As one of the many pundits who not only picked Frank Mir to lose to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira during their UFC 92 interim heavyweight title fight but to lose in dominating fashion, I cannot continue to write this article without acknowledging how wrong I was.
But I am still left wondering just exactly who we saw become the first fighter to ever finish the only man to hold heavyweight titles in PRIDE and in the UFC? I mean, was that really Frank Mir that we watched last night put down Nogueira last night?
Anyone who has been following the sport of MMA for more than a few months is well aware of Mir’s world class submission abilities. When it comes to jiu-jitsu for MMA, there are few heavyweights that can be ranked ahead of Mir.
However, the missing element in Mir’s seven-year career has always been his striking. Has it improved over the years? Sure. But for a guy that has been in the game as long as Mir, you would have expected that his standup game would have evolved much more than it had in recent years.
Yet following last night’s impressive showing on his feet, the persistent questions about Mir’s standup have likely evaporated.
Sure, the outcome of last night’s heavyweight tilt was surprising, but I watched the entire Mir vs. Nogueira fight with my jaw wide open as I was in disbelief at just how comfortable the jiu-jitsu black belt looked on his feet. What we saw last night wasn’t just improved striking from Mir — it was a complete and total transformation.
The striking display we saw from Mir won’t be confused with a premium-level K-1 striker, but it was a 180 degree change from his past efforts on his feet. And I am still trying to figure out what was the bigger surprise: Mir’s victory or the manner in which he earned the interim UFC heavyweight title.
All throughout the month of November I received calls from sources in Vegas complaining about Mir’s lack of work ethic during his training camp. They said Mir was taking weeks off at a time and was suffering from a back injury. They also added that when Mir did show up to train, he was often uninspired and lacked the “eye of the tiger.”
Was it all a ruse? Was the Mir camp leaking information out to the public in an attempt of giving Nogueira a false sense of confidence? I trust my sources and I don’t suspect subterfuge. After all, Mir didn’t exactly look shredded in the cage last night and this wasn’t the first fight in which questions about his work ethic have been raised.
We’ll apparently never know the answer to the question posed in the above paragraph because Mir didn’t win the fight based on stamina; he won it purely on skill. The fight never reached the championship rounds and by ending early, Mir’s cardio was never put to the test. However, Mir gave credence after the fight to those who doubted him by revealing that he had even doubted himself.
Mir has always been a naturally gifted athlete and those gifts allowed him during the pre-TUF era to become the clear cut number one heavyweight in the UFC. Natural talent made up for a lack of training in most of Mir’s early UFC fights but after being involved in a severe motorcycle accident that nearly cost him his leg, Mir was no longer able to get by on his natural ability upon his return.
In losses to Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz at UFC 57 and Brandon Vera at UFC 65, Mir looked like a fighter not long for the UFC. In hindsight, those losses appear even worse now than they did then. After upsetting Mir, Cruz lost his next two fights in the UFC and was cut. Meanwhile, Vera failed to deliver on his potential while in the heavyweight division and now resides in the promotion’s 205 pound division.
Now those losses appear to be nothing more than a distant memory following wins over Lesnar and Nogueira but it might not be entirely accurate to say that the old Mir is back. That’s because the Mir we saw last night is a much more dangerous fighter than we saw during his first UFC heavyweight title run. If UFC 92 is not an aberration and Mir’s striking has truly become that good, he has now finally managed to become a well-rounded martial artist after seven years in the game.
And while Mir’s stock is soaring coming out of UFC 92, the man whose stock might be rising even more is his striking coach, Ken Hahn.
Hahn, who owns the fight gym Striking Unlimited in Las Vegas, had been relatively anonymous to the mainstream prior to seeing his profile increase while serving as Mir’s assistant coach during the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter.
Mir had talked up Hahn’s influence in interviews that led up to TUF 8 but his endorsements did not begin to resonate until Hahn began to receive some camera time coupled with a regular blog on the popular mixed martial arts website MMAjunkie.com.
Hahn was once again visible in the corner of Mir at UFC 92 and following Mir’s impressive striking display, his already successful fight gym stands to gain an acute increase in business. There are only so many fighters that can go to renowned MMA striking coaches such as Shawn Tompkins and Mark Della Grotte for help and fighters are constantly in search of the latest trend that can provide them a competitive edge.
A quick look at the website for Striking Unlimited reveals some impressive credentials for Hahn. In addition to holding second degree black belts in both Enshin Karate and Tae Kwon Do, he is also a certified Fairtex instructor in Muay Thai and an official trainer for K-1′s various brands. As a competitor, he was the 2000 Sabaki Challenge Open Weight South American Champion and the 2001 Sabaki Challenge Middlweight World Champion.
While verbal endorsements from Mir and world class credentials are nice, there was no better advertisement for the expertise that Hahn can offer a fighter than the performance turned in by Mir at UFC 92. As such, don’t be surprised to see an influx of fighters show up on Hahn’s doorsteps in a quest to take their striking to the next level.
In gaining a share of the UFC’s divided heavyweight title, Mir also earned a rematch against current UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. When Mir defeated Lesnar last February, it was via submission. However, thanks to Hahn’s influence, we could easily see Mir defeating Lesnar by way of knockout the second time around.