Frank Mir made a strong case for his reinstatement into the UFC’s heavyweight title picture, as he thoroughly handled Cheick Kongo with a knockdown and chokeout in only 72 seconds on Saturday at UFC 107 in Memphis, Tenn.
The decisive victory, on the heels of Mir’s sobering loss to heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar last July at UFC 100, raised new questions as to which looming contender should challenge the fallen titleholder next.
Lesnar, 32, withdrew from his Nov. 21 title defense against undefeated Shane Carwin at UFC 106 with a debilitating intestinal tract infection and was hospitalized for 11 days to undergo “minor surgery” before being released. Carwin has waited thus far for the bout to be re-scheduled in the hopes the former NCAA Div. I wrestling champion will rebound and return in a few month’s time. However, there is the chance Lesnar’s condition could keep him sidelined indefinitely.
“We’ll know in a month to a month and a half if (Lesnar’s) going to need that major surgery,” said UFC President Dana White on Saturday. “If he needs that major surgery, there’ll be an interim title.”
Carwin, undefeated upstart Cain Velasquez, and former interim champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira have all been tagged as potential candidates for an interim championship. Velasquez and Nogueira will meet in a non-title affair at UFC 110 on Feb. 21 in Sydney, Australia.
Mir, who has held both the heavyweight and interim heavyweight titles, stated his case for consideration as well Saturday.
“Obviously, Carwin had the first opportunity there and due to Brock’s health that took him out,” said the 30-year-old Las Vegas native. “It depends what Carwin does in the meantime. I know he has to go recover from his knee surgery. If he goes and has another fight, obviously I have to have another fight also. That makes it dangerous for him, though. If he goes out and has a poor performance and I have another performance anywhere near like tonight, that could put me right back up there again…”
Mir, who didn’t stifle his opinions about Kongo’s abilities before their bout, also asserted his position in the pecking order.
“Do I definitely think that I’m neck-to-neck with the top two guys in there? Absolutely,” answered Mir. “I think that Cain Velasquez is a very impressive fighter, but he also just went three rounds with Cheick Kongo, where he couldn’t knock him out or submit him…”
White -- the man who will have the heaviest hand in determining the immediate futures of Mir, Carwin, Velasquez, and Nogueira -- said he was surprised by Mir’s abbreviated performance, but stopped short of naming the clear-cut frontrunners should an interim championship be enlisted.
“I was expecting a back and forth war in that fight,” said White. “Frank looked awesome, man…Listen, when you talk as much sh-- as Frank did before that fight, you better go in and back it up and he did.”
Mir said he had to conquer Kongo to show he belonged.
“It was more a statement for myself and my training camp to say that I could bounce back from such a decisive loss to Brock… a loss to Cheick would have been a pretty bad statement on my career,” said Mir. “He was an opponent that I really felt that I had to come out there and decisively smash to make a statement. If I had of went out there and won a three-round decision against Cheick Kongo, I don’t believe that would have elevated my status.”
Mir’s victory not only ensured his survival in the division, it re-ignited interest in a rubber match with Lesnar should the champion be able to return to form. For now, that scenario remains one of a number of possibilities.
“If he’s out for a year, then I don’t think any of us are going to sit and wait just for a title shot,” said Mir. “We have to feed our families, so we’ll all be fighting.”
And in true Mir form, the sometimes overconfident fighter threw in a barb to keep his rivalry with Lesnar alive.
“I want Brock to get healthy to be honest with you,” he said. “Maybe if he watched (tonight’s) fight, he’d be more inclined not to get too healthy.”