Only two fights into his professional career Frank Mir joined the UFC at age 22, and it didn't take him long to be noticed by heavyweights with a whole lot more experience.
Mir's career trajectory didn't take him directly to a title shot, but after a loss to Ian Freeman in his fifth pro fight, he learned a valuable lesson and came back a much better fighter.
Since that moment, Mir has competed for either the UFC heavyweight title or the interim UFC heavyweight title a total of four more times. He captured the interim belt on one other occasion, but hasn't been able to reach the top of the mountain again since his initial run back in 2004.
Now as he enters his bout against former UFC champion Josh Barnett at UFC 164, Mir will for the first time ever look to stop a two fight-losing streak, while maintaining his standing in the division.
Mir may have competed for the UFC heavyweight title just two fights ago, but as the losses mount and his inability to win the gold again haunts him, he's entering the fight with Barnett facing a bit of uncertainty in his career.
While some former champions are able to move forward and no longer focus on the belt, Mir just can't become one of those guys.
"I don't concede the fact of just trying to put on great fights," Mir said during a UFC conference call on Tuesday. "Obviously the outcome of my drive is to work back towards the title. I don't see it as a situation where that's no longer within my grasp."
Mir has consistently been ranked near the top of the heavyweight division for most of his UFC career, but his recent losses in title fights coupled with a growing division full of contenders pushes him further and further to the fringe.
No matter what the rest of the top 10 looks like, Mir isn't ready to give up on the chance to fight for a belt again.
People have counted him out in the past, for instance when a motorcycle crash nearly ended his career and put Mir on the shelf for almost two years. When he returned, Mir lost two out of his next three fights, and it seemed he was no longer an elite fighter.
Mir didn't give up, and was able to battle back, winning his next three fights in a row while taking home the interim UFC title along the way.
So if that was Mir version 2.0, consider this a third restart when everyone is counting him out after two straight losses. He's not giving up on his dream of becoming champion again, and he refuses to believe it's out of reach.
"The training I'm doing now, where I'm at in life, being only 34 years of age, I don't really see it as an issue to concede to the fact that 'oh I'm only going to fight to be an entertaining fight, just added onto a card'," Mir said. "That's just not where I'm at in my life."
A win at UFC 164 over a fighter like Barnett will go a long way to proving Mir is still relevant in the heavyweight division title picture. A loss, however, would be devastating, marking three defeats in a row.
Mir's real title fight might just be avoiding the label of gatekeeper, and he has the chance to do that next Saturday night in Milwaukee.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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