Las Vegas native Frank Mir, the former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder, remembers well when he first really took notice of Andrei Arlovski.
“I remember one time sitting in the audience when I was injured, and he was coming out to defend the belt,” Mir says. “He was bouncing around and had his fangs, and my wife was like, ‘Wow.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that guy is scary. I can’t wait to fight him.’”
A meeting between the two seemed inevitable. After all, Arlovski would claim Mir’s heavyweight title without ever fighting him, as a horrific motorcycle accident left Mir’s professional future in question. But that was a decade ago, and the two have yet to fight each other in the octagon.
That will change on Saturday night.
Mir (18-9) and Arlovski (24-10) meet in the co-main event of UFC 191: Johnson vs. Dodson II, at MGM Grand Garden Arena. The wait has made it one of the most anticipated non-title bouts in recent UFC heavyweight history, and the winner will edge closer to a shot at regaining the UFC heavyweight championship.
After a four-fight losing streak that threatened to end his career, the 36-year-old Mir, a Bonanza High School graduate, has since earned back-to-back first-round knockouts. Meanwhile, Arlovski went through a similar skid between 2009 and 2011 but has since gone 9-1 in his past 10 appearances.
Hearing Mir describe Arlovski’s journey is eerily similar to him telling his own narrative toward this unlikely contender’s fight. “Andrei I have insurmountable of respect for,” Mir says. “Everybody was saying that his chin is gone, that he can’t do it anymore, that he needs to retire. This guy doesn’t want to listen to anybody. He’s like, ‘I’m going to go ahead and keep moving forward, and I’m going to figure out a way.’”
Mir has done the same, enlisting Bishop Gorman High School wrestling coach Ricky Lundell, as well as former Freddie Roach disciple trainer Angelo Reyes to help revitalize his game.
“There are several big things I do differently now,” Mir says. “One of them is strategy and game-planning for a fight. In the very beginning of my career all the way up until I made Ricky my head coach, I never game-planned. I actually believed against it.
“Now I realize, why not take advantage of the fact that I can pull out footage and statistics on my opponent and plan specifically for them? It’s not going to make me a weaker martial artist; it’s going to make me train more effectively for the guy I’m fighting.”
With that willingness to adapt and evolve, even after 14 years in the UFC–the longest tenure of any fighter on the UFC’s roster–Mir is perhaps fighting better than at any previous point in his career. Mir admits he would have preferred to avoid Arlovski for now, simply because he thinks with a few more wins they could have met with a title on the line.
“I’m not happy about it, I guess, on a social level,” Mir says. “Both of us have a lot to offer the sport, and I don’t want to see either of us derailed right now. I would have been much happier with this situation if we could have skipped each other at this point.”
But when the UFC came calling, Mir said he was happy to step up for the company that stood behind him in his darkest days. Now he hopes he and Arlovski can put on a spectacular performance in a fight that is 10 years in the making, no matter how difficult the journey proved for both men to get to this moment.
“Here are two guys who everybody counted out but a handful of people,” Mir says. “But we both figured out ways to re-create ourselves and move forward, and now we’re here.”