When former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir steps into the cage Saturday to take on Roy Nelson he'll be entering uncharted waters. A longtime veteran of the sport, Mir has seen just about everything, but this is the first time he'll be fighting someone who he considers a friend.
"It's a little awkward," said Mir. "I've fought people in the past that I had no issues with, but not really to where I've been friends with them so that does make it a little bit awkward. Like Shane Carwin for example I have no animosity towards him, I actually kinda like him, but I haven't spent a lot of time with him, where Roy and I have hung out a bit more, so it did make it a little awkward to even take the fight.
"To be honest with you if I could have fought somebody else it would have worked out a bit easier, but at the end of the day, like my coach said, you actually end up punching your friends in the face more than you do the guys your fighting with all of the sparing."
Mir and Nelson have been friends for sometime, but this isn't the first time they've squared off against each other in competition. The two faced one another in a grappling tournament in 2003, with Nelson coming out on top.
But, Mir has worked hard to improve his grappling since then and considers himself a completely different fighter. Lately the underrated striker and brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt has taken to training wrestling, something that he believes to be the weakest part of his game despite the fact that he was a state champion wrestler in high school.
"Wrestling is probably the weakest portion of my all-around game," Mir said. "Reason being that for whatever reason I think people just have a tendency to train things that they enjoy more. Submissions and jiu-jitsu has always fascinated me, so in practice it's a pleasure to train it. Same with striking. I love the striking arts, and in the past wrestling wasn't shown to me in the right format. It was kinda like, 'Look there's only a few basic moves, it's really about being in shape and going hard and driving.' And that always turned me away, because I'm like, 'Wow there's really not a lot of technique to this? It's just, be strong, grab someone's leg and explode? That sucks.'"
That perception changed for Mir after meeting Ricky Lundell, who now oversees Mir's wrestling.
"Recently, in training with Ricky Landell out of Utah, he wrestled with Cael Sanderson over at Iowa, his approach on it, because he's was also a black belt in jiu-jitsu before he ever stepped on a wrestling mat, he says there's a certain level of power behind a maneuver, but it has to be balanced by technique and you have to know what you're going for," Mir said. "There is a very intricate art to wrestling and that's why I'm starting to enjoy the training practices that much more."
Mir is now 2-2 in his past four fights and facing somewhat of a crossroads. Since fully recovering from a near fatal motorcycle accident in 2004, he's been able to outstrike and submit some of the best strikers and jiu-jitsu fighters in the division, but has struggled mightily against the only two top level wrestlers he's faced in Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin respectively.
However, armed with better technique and wrestling training, Mir would like another shot against...