Lesnar-Mir 2 More Than Strength vs. Skill

By Mike Harris Jul 6, 2009
The first clash between heavyweights Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir at UFC 81 in February 2008 was widely viewed as a contest pitting strength against skill.

Indeed, the fight bore out those views from the get-go, as the 265-pound Lesnar, a former NCAA national wrestling champion and World Wrestling Entertainment superstar, overwhelmed the smaller Mir with sheer brute power, took him to the mat and ferociously grounded-and-pounded him.

In fact, the beating was a bit too ferocious in the view of referee Steve Mazzagatti, who stopped Lesnar’s attack and penalized the UFC newcomer one point for punching Mir in the back of the head. When the fight resumed, Lesnar had lost his momentum, allowing the more experienced Mir to deftly use his black belt jiu-jitsu skills to submit the bigger man with a kneebar at 1:30 of the first round.

The two meet again inside the Octagon this Saturday in a heavyweight unification rematch atop the super-stacked UFC 100 card at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.

Expect another classic matchup of strength versus skill, right? Perhaps, but in Mir’s estimation, that’s an oversimplification.

“One thing everybody always talks about is my skill versus Brock’s power,” the UFC’s interim heavyweight champion said during a recent conference call. “That’s kinda funny in that it’s a real simple way of looking at it, because, honestly, if I go to the athletic club down the street, I’ll be hard pressed to find many guys in the gym who are stronger than I am.

“And I guarantee you that Brock is not that unknowledgeable about jiu-jitsu or grappling,” added Mir, 30, who has trained for the fight at Robert Drysdale’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Ken Hahn’s Striking Unlimited gyms in Las Vegas. “He has had the ability to train with world-class guys every day now for the last couple of years. So even though that obviously, on paper, the first thing that stands out is, you know, ‘Frank – submissions; Brock is a strong guy,’ there’s definitely a lot more to it than just that.”

Lesnar (3-1), the UFC’s heavyweight champion, agrees.

“I think I’ve improved dramatically since my first venture of even thinking of getting into MMA,” said Lesnar, 31, who trains at Greg Nelson’s Minnesota Martial Arts Academy in Brooklyn Center, Minn. “I bill myself as a fighter now, and I want to evolve and make myself a well-rounded fighter. So obviously I’m not going to leave any stone unturned when it comes to submissions, submission defense, striking, knees, leg kicks and also learning to defend everything.”

Photo by Sherdog.com

Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar I
was strength against skill.
Given Lesnar’s wrestling pedigree, Mir said it’s no secret where his chief strength as a fighter lies.

“Obviously,” Mir said, “the wrestling area is pretty much the dominant area.”

However, he noted that in Lesnar’s last two fights -- both victories -- against Heath Herring and Randy Couture he saw improvements elsewhere.

“I also saw that his boxing was very successful,” Mir said, “so I look to see that in the fight.”

Lesnar became the heavyweight champion in his technical knockout win over Couture at 3:07 of the second round at UFC 91 in November. Mir, meanwhile, secured the interim heavyweight title in a TKO victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at 1:54 of the second round at UFC 92 a month later.

Despite Lesnar’s ever-improving grappling, Mir does not expect him “to be playing a jiu-jitsu game, where he takes me down and passes my guard and looks for a submission. I just think he’s gonna [try] to take me down, look to establish a very dominant controlled position somewhere against the cage and rain down punches, use his size and power to his greatest advantage.”

Mir noted that for a big man, Lesnar moves with great speed and agility.

“There were times [in the first fight] when I was in the ground that I lost him,” Mir said. “I was, like, ‘He’s on my right side. He’s punching me. Oh, s--t, where’d he go?’”

As for his own game plan, Mir revealed that, in training, he “would find ways to use technique and my agility to alleviate” Lesnar’s fighting style, which Mir’s sparring partners tried to mimic.

“I can’t really go head-to-head [with Lesnar],” he said. “It’s not the smartest game plan in the world.”

Because of his willingness to learn, Lesnar feels his striking and ground game have improved markedly since he started competing in MMA in 2007. He considers himself very coachable.

“I could have been very pig-headed when I made this transition from a former pro wrestler to an ultimate fighter and said, ‘Well, I’m just gonna use my wrestling technique and my strength and speed,’” Lesnar said. “That would have been very ignorant of me.”

Lesnar admits the desire to payback Mir for his loss at UFC 81 remains a significant motivation.

“Revenge is a key factor here for me,” he said.

Lesnar, however, brushed aside talk that he and Mir do not like each other personally.

“I don’t dislike Frank in any way, other than he’s got a win over me,” Lesnar said. “And I don’t like to lose.”

Mir echoed Lesnar’s sentiments.

“If there’s any animosity, I think probably … it’s that neither one of us feels like maybe we have the same amount of respect we should have and what we want to attain right now in the heavyweight division,” Mir said.

Noting that Lesnar has had only four professional MMA bouts, Mir believes the monstrous Minnesotan seeks legitimacy.

“With his skill level and NCAA wrestling and stuff, he obviously wants to push forward on his credibility and why he deserves the exposure he gets,” Mir said. “On my part, too, I think after I had the [2004 motorcycle] accident, I had so many bad fights in a row. Now, coming back on the winning streak I am on now, I’m also craving that fame. Respect, I guess, is the bottom line at the end of the day, and you want to have that recognized.”

Lesnar disagrees.

“I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks,” he said. “The only thing that matters to me is that I’m happy and my family’s happy.”

Mir’s jiu-jitsu coach, Drysdale, started training the interim champion for the Lesnar rematch a few weeks after Mir’s last fight -- the victory over Nogueira that earned him the interim heavyweight belt.

“Frank’s looking leaner, faster and his ground game has improved a lot,” said Drysdale, an Abu Dhabi Submission Wrestling world champion. “Brock makes a mistake, he’s gonna get tapped. If I were Brock, I’d be very, very careful in taking Frank down.”

Drysdale thinks Mir’s striking -- with the help of his striking coach, Hahn -- has improved since the Nogueira fight.

“The Frank that is fighting Lesnar is a much better striker than the Frank that fought Nogueira,” Drysdale said.

That says a lot, considering he stopped Nogueira, a man who had never before been finished. Even so, going into UFC 100, Mir finds himself an underdog again, with oddsmakers favoring Lesnar.
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