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History in the Making: Frank Mir's road to redemption leads him to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92


Frank Mir lucked into a heavyweight title shot when Andrei Arlovski suffered a hand injury and couldn't meet Tim Sylvia at UFC 48: "Payback."

He made the most of that stroke of good fortune when he scored a technical submission over the goliath-like fighter, breaking his arm in less than a minute.

But as quickly as Lady Luck smiles upon someone, she frowns.

Mir broke a limb of his own -- his leg -- in a motorcycle accident that nearly ended his career just as it was about to take off. Removed from the sport he loved for almost two years, he came back seemingly unmotivated and visibly out of shape.

Less than a week removed from his fight with Roy Nelson at UFC 130: "Rampage vs. Hamill" (May 28), we'll take a look at his championship bout with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the culmination of a road paved with hard work and yeah, a little bit of luck.

Let's jump in.

Officially on the shelf for 20 months, Mir made his Octagon return after his accident at UFC 57: Liddell vs. Couture 3" against the debuting Marcio Cruz.

In what was supposed to be a tune-up fight for the returning former champ, the Brazilian quickly gained the upper hand and scored the upset victory within the first round.

Was it ring rust? Nerves? Did Mir return to action too early?

Excuses were thrown out liberally to explain the Las Vegas native's poor performance and while some listened for a while, when Mir showed up to his next fight at UFC 61: "Bitter Rivals" sporting a gut that rivals that of his opponent this Saturday, the excuses began to fall on deaf ears.

Surprisingly, he earned the decision victory against Dan Christison that night, primarily based on his natural athletic ability. But this was the UFC. Talent can only take you so far (read: B.J. Penn).

Mir came into better shape against Brandon Vera who he faced off against at UFC 65: "Bad Intentions." Unfortunately for the former champ, this was pre-hiatus Vera who was claiming he was destined to hold titles in two division and was making a strong case for it in the Octagon.

As badly as Cruz pounded him, Vera made Mir look even more. It took "The Truth" a little over a minute and around a dozen elbows to finish UFC 130's co-headliner.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) fans keep the sport in business. But they can be a cruel mistress sometimes. Lose one fight too many (and sometimes it's just the one) and they may start calling for a fighter's retirement.

More often than not, it's overexaggerated. Many fans are saddled with a "what have you done for me lately?" attitude.

In the case of Mir, however, the death knell on his career seemed mildly appropriate.

He found himself back in the win column when he defeated Antoni Hardonk at UFC 74: "Respect" but that's not the kind of victory that sets the MMA world ablaze and has fans clamoring to get him a title shot.

It seems the accident that almost ended his career had, in fact, pretty much ended his career. He didn't look like the same fighter that snapped Sylvia's arm with little hesitation, the fighter who submitted Pete Williams into retirement, or the fighter who ruined David "Tank" Abbott's welcome back party way back at UFC 41: "Onslaught."

Then something funny happened.

The UFC signed Brock Lesnar, a former professional wrestler who seemed more monster than man. He had made his MMA debut at the abysmal Dynamite!! USA show but like a tree falling in empty woods, no one saw it and no one really cared.

Lesnar's first fight in the UFC was what was important. And much like when Abbott made his much ballyhooed return, Mir was pegged as the man to welcome "The Next Big Thing" into the Octagon.

Unlike when Abbott made his return and Mir submitted the aging brawler easily, the former champ took a pounding from the former WWE superstar. Mir was immediately taken down and walloped with Christmas ham-sized fists until a questionable reprieve from the referee temporarily halted the action.

Given a few precious seconds to collect himself, Mir was able to slap a submission on Lesnar's leg -- just like he did with Abbott -- and ruined a ton of UFC marketing.

Lesnar looked pretty good and made a rookie mistake. His reputation would survive but a loss was a loss. But for Mir, a win wasn't just a win.

The victory catapulted him back into stardom as "the guy who Lesnar beat the hell out of but came back to win." Wanting to capitalize, the UFC slotted him opposite Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on The Ultimate Fighter with the two set to face off for "Minotauro's" interim heavyweight strap at the conclusion of the season.

So with a little bit of luck, Mir found himself on the cusp of another title shot.

But luck only takes you so far.

Fighting once again for the title and against none other than Nogueira whose career is that of legend, Mir had to come in better than he ever had before. If his condition was anything hinting at what it was in his first few fights after his accident, the Brazilian would chew him up and spit him out.

The Las Vegas native surprised many -- and perhaps Nogueira himself -- when he opened the fight putting together crisp combinations hinged on a jab that consistently found its mark.

A trip takedown early in the first put "Minotauro" on his back before Mir allowed him to stand back up. From there, Mir continued to outbox the interim champ culminating in a picture perfect straight that caught the Brazilian, dropping him.

Unable to finish his opponent off then, Mir once again allowed him back to his feet. "Minotauro" begins to put together his own combinations to which his opponent smiles and beckons him forward.

Then, just as the opening round ended, Mir landed a right uppercut followed by a left straight that put the interim champ on his back for the second time.

The former champ looked no worse for wear going into the second round.

In the second stanza, Mir seemed content in biding his time and finding the perfect opening to chop down the might Brazilian. A couple of minutes in, he found it.

A left hook staggered Nogueira, a second dropped him onto his back. Unlike the first knockdown, the interim champ was not quick to defend himself from whatever onslaught Mir had in store.

Instead, Mir opened up with a fury of ground and pound that forced the referee to halt the bout, the first time Nogueira had ever suffered that fate in his career.

It was a long road for the former nightclub bouncer. He was stripped of a title he never truly lost and almost never got the chance to try to win it back.

A lucky break in the form of a bout with Lesnar only provided the opportunity. Without hard work and skill, Mir would have squandered his shot against Nogueira.

One can't survive at the top of the sport with luck alone.

Just ask Frank Mir.

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