In knocking out Nogueira, Mir shows he still has it
For a fighter that was written off as washed up in '06, Frank Mir proved he still has a lot of fight left in him by knocking out Antonio Nogueira on Saturday.
Like other deadline-conscious publications, The New York Times has been known to assemble obituaries for public figures prior to their demise; sometimes they'd leak out before the deceased had yet to actually cease, inviting ridicule over the prepackaged morbidity.
Like many lopsided segues, this has only the slightest of connections with MMA. In 2006, as disenfranchised with the performances of Frank Mir -- post-motorcycle mauling -- as Mir himself, I called for his retirement.
Rebuttals were swift, with the majority inviting me to perform anatomically impossible feats. People close to Mir insisted he could still compete. I was unconvinced.
Two years later, and it's easy to feel like The Times' obit page editor after a leak, hammer and nails in hand while the ambulatory subject is busy dusting dirt off his shirt. Saturday, Mir not only made me look like a fool -- hardly a rare event -- but he did it by beating Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira, a man widely considered the best heavyweight in the absence of Fedor Emelianenko.
It goes on: In defeating Nogueira, he made a kind of history by becoming the first man to ever TKO him, a feat not unlike ripping a Manhattan phone book in half. Nogueira was renowned for his constitution, facing off against behemoths -- even a truck -- and popping up like something out of Romero's imagination.
Against Mir, he was dropped three times.
Much will be made about Nogueira's MMA "age" and the toll his previous battles have taken on his nerve endings, reflexes and synapses. If and when he fights again, we'll likely discover whether Mir's victory was more about the new champion's elevated skill or Nogueira's eroding mettle. But even a weathered Nogueira is a formidable hurdle for someone who was rumored to never fight again and who had long suffered as the brunt of jokes about his cardio conditioning and lack of stand-up acumen.
Mir looked nothing like the parody that had developed in fandom over the years. He projected confidence and left his voiced reverence for Nogueira behind in the locker room.
Perhaps that's what drove Mir to a career-best performance: the fear and incredulity that Nogueira did everything better than himself. (In the end, he did nothing better.) I see again the Mir that I rooted for in 2004, only better: cockiness replaced with confidence, harried aggression replaced with calculated offense.
Natural talent coupled with direction and focus is a powerful thing -- powerful enough to defeat a certified legend in combat sports.
And with Nogueira the heavy favorite, it is also yet another reason why betting on mixed martial arts is only a slightly less efficient path to bankruptcy than tossing money in an incinerator.
Forrest Griffin, who pleases me primarily for his patent refusal to succumb to a dopey nickname, used an incredibly ineffective guard en route to losing his UFC light heavyweight title on Saturday against "Sugar" (ugh) Rashad Evans. Evans, undefeated in a sport where even an 80 percent winning percentage can turn you into a hot commodity, appears penciled in to face either Quinton Jackson or Lyoto Machida in his first title defense. Either man makes sense, but I get the feeling the UFC is hesitant to dangle the belt in front of the hyper-methodical Machida.
Like Nogueira, fellow Brazilian Wanderlei Silva finally appears to be showing signs of his inclination to stay in the pocket and swing for the rafters. Quinton Jackson -- who many believed couldn't mentally endure another loss -- buried his first two defeats against Silva into ancient-history soil with a crushing KO. With title contention out of reach, there's an easy grudge match against Mark Coleman available for Silva. Or better, a fight with Rich Franklin -- providing Franklin defeats Dan Henderson -- would help cement Franklin's status at 205 pounds.
In a spotty heavyweight field, the likely deciding factor for facing the survivor of the Mir/Brock Lesnar unification bout should be Cheick Kongo tackling the winner of March's Shane Carwin vs. Gabriel Gonzaga bid.
Jake Rossen is a contributor to Sherdog.com.