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Frank Mir Shows No Fear of Junior dos Santos' Ground Game

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Former UFC champion Frank Mir has a chance to make history at UFC 146.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos is said to be as dangerous on the ground as he is standing. A brown belt under the Nogueira brothers, the theory goes that the only reason we haven't seen dos Santos' jiu-jitsu is because he's so efficient on his feet, he hasn't needed to use it in UFC competition.

Frank Mir, the UFC's resident limb-snapper, isn't buying the notion. In a one-on-one phone interview Friday, Mir, who challenges for the heavyweight title on May 26 in the main event of UFC 146 in Las Vegas, scoffed at the idea that dos Santos has the skills to keep up with him on the ground.

"Have you ever seen how he's reacted when he's been off his feet?" Mir asked. "He gets right up and runs away as soon as he can. That doesn't look like someone who's too confident in his ground game to me."

Such talk might seem boastful, but when you've been through the career peaks and valleys the Nevada native has experienced, you've already proven you can back up your words.

The former heavyweight and interim champion has emerged as one of the UFC's true survivors. Since submitting Roberto Traven in his company debut at UFC 34 in 2001, there have been 14 UFC heavyweight and interim title reigns. In a division with a high rate of turnover at the top even by mixed martial arts' warp-speed standards, Mir has been through it all, taking some of the sport's most spectacular wins and devastating setbacks in stride.

"I mean, you just have to keep the faith," said Mir (17-5). "No one is guaranteed a spot at the top, no one is guaranteed a title shot, but all you can do is win your fight, keep training, and then maybe somewhere down the road you'll get your opportunity. I can't actually stop and take the time to think about everything that's happened, you just have to erase doubt from your mind and keep pushing forward."

That attitude has served Mir well as he worked his way back to another title shot. Mir's run as a title contender seemed to hit a brick wall just two years ago, when he was on the wrong end of a brutal TKO at the hands of Shane Carwin in an interim title fight at UFC 111. That was his second loss in three fights, as he was manhandled by Brock Lesnar in their UFC 100 rematch.

But since then, Mir has responded with three straight victories, the last of which was one of the most memorable finishes in MMA history, as he snapped Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's arm with a Kimura at UFC 140.

The move was honored as Submission of the Year in the World MMA Awards, but Mir says he didn't plan on snapping his opponent's arm.

"The best analogy I can come up with is this: The other day, I went to get something out of my fridge and I knocked over a can of parmesan cheese, and I caught it out of midair. I didn't stop and think ‘Oh my god, if I don't reach out and grab this, it's going to make a mess and I'll have to clean it up.' It was just an instinctual thing, I just reached for it and that was it.

"It's the same with Nogueira. When you're in the heat of the fight with a guy as dangerous as him, you don't have the time to think it through. You just keep applying the pressure and try to get him to tap."

Mir was originally slated to face Cain Velasquez at UFC 146, but ended up with the shot at dos Santos' title after Alistair Overeem's well-publicized troubles. With a victory over dos Santos, Mir would join Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia as the only multiple-time UFC heavyweight champs (not including interim title reigns).

But Mir's in no mood to talk about his legacy at the moment. As he sees it, he's got a long way to go in the sport.

"You have to remember I got started in this early," said Mir. "When I was fighting guys like Tank [Abbott] and Wes Sims, I was 21 years old. ... People don't usually have long careers as heavyweights because they mature into the role. Look at amateur wrestling, you don't usually see guys go to heavyweight as freshman. I was just blessed that even though I wasn't as big as some of the other guys, I was able to step in right away at heavyweight.

"Trust me, I don't think I'm anywhere near done. I'm only 32. I think I'm about halfway through my career."

If that's the case, who knows? Maybe somewhere down the road we'll see a trilogy fight with Lesnar, with whom Mir split a pair of bouts.

"Oh yeah, I'd take that fight in a heartbeat," Mir said when posed with a hypothetical fight. "Look, it would be easier for him to come back [to MMA] than for me to chase him into wrestling. I'm a terrible actor."