Inside the cage, friendships fade and only opponents remain for focused former champion.
Looking to build off his uneventful yet decisive victory over Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 119, the former two-time heavyweight champion knows that with the shifting landscape of the heavyweight division, a victory over TUF 10 winner Roy Nelson on Saturday would put him next to whoever ends up next in line for a shot at the title.
“What happened with the main event a couple weeks ago catapulted Roy and I (to a place where we) are much more highlighted in this event now. With what has happened with (Brock) Lesnar, it’s very unfortunate, but it also raises the question of how long he’ll be out, and in my opinion, we are getting a true read on who the #1 contender is from the winner of the fight on June 11 between Shane Carwin and Junior dos Santos.
“I figure the winner of that match is very deserving; I don’t think that anyone can argue that they’re not very deserving. And I think this match on Saturday between Roy and myself now puts us in the #2 spot. I might have to fight one more time after Saturday to take up time because obviously they’re going to have to set up a fight with Cain and the winner of that fight, but I feel that right now, that puts us right there steamrolling into it.”
UFC President Dana White said Wednesday that Mir’s assessment of the heavyweight picture is perfect, which should up the ante for both men come Saturday night.
Since this fight was announced, one of the dominant narratives to emerge has been the relationship between the two combatants.
Having both been born and raised in Las Vegas, Mir and Nelson are more familiar and friendly with each other many opponents, having trained together in the past and sharing many mutual friends. While that is the case, Mir wants to make sure everyone knows he will try to finish anyone who steps into the cage with him.
“If my wife were to get in the ring with me, I would try to knock her out and choke her unconscious, no problem. I would flip the switch. That’s what takes it to where we’re up here, Roy and I are friends before the fight. I like the guy a lot. We’ll be friends after the fight as well.
“But during that fight, it doesn’t matter that we liked each other beforehand; trust me, Roy’s going to try to knock my head off, I’m going to try to knock his head off, and if I can catch him in a choke, I want him to go to sleep. I guarantee you that he’d like to take my arm and put it on his mantle. I’ve never tapped in a submission competition and I’ve never tapped in the UFC. I’m pretty sure he’d be the first to try to make that happen.”
Many people have a hard time grasping the concept, in part because most people don’t punch another person in the face for a living. While that certainly plays a part in the disconnect, so too does the recent increase in high fives and in-fight hugs we’ve seen in recent months.
Last summer, Pat Barry spoke openly about his admiration and idolization of Cro Cop, whom he faced at UFC 115. At different points during the fight, Barry and the former Pride standout touched gloves and even shared a smile and an embrace in the center of the Octagon, causing many to feel that Barry let up on his hero.
While the reality is that the charismatic kickboxer had broken both his hand and his foot at different points along the way, the perception is that the admiration Barry felt for his opponent hindered his ability to do what was necessary to win the fight. Though he likes Nelson and assist there’s no real animosity between the two, Mir says you don’t have to worry about him letting up on Saturday night.
“I don’t need to fake it and build up that I dislike you, and maybe that’s what people are having a hard time understanding. I don’t have to dislike you to want to punch you. If it’s my job or you’re there on that given day; it’s the same thing as a football game. I watched John Lynch knock out his brother-in-law in a football game. That’s just the way it is; it’s a sport.”
Lynch, the Super Bowl winning safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was one of the fiercest competitors of his time. When his brother-in-law John Allred, then of the Chicago Bears, came over the middle in an attempt to catch a pass, Lynch did what any safety would do; he delivered a crushing blow to his opponent, knocking Allred from the game.
The solitary and inherently violent nature of MMA makes it hard for some people to view it in the same light as other professional sports, but the preparation and singular focus on beating your opponent is no different any other sport. If given the opportunity, Mir won’t hesitate to have his own “John Lynch Moment” in the cage on Saturday night at UFC 130.
“I’m not thinking about how my opponent is going to feel after the fight. You’re my opponent. [He’s] no longer Roy, I’m not going to be Frank to him; I’m the guy trying to take money out of your pocket.
“If someone was trying to rob you of half your paycheck, you wouldn’t be hugging and touching them during the fight. You’d be pretty upset about the situation. After it’s done, you put things back into perspective; he’s trying to do the same things and that’s okay. But at the end of the day, I have more of an obligation to my children going to private school than I do putting anybody else’s kids through private school.”
Since he’d be willing to choke out his wife if she challenged him in the cage and applauds Lynch for leveling his in-laws in the NFL, there should be no remaining doubt whether Mir will be looking for a battle or a bromance inside the cage on Saturday night.