This Saturday night (Aug. 31, 2013), two of the most experienced Heavyweight mixed martial arts (MMA) veterans will meet when former champions Frank Mir and Josh Barnett fight in UFC 164's co-main event from BMO Bradley Harris Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Although the pair may be getting up there in years, there's no doubt Mir and Barnett are still two of the craftiest fighters on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster. Both are extremely well versed in submissions, so that could mean result in a stand up battle, while a submission on either side would be one for the ages for sure.
Mir comes into the bout off a loss to the highly touted Daniel Cormier at UFC on Fox 7. After making a camp switch to Jackson's Submission Fighting prior to the Cormier bout, it's time for Mir to prove that he can still hang with elite in the division. He has lost his last two fights against top talent, so if wants to retain any degree of relevancy he'll need to make a statement with a win over Barnett.
Barnett, on the other hand, is an extremely well-traveled fighter, who began his professional MMA career way back 1997. Ditching his former "Baby-faced Assassin" nickname for a more intimidating moniker of "War Master," Barnett goes into each bout looking to dismantle his opponent by any means necessary. His prowess shines through most with extremely effective catch wrestling, which he used to win his last bout over Nandor Guelmino at Strikeforce's final event this January. It's that bout got him another chance at UFC glory. And now he's in for one of the most pivotal bouts of his life.
What's it going to take for these highly accomplished grapplers to pull out the win in Milwaukee? Let's take a look the key points of Frank Mir vs. Josh Barnett.
Record: 16-7 overall, 14-7 UFC
Key Wins: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (UFC 92, UFC 140), Tim Sylvia (UFC 48), Brock Lesnar (UFC 81)
Key Losses: Daniel Cormier (UFC on FOX 7), Junior dos Santos (UFC 146), Brock Lesnar (UFC 100), Shane Carwin (UFC 111)
How he got here: Mir had only two fights in regional shows before getting signed to the UFC at the young age of 22. He impressed by starting out 5-1 in the promotion with three submission victories. The run earned him a championship opportunity against Tim Sylvia at UFC 48, and Mir won the title in spectacular fashion by breaking Sylvia's arm in multiple places.
Then, a devastating motorcycle accident saw Mir break his leg in two spots while shredding all the ligaments in his knee.
It was an injury so serious that Mir was on the shelf for the better part of the next two years, having his title stripped after he was unable to defend it for 14 months.
Mir looked like a shell of his former self when he returned to action at UFC 57, dropping a decision to Marcio Cruz. But he remained stoic and focused in the wake of his long recovery process, picking up a win over Dan Christison at UFC 61. A TKO loss to the surging Brandon Vera was yet another setback, but better things were still on the horizon for Mir.
Rebounding with three straight wins over Antoni Hardonk, Brock Lesnar, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mir once again found himself fighting Lesnar once more, this time for the title in the blockbuster main event of UFC 100. He was thoroughly dominated by Lesnar in their rematch, losing via TKO in the second round.
Mir came back with a win over Cheick Kongo, but lost his next bout in brutal fashion to Shane Carwin for the interim UFC Heavyweight championship at UFC 111. Mir was fighting the best, but falling just short at the top.
He proved he still belonged in Heavyweight title talk with another three-fight win streak, dispatching Mirko Filipovic, Roy Nelson and finally Nogueira for a second time with a gruesome kimura that broke the Brazilian's arm at UFC 140.
Mir was back in the championship picture once again, and his shot came against Junior dos Santos at UFC 146 when former title challenger Alistair Overeem failed a pre-fight drug screen for elevated testosterone. Mir could never get much going against "Cigano," suffering a second round TKO thanks to the champion's sharp boxing.
That brought him to the bout with Cormier this April. Mir showed little offense except for a few sharp kicks, as he was predominantly pressed up against the cage by the former Olympic wrestler Cormier. It left Mir on a two-fight slide, and he's now fighting to prove he still has what it takes.
How he gets it done: Mir has one of the most dangerous submission games in all of MMA, even at this point in his career. For a Heavyweight, he has an uncanny ability to pull creative submissions seemingly out of mid-air. His eight submission wins are the most for any UFC Heavyweight.
He also couples that with an underrated striking game that he used to knock the normally iron-chinned Nogueira out. He also rocked Kongo with a huge right, so he has the power to instantly change a fight on the feet as well.
Against a savvy veteran like Barnett, all of his skills are going to have to be at a high level. Both men prefer the tapout, but Mir has never submitted. The Robert Drysdale-trained Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt has so much confidence in his ground game that it wouldn't be a surprise to see him focus on getting the submission.
But that's most likely not his best course of action. There's no need to play into Barnett's strength even if it may be his own as well, so Mir should look to utilize his advantage on the feet. His time in Greg Jackson's camp should have gone a long way in sharpening his standup skills. If Mir can avoid being neutralized by Barnett's catch wrestling and create some distance, he can score a ton of points with strikes. Barnett's not horrible standing, but he showed that he can be picked apart in his loss to Cormier.
Record: 32-6 overall, 4-1 UFC
Key Wins: Randy Couture (UFC 36), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pride Final Conflict Absolute), Mark Hunt (Pride Critical Countdown Absolute)
Key Losses: Mirko Filipovic (Pride 28, Pride 30, Pride Final Conflict Absolute), Daniel Cormier (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pride Shockwave 2006)
How he got here: "Warmaster" got to this fight by battling his way through many of the top Heavyweights MMA has ever seen. He started out by compiling a 9-0 record in United Full Contact Federation (UFCF) and Superbrawl, earning a shot in the UFC at the end of 2000. Barnett finished the 6'11" Gan McGee in the second round at UFC 28, earning a fight against the famed Pedro Rizzo.
Barnett had his first taste of defeat against Rizzo, getting knocked out by the Brazilian power striker. Undeterred, Barnett won his next two over Bobby Hoffman and massive K-1 champion Semmy Schilt to get a title bout against Randy Couture at UFC 36.
Barnett won the UFC Heavyweight title by finishing Couture via TKO; however, he had the belt subsequently stripped after he was found to have used performance-enhancing drugs. Barnett was exiled from the UFC, and began a 5-0 run that propelled him to his war with surging striker Mirko Filipovic in Pride.
"Cro Cop" would ultimately gain the upper hand in the rivalry, first defeating Barnett via TKO at Pride 28, and then notching a unanimous decision victory at Pride 30. Barnett bounced back effectively by winning his next four over Kazuhiro Nakamura, Alexander Emelianenko, Mark Hunt, and finally Nogueira, before losing to Filipovic for a third time at Pride Final Conflict Absolute. Barnett closed out his Pride career by alternating a win and a loss before the promotion folded.
From there, Barnett began an impressive run that saw him go undefeated (8-0) in Affliction, DREAM, Impact FC and Strikeforce over the next four years, albeit against lesser competition. He was scheduled for a dream match against former Pride FC Heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko under the Affliction banner, but another failure for steroids canceled the match and folded the promotion altogether.
Barnett breezed through the opening rounds of the Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix, submitting both Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov with arm triangle chokes. That got him his date against undefeated prospect Cormier in the finals, where he was thoroughly outstruck and taken down repeatedly by the former Oklahoma State wrestling standout. Barnett returned to action to fulfill his Strikeforce contract by using the arm triangle to dispatch the little-known Nandor Guelmino at Strikeforce's final show this January.
How he gets it done: At this point in his storied career, there's little mystery surrounding the way Barnett likes to get the job done. He's a big fan of grinding his opponents into the mat with brutally effective holds, evident by his 19 submission wins. He'll have a tough task in front him against Mir, who's never tapped out.
Mir has been the victim of six knockout losses throughout his career, and Barnett has the power to make it happen. If he can use his extensive catch wrestling background to take Mir to the mat, an opening for a technical knockout because of ground strikes is entirely possible.
However, the background behind this fight would suggest that both men are very eager to prove that their ground game is superior to that of their opponent, so we may see a submission chess match at UFC 164 should the fight hit the ground. Barnett will need to be on point with his striking, because Mir is almost certain to show improved standup thanks to his new camp at Jackson's. "War Master" was picked apart by Cormier, and he could definitely fall into that trap once again if Mir surprises him from the outset.
Barnett has always had a huge air of confidence surrounding him, and this fight will be no different. There is potential to make a huge return to the Octagon come Saturday.
Bottom Line From Milwaukee: This battle between the No. 6-ranked Mir and the No. 10-ranked Barnett is going to be a proving ground that shows which aging Heavyweight still has what it takes to compete with the best the UFC has to offer. Their respective losses to Cormier would suggest that their best days are indeed behind them, but this fight could prove to be one of the most exciting for the fans in Milwaukee.
On the flip side, a match between two highly skilled grapplers like these two could be the cause for a stalemate. If submissions are considered equal, then Mir will most likely hold the advantage in striking over Barnett. Can he utilize this perceived edge to his benefit?
Barnett has much to prove after a very long absence from the UFC. While his track record as of late is stellar, he'll face a much higher grade of competition going forward, with Mir as the beginning of this new chapter.
Can "War Master" enact the perfect battle plan to hand Mir a third straight loss? Let us know your thoughts below!