The last couple years haven’t been especially kind to Frank Mir.
Mir’s career has been in limbo since March 2016, owing to a positive performance enhancing drugs test following his first-round KO loss to Mark Hunt at UFC Fight Night 84.
With his two-year suspension newly up, the 38-year-old former UFC champion is set to return against Fedor Emelianenko Saturday in the opening round of the Bellator MMA heavyweight grand prix.
In the interim, Mir departed his longtime fighting home inside the UFC’s Octagon for Bellator. He also gained a fair amount of weight while making ends meet taking color commentary gigs, instructional seminars and personal appearances.
To say he’s eager to get back to action feels like an understatement.
“This is where I’ve been my whole adult life, so to not do it was depressing,” Mir tells Bleacher Report. “This is my religion. That’s why I got fat and overweight—the stress of being suspended. My bills didn’t get suspended. My wife and kids didn’t get suspended. Real life had to go on.”
Mir broke into the UFC in 2001, when he was just 21 years old and had competed in just two previous professional MMA bouts. By age 24 he was champion and over the next decade and a half, logged a total of 27 fights, the most all-time by a heavyweight.
He was as synonymous with the brand as any UFC fighter and the highlight of him breaking Tim Sylvia’s arm to win the title at UFC 48 was a stomach-turning all-time great. Yet Mir also had a tumultuous career in the Octagon, one that was almost cut short by the serious motorcycle accident that ended his title reign in 2005.
He fought his way back—winning an interim title in 2008 and engaging in a pair of high-profile bouts with Brock Lesnar—but never again regained the promise of his early years.
Mir ended his UFC career on a 2-6 skid and his positive test for metabolites of turinabol—about which he continues to maintain his innocence—merely felt like the final inch in a long, slow slide. When Mir announced his departure from the UFC and signing with Bellator in August 2017, it was with surprisingly little fanfare.
After former UFC co-owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta sold the company to Endeavor (previously WME-IMG) for $4.2 billion, Mir says he had an easier time walking away from the company than he might otherwise have had.
“I think if it was the old UFC that originally was there it probably would have been more of an issue with me leaving,” Mir says. “But I kind of feel like the UFC closed shop. There’s a company called the UFC, but it’s not the UFC I fought for.”
Now, he’s set to be one of the few true heavyweights in the Bellator GP bracket, where the winner will take the organization’s vacant 265-pound title.
In front of him is Emelianenko, once regarded as a quasi-mystical force in MMA circles, as the Russian enigma amassed 28 fights without a loss from 2001-2010 and won the PrideFC heavyweight title.
These days Emelianenko is in much the same late-career slump as Mir, scuffling to a mediocre 5-4 since Fabricio Werdum snapped his win-streak in their Strikeforce fight in 2010.
At 6’3” and around 260 pounds, Mir will have a significant size advantage on the 6’0”, 230-pound Emelianenko—and nearly every other entrant into the tournament. The winner of this quarterfinal bout will take on Chael Sonnen, a natural middleweight, in the semifinals.
The lack of giants in the bracket has led some observers to wonder if size and strength will ultimately be the most important factor in deciding a winner. Mir, however, is quick to point out he’s not only the strongest guy in the field, he’s also the most technical and the most knowledgeable.
“If you break down actual techniques and knowledge of MMA, I am more knowledgeable than the head coaches of all the guys I’m fighting,” he says. “Forget the guys I’m fighting. Obviously I know more than they do, nobody is going to question that. But I also know more than the guys who are teaching them about fighting. I could teach them.”
The Bellator title might be considered a nice token for Mir at this stage in his career, considering he needs to beat Emelianenko just to snap a current two-fight losing streak. The solid veteran says he’s not much for accolades, though.
Mir says he’s still in the fight business for two reasons: Because he loves it and so his kids can brag about his accomplishments.
“I just love fighting,” Mir says. “You lock me in there with another guy—that strategy, that game of chess—I’m in love with it. I’ll be in love with it until the day I die. Now, if you want to strap a belt on me at the end of it? That’s cool, my kids can brag about it. You want to give me a big paycheck at the end of it? That’s great, my wife will let me keep going to the gym and train. Those things are good for the people around me. I just want to fight somebody.”
Mir fights Emelianenko on Saturday at Bellator 198, live at All-State Arena outside Chicago. The main card begins at 9 p.m. ET.