge to the best of our ability but it’s up the fighter once he’s in the ring to use that knowledge. Obviously I’d be happy if it was my guy, but I could never attribute another fighter’s performance to myself. I can say that one thing I didn’t count on that happened was the emotional attachment to the guys. You see a good kid lose and it bothers you. I definitely took it home with me some nights.
Gary Ibarra: Was there anything you could say you didn’t like about your experience on the show? Or was there anything you’d like to change about the show itself?
Frank Mir: The only thing I didn’t like is the way the preliminary fights are chosen. I’m not sure there’s much though put into it beforehand. It was more like “Okay, where’s the list? Okay, now you fight you and you fight you and you fight you.” It upset me a little because I would see two guys that were really great fighters have to fight each other in order to get in the house and then two guys who were not so good be put against each other. And I’m thinking if these two good guys both fought those two not so good guys, that would ensure we got the best talent into the house. I think there should have been a little better process to determine who fights who in the prelims.
Gary Ibarra: The show’s validation in the world of MMA is no longer questionable with the rise of alums like Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, and Kenny Florian to name a few, what do you foresee as the next step in the growth of MMA?
Frank Mir: I see its growth in popularity only continuing, eventually to the point that boxing had in when it was at its highest point. The only reason it hasn’t reached that point already is the stigma attached to the term “Cage Fighter.” The powers that be may be from a different generation, one that sees the sport as a novelty or having little or no value, but once those people who have that idea are gone you’ll see the sport rise to where it should be. It’s just going to take time.
Gary Ibarra: Your leg injury in 2004 caused people to question weather or not you’d even keep your leg let alone fight again, did you ever question weather or not you’d ever recover?
Frank Mir: Absolutely, I took my first fight back after my injury knowing that I wasn’t ready. I told myself, if I lose to (Marcio) Cruz, I already know in my mind that I wasn’t ready and so I’d have an excuse for myself built in. And after I lost that’s exactly what I did, I excused myself. My next fight I still didn’t feel like I was 100% but I took the fight anyway and after that close win it was the same thing. But in the Vera fight I really felt like I was back to normal. I was squatting in the gym, jumping around on it(the leg), I thought I was back, and when I lost I really felt like I was done. I was convinced that was it. The accident had really ruined my career. I told my wife Jenny “That’s it honey, I think its time to retire.” To say she talked me out of it is putting it mildly. She really let me have it for even talking about quitting. But that was exactly what I needed. I credit her for my rededication to the sport, I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for her.
Gary Ibarra: The injury would have been devastating to most people. It was a definite possibility that you may never fight again. How did the UFC react to their heavyweight champion being told that his career was in danger?
Frank Mir: They reacted the best way they knew how. They waited a lot longer for me then I would have in their position. They created an interim title. Bottom line is they gave me the opportunity to fight again, that’s was all I could ask for.
Gary Ibarra: What did you think of the Evans vs. Liddell outcome?
Frank Mir: I think that Greg Jackson is the greatest trainer of all time.
Gary Ibarra: How did you feel when you heard about Randy Couture’s return to the UFC?
Frank Mir: I was glad to hear it. Randy deserves to be in the UFC if he wants to be and I was just happy that all the legal back-and-forth ended and we get to see him fight again.
Gary Ibarra: And what did you think about him getting the fight against Lesnar right off the bat?
Frank Mir: The only problem I have with that decision by the UFC was that I think they should have waited for the outcome of my fight with ‘Nog to decide who Randy would fight in his return. It would have been better for them to have Randy fight the winner of our fight in order to determine who the heavyweight champion should be. The current champion with the interim tag or the previous champion, that’s what I would have done but it’s not my decision.
Gary Ibarra: Noguiera is one of, if not the most experienced heavyweight champions in the UFC’s history. He gives his opponents a lot to deal with his advanced ground game and ability to outlast his opponents even after sustaining major punishment. Can you give me any insight as to your game plan for fighting him?
Frank Mir: Anyone who goes for broke thinking that they’ve got ‘Nog in trouble has ended up losing. It’s that simple. He bates a lot of his opponents into basically punching themselves out; he outlasts them into the later rounds and finds a way to submit them after their exhausted. I know the fight will end up on the ground. His legs are so bad and I kick so heavy that there’s no way he’s going to want to stand with me. I just need to make sure I don’t get gassed. Going into the later rounds is not something I’m used to which is what gives him an advantage. Our games are completely opposite of each other so it’s going to be interesting.
Gary Ibarra: If you had the ability to fight anyone in the sport of mixed martial arts if weight and time were not a factor, which fighter — past of present — would you choose?
Frank Mir: Anderson Silva, definitely. His ability and his skill set is so diverse that he would definitely be someone I’d like to test my skills against.
Gary Ibarra: Would you ever come down in weight to fight him?
Frank Mir: (Laughing) I think I’ll wait for him to come up.
Editor’s Note: In addition to being a contributor for FiveOuncesOfPain.com, Gary Ibarra is also the owner of his own MMA clothing line, Graffight Apparel. Graffight has established sponsor-based relationships with several fighters. You can click here to access the list.