Frank Mir isn't ready to be just another fighter competing in the UFC heavyweight division.
As a former two-time champion and with a career spent in the elite tier of his weight class, it would be easy for Mir to downshift. The Las Vegas native has been a fixture in the heavyweight hierarchy under the UFC banner for nearly a decade, and the option of competing in "fan friendly" fights would certainly be well within his grasp.
But that's not who Mir is. More to the point—that is precisely who Mir refuses to be. The 33-year-old is willing to make the sacrifices and shifts in his approach to ensure the process of progress rolls on.
That includes breaking from his comfort zone at home in Las Vegas to spend his training camp in Albuquerque for his showdown with Daniel Cormier at UFC on Fox 7.
In New Mexico, Mir put his training in the hands and mind of master strategist Greg Jackson. While the relocation to Jackson's camp sounds easy in theory, the move came with the uncertainty of a new environment and an entirely new cast of training partners to test him on a daily basis.
When the rigorous adjustment of training at 5,000-foot altitude is factored in, it becomes crystal clear that Mir is taking nothing about this stage of his career lightly. He is out to prove there is a legitimate reinvention in process.
"Coming off a loss in my last fight, I was looking at what I could do differently to keep my career moving in a positive direction," Mir told Bleacher Report. "One of the things that we looked at was during my training camps—eight or nine weeks out from a fight—I would separate myself from being a father and a husband so much. Come home on the weekends but basically had to camp during the week. The realistic idea of pulling that off while still in Las Vegas was just very unlikely and we started looking to train outside of Vegas.
"Obviously there are many great camps and coaches who are successful and of great merit, but I've always had a personal interest in training with Greg Jackson. I've always thought so highly of him. I had a huge interest to pick his brain and to go to his camp to see what was going on.
"I was very impressed and was very happy with how camp went. It's one thing to hear how great something is going to be but then actually seeing the intricate makings, how it actually works, and how he thinks about things and breaks them down. It was very impressive.
"It's definitely an improvement and a step forward in the right direction," Mir added. "I think training at Jackson's is the biggest step or change I've made in my entire career. I've changed out coaches and training partners, but I've never actually left to go to a camp for a fight. It's one of the biggest changes I've made in my career and I hope to see the best results from it."
Mir will have the opportunity to test his recent improvements this weekend when he squares off with Cormier. Aside from the bout featuring two of the best heavyweights in the world, a war of words in the pre-fight build-up has added attention to the card's co-main event. It has guaranteed the matchup between the former champion and the Strikeforce Grand Prix winner will be a high-profile heavyweight tilt.
The Louisiana native's arrival in the UFC comes equipped with a tremendous amount of expectation, as potential title talk in two weight classes is already swirling around the former Olympian. Despite the bout being Cormier's first showing on the sport's biggest stage, the AKA-trained fighter is the favorite going into the fight, where his wrestling and ever-evolving striking skills are figured to be the deciding factors.
Mir understands the predictions and breakdowns from analysts around the sport and hopes his opponent shares a similar mindset with the talking heads in MMA.
"I go out there and knock out Mirko Cro Cop and Cheick Kongo—who are great strikers—but lose a stand-up fight to dos Santos and now I'm back to being just a jiu-jitsu guy," Mir said. "That's just the way it is. There are so many fighters out there and I don't expect people to study my complete career. I think when analysts are breaking down a fight, the first main thought that comes up about a guy is his last performance. It's understandable people forget that I can strike. I am kind of hoping Cormier has as well.
"Time will tell," Mir added in regard to how Cormier will handle his UFC debut. "It's really a hard question to answer because he has experience competing at an international level, but obviously—as far as exposure—the events he's competed in are nowhere near as widely broadcast as a UFC event. I have to think the most people who have ever watched him perform as an athlete will be this Saturday.
"How he is going to respond to that? I don't know. I've seen it go both ways where some guys rise to the occasion, but more often than not I see guys crumble under the stress. He's fighting in his hometown. He's the favorite and everyone expects great things from him. Basically, he has nowhere to go but down at this point."
While there are questions and pressure surrounding Cormier's promotional debut, the bout holds a great deal of importance for Mir as well. He has been a staple in the heavyweight title picture over the past several years, and a win on Saturday night would keep him in the hunt for UFC gold. On the other hand, a loss to Cormier would put that position in jeopardy and potentially knock Mir out of the division's upper tier for the first time in his career.
"No, not really," Mir responded when asked if he felt additional pressure. "There is always pressure to win every fight. Right now I'm going out there to perform well and show the merits of my decision to go train in Albuquerque. I want to show an improved version of myself. Beyond that, I can't really control the outcome. If I'm unsuccessful, it's a step back in my career as far as going to the back of the line to go fight for the title. But that being said, in the heavyweight division, once you string two or three wins together it's easy to get back to title contention."
When the cage door closes this weekend in San Jose, the time will come for Mir to make a stand on multiple fronts. In one aspect, he's fighting for his place in the divisional title hunt, but on the other side of the coin, Mir is also looking to validate his efforts for reinvention.
Mir has spent more than a decade competing at the sport's highest level and is determined to prove that he still belongs there. That being said, Mir is also aware of the clock that is ticking on his career and wants to make sure he will leave nothing on the table when it is all said and done.
For everything he's accomplished in the sport and the sacrifices he's made to reach championship levels, the fight with Cormier is the chance to prove the new sacrifices and changes made were worthwhile.
"I realize I have been fighting now for almost 12 years in the UFC," Mir said. "I'm not going to fight for another 12 years so to say I'm more than halfway through or toward the end of my career is probably a pretty intelligent observation. I want to make sure every opportunity I have to step into the Octagon I have improved and gotten better. I realize the road is starting to come to an end, and I want to go out there and make sure I don't leave any questions left over in my mind. I think it's kind of sad when you sit there after your career is over and wonder what things would have been like if you had done this or that. I just want to try to silence those 'what ifs' and make sure I'm content with the amount of effort I put towards my career."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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