Frank Mir Rides Again

FULLY HEALED FROM A LIFE-THREATENING MOTORCYCLE CRASH, THE FORMER CHAMP FOCUSES ON RISING TO THE TOP – AGAIN

Frank Mir remembers it all: the adrenaline that ran through him at the impending danger, every detail in the road, and every feeling that shot through his body as it crashed to the Las Vegas pavement just west of the Strip.

He’d always been the daredevil, the one who would pass people on the road doing 120 miles per hour, the unbreakable UFC heavyweight champion. But on that day, he was doing the right thing – riding his motorcycle, coasting really, alongside his younger brother, Robert. Fate met him at the intersection of West Sahara Avenue and South Grand Canyon Drive.

Less than three months earlier, less than fifteen miles away at the Mandalay Bay Arena, he’d beaten the 6’8” giant Tim Sylvia, snapping Tim’s forearm with an armbar in less than a minute to become the heavyweight champ.

As he rode with his brother on that September 2004 day, his life was taking shape. Though previously married in a small service, he and his wife Jennifer had been scheduled to renew their vows in a bigger ceremony ten days from then. Additionally, at just 25 years old, he was on top of the mixed martial arts world in an organization that was ready to burst into the mainstream. He was expecting to headline a December 2004 card in a title defense against then-rising heavyweight Andrei Arlovski, scheduled for Tokyo, Japan.

He was cruising, both on his bike and in life, when everything changed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a car run the light and accelerate towards him. Mir put his faith in himself and his bike, revving the engine and hoping to swerve around the oncoming missile. But the man driving the car was nearly assured of hitting one of the Mir brothers, and when Frank sped up, it was the champion in his sights.

“I stared right at the hood as I was about to hit it,” he says, “and I said to myself, ‘Oh, shit, this is gonna be bad.’”

This is where Mir’s memory goes into hyperdrive.

The survival instinct kicks in immediately when a fighter is wounded. Mir felt the violent collision, and found himself cartwheeling through the air, realizing the ground was nearing and impact was imminent.

He’d begun martial arts training at 4 years old, had been tumbling and falling and learning how to absorb pain ever since. Perhaps due to those instincts, he took the fall across his shoulder blades, absorbing the force of impact. But he skidded and rolled, crashing helmet-first against the sidewalk, finally coming to a stop 85 feet from the accident’s point of contact.

The force of his landing and subsequent gravel-slide knocked the boots right off his feet, lodged a piece of concrete in his helmet, and nearly shredded the pants right off his body. While many men under the those circumstances would have been dead, when the paramedics arrived moments later, Mir was not only conscious but told them, “Honestly, I think I just need another fifteen minutes and I’ll be ok.”

One of the medics looked back at the accident scene, nearly as far away as the length of a regulation NBA court, and asked, “Did they drag you over here?” Mir shook his head. Then, the same EMT asked, “Has one of your legs always been shorter than the other?” Again, Mir responded no. This one meant his femur was likely broken.

Still, the paramedic scratched his head in shock at the calmness the victim was displaying. Usually, an injury like this one caused pain that was at the top of a 1-10 scale. Yet, when they cut away Mir’s pants to attend to him, leaving him naked from the waist down, he’d had the presence to joke, “Can you get me a towel? The grass is cold and wet. People are going to get a false sense of me.”

What Mir didn’t yet realize was that even though his pain threshold was almost inhuman, his life was in grave danger. The jagged edges of his broken leg threatened his femoral artery, a problem that could result in massive blood loss and even death.

Once stabilized and brought to the hospital, Mir panicked for the first time when doctors told him they’d have to administer anesthesia to put in a metal stint. The Jiu-Jitsu expert, master of chokes, fears nothing more than losing consciousness, and debated with them for two hours before they convinced him it had to be done.

During the time Mir was rehabilitating and making himself whole again (he also tore all the ligaments in his knee), the UFC was riding a wave of momentum. New fans were made almost daily due to the exposure the organization was receiving on cable television. Just as importantly, new stars were being made. In the almost twenty-month span between Mir’s fights, two seasons of the popular The Ultimate Fighter were broadcast, giving popularity to young fighters like Forrest Griffin, Diego Sanchez, Joe Stevenson,

and Rashad Evans. Meanwhile, established fighters like Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Rich Franklin, and Matt Hughes got a boost from the spotlight the show provided them.

Quickly, Mir became something of a forgotten man in MMA circles, as flocks of new fans focused on what was being fed to them. Many of those who remembered him thought he would never fight again. At home in Las Vegas, Mir, who had survived a crash that probably should have killed him, began to question himself and his future.

“Mentally, it broke me so badly,” he says. “I’d never dealt with serious injury before. When I got to feel what it was like to be so debilitated…I had to ask for help to go to the bathroom. My wife had to help me take a shower. I couldn’t do anything. And even a year later, hell, even now sometimes, I walk with a limp. And people ask me, ‘Hey, man, are you going to always have the limp?’ And it’s such a serious injury, it makes me realize, fuck, I am mortal.”

You’d think such self-discovery might have been made prior to that, but Mir had an air of invincibility due to his becoming the UFC champ at 25, and surviving previous motorcycle and ATV accidents with barely more than a scratch. But now, just as he’d laid in the intersection of two Las Vegas streets, he was at a crossroads in life.

The ensuing year would bring as much adversity as Mir had ever faced. His comeback began, but something was missing. Mir admits he became fearful of getting injured again; he didn’t fear the pain, but the recovery. And so, the man who had once been blatantly reckless was now nothing short of cautious.

In part, it stemmed from his family. By then he had two children, Marcus and Isabella, and a third, to be named Kage, on the way. Once upon a time, he’d never been tied down to anything, but now he was the anchor of a family. Where fighting was once solely a noble way to test himself, now it was a way to put food on the table. Where he’d never really valued money, now every dollar counted.

He couldn’t identify himself as Frank Mir, star. But he was still about the fight, whether in the cage, or regaining his health. Things had once come so naturally to Mir. He’d earned a Jiu-Jitsu black belt in less than four years. His manager, Dean Albrecht, who also runs a quantitative market research firm and works with the brightest minds in business, says Mir is “operating in rarefied air” when it comes to his intelligence. But even though at one time things came easily to him, now it was work.

“That’s why I take it so seriously now,” he says. “When I fi rst came back, I wasn’t able to do it very well. My body was broken, but even after my body healed, I was mentally broken. It became a platform of how I would approach anything in my life, because I understood if I couldn’t take this seriously, what would make me think I would take the next step seriously?”

Mir lost two of his first three fights after the injury, sandwiching a decision win over Dan Christison between TKO losses to Marcio Cruz and the highly regarded Brandon Vera. He admits now he wasn’t ready when he fi rst came back, but still believed that at a fraction of what he once was, he could win.

It was during his August 2007 match against Antoni Hardonk when Mir’s killer instinct seemed to return. Exhibiting the same sense of urgency that had made him a champion, he immediately put Hardonk down on the canvas and methodically worked a Kimura until getting a tapout just 1:17 into the fight.

“If you look at his earlier fights, there was a fi re there,” says Albrecht. “It was always a fight. Not a match, but a fight. His attitude was, ‘I’m going to get rid of him before he has a chance to hurt me.’ With Hardonk, we saw that again.”

Immediately after the victory, with a wide smile on his face, Mir looked out at the crowd and yelled, “I’m back.”

 

In his mind, he is now again the same fighter, in the same body, that he was when he snapped Sylvia’s arm to win the belt. He can punch, kick, and grapple, and the fluidity has returned to his ground game. The only thing he doesn’t do anymore is ride motorcycles – but only at his wife’s request. At 28, he still has youth on his side. But there is one thing missing, something that he lost without ever truly losing… the UFC heavyweight title.

On his body, he sports a tattoo that translates to “king without a crown.” In his home, he keeps the helmet from his accident, the concrete still embedded. It is a reminder of his past, of his rise, his fall, and his journey through life.

“When I had the title, I didn’t understand what it meant,” he says. “It’s like when you’re young and you’re dating a girl but you don’t understand how great she is until she leaves you. It’s the same thing. I had it, but I didn’t really appreciate what it meant. Now, I understand, and I covet it that much more.”

 

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