The co-main event at UFC 191 on Sept. 5, 2015, at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., will be a nostalgic one, as Frank Mir (18-9) and Andrei Arlovski (24-10 (1) will finally face one another in a bout that is over 10 years in the making.
The pair of 36-year-old former heavyweight champions were on a collision course to meet in the Octagon back in 2005, but an unfortunate motorcycle accident placed Mir-- who was the UFC heavyweight champion at that time -- on the shelf for almost two years. The division moved on in a different direction as Mir recuperated, while Arlovski defeated Tim Sylvia for the interim title.
The UFC planned to book a title-unification bout in August of 2005, but Mir's recovery would keep him sidelined past that date, so he was forced to relinquish the title due to not being able to defend it, and Arlovski was promoted to UFC heavyweight champion.
Now, a decade later, Mir, who is the longest-tenured fighter in UFC, will finally meet Arlovski, who is in his second stint in UFC after a six-year absence. It's a fight that isn't just for the sake of giving the fans something they always wanted to see, but a match up that has title-fight implications.
On Thursday's (Aug. 27, 2015) UFC 191 conference call, Mir recalled one of the Belarusian fighter's wins that caught his admiring eyes back at UFC 47: "It's on!"
"I remember when I watched him fight Wesley Correira and I just remember being just overwhelmed, or really just impressed with how overwhelming he was," Mir said. "His offense, his footwork, his combinations. I remember just being so impressed. I think a lot of times we try to give people perspective because we are all fighters and we have to fight each other, but it was one of those few times where actually, I was personally was a fan. Where I was like 'wow, this is a very beautiful thing to watch.' So impressive. So explosive. So fast. The fan in me also came out."
The UFC record holder for most fights, wins, and submissions in the heavyweight division heaped a ton of praise at his UFC 191 adversary.
"I think Andrei poses a huge threat," said Mir. "Offensively, he is one of the best fighters in the UFC. His footwork. His movement. How hard he hits. People forget sometimes the guy is also an extremely technical grappler. The guy was a champion Sambo player. To go out there, you can't fall asleep on the fact."
"The guy really is a threat everywhere as far as being exciting and finishing fights," Mir continued. "You never have to worry about him trying to drag a fight out or lay on you and look for a decision. The guy is super exciting. I think it is great to have him back climbing the ranks in the sport. I think it's great for the sport."
Arlovski said "it's an honor" to face Mir and that he is "extremely happy for him," before crediting the fellow former champion on his attributes.
"I have to keep in mind also he's not only a black belt [in Brazilian jiu-jitsu] he also has the power to knock people out," he said, and later added, "his last two victories over 'Bigfoot' and Duffee were amazing. It was impressive to me."
Mir said he was "surprised" when he got the call to fight Arlovski only a few days after knocking out Todd Duffee at UFC Fight Night 71, and that a longer build up to the 191 co-main event "would've been better" in his estimation, given the history between he and Arlovski.
The two heavyweights are both having a resurgence in their respective careers after being considered an afterthought for a period of time. After suffering a vicious knockout defeat to Sergei Kharitonov in 2011, to cap a career-low four-fight losing streak, Arlovski continued on to post a 6-1 (1) record and got a second shot in UFC.
As for Mir, he also went on a four-fight losing streak and after dropping a decision to Alistair Overeem early in 2014, took a year off to recharge his competitive batteries and decide whether or not he wanted to continue to fight or not. Since his return, he has won both of his fights by knockout and is now ranked No. 10 in the UFC heavyweight division. Arlovski has won three straight, knocking out Travis Browne and Antonio Silva after winning a split decision over Brendan Schaub.
He is now ranked No. 4 and has found himself in title contention.
"For me, I think I became a smarter person and a fighter," said Arlovski. "I choose what's more important for me. I have a second run in the UFC and I know it's going to be better than the first one. I am going to do everything possible to be a champion again. I I just love what I'm doing right now and I feel great. I have fire in my eyes and I'm just ready to go and I'm excited to be a part of this great event on September 5th."
"We are both guys that were champions," said Mir. "We were at the top of the sport. We worked our way up there and then we both had it to where they counted us out. I read articles where they thought Andrei no longer had it. I read the same articles that said that I should retire and I should call it a night. Here we are back in the mix of things. Andrei is knocking on the door of a title fight. He is ranked fourth in the world. I'm back in the top 10. Retirement talks have definitely been, I think, silenced slightly now. Both of us represent that as long as you diligent and you train hard and you have heart behind what you are doing, success will come, you just have to keep marching forward regardless of what those around you are saying."
Arlovski and Mir have trained together while Mir was at Jackson's MMA and it's clear they both have a fondness and mutual respect for one another. "The Pitbull" likened their fight to just being "business." The title picture was brought up to Arlovski, who many thought would be in line to face Fabricio Werdum before the fight against Mir was announced. The No. 4-ranked heavyweight said he's fine with another payday against a tough opponent happening first.
"Of course I would love to fight for the title if the UFC wants me to fight for the title next fight," Arlovski explained. "But at the same time, I want to make some money. Frank Mir, he is not a joke. He is a very dangerous and a very good fighter and he is going to be a big test for me."
Should Mir be the victor on September 5th, his name could end up back in the title-fight discussion. He explained he doesn't necessarily think a win over Arlovski will catapult him to a title fight and he that he currently looks at each of his fights as a piece in the cumulative puzzle that leads him back to another shot at UFC gold.
"I look at every opportunity to go out there and fight as just one step closer to the title," Mir explained. "I don't foresee that one particular fight as the fight to skyrocket me or make me or break me. Each guy is dangerous. Part of my mental success. I just approach it as each fight is its own separate entity and that is who I am facing. And Andrei is right, it is just business. That is the next fight they wanted me to fight."
After the match up materialized over a decade ago, the unlikely chance it would ever happen has now become a reality for both fighters. Both Arlovski and Mir could've called it a career, but didn't and the latter says that is because they both "represent so many of the same great qualities of persevering through adversity."
"Andrei has never called it quits," Mir continued. "I never called it quits. No matter what adversity we ran into. After losses we show up the next day at the gym to make ourselves better fighters and better men. I think that is a testament to why we are still here pushing forward and other guys have ended their journey."