Rashad Evans and Frank Mir now have something in common. Both became UFC champions Saturday night. But their back story and how they became champs could not be more opposite.
If you watched UFC 92 Saturday night you saw Frank Mir become the first ever fighter to knock out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to win the Interim UFC Heavyweight title. He looked sharp and in shape and did something not even the legendary Fedor Emelianenko could do: knock out Big Nog.
And you also saw Rashad Evans. He was his usual self. He started slow and came back in the later rounds and showed why he is pound for pound one of the most athletic fighters in all in MMA, knocking out the former champion Forrest Griffin in round 3.
But the challenges they faced and their road to the title would lead you to believe they were reading from different maps.
Mir’s story could have been plucked straight from a Hollywood movie. Mir was the UFC heavyweight champion, but suffered a life threatening motorcycle accident in September of 2004. Doctors told him he may never fight again. Critics wrote him off and thought they had seen the last of Mir. A year and five months later Mir was back in the cage and lost badly to Marcio Cruz. Mir admits it was an embarrassing loss against someone he should have handled easily. He went 1-1 in his next 2 and after his loss to Brendan Vera he told those close to him that he simply didn’t have it anymore. The UFC told him if he lost his next one he was through.
His fighting career and life were at a cross roads.
Mir went on to beat Antoni Hardonk and Brock Lesnar in his next two fights. Critics said only one of those was a worthy challenge and Lesnar had only 1 pro fight prior to Mir. Many questioned the decision to give him a title shot against Nogueira, saying that Mir hadn’t earned it. They argued that the only significant fight he had won in 3 years was over a green Brock Lesnar.
He erased all doubt Saturday night becoming the first man to knock out the iron chinned Brazilian in what will go down as the greatest performance of Mir’s fighting life. Those close to Frank knew that he had already faced his biggest challenge with the accident and that he didn’t need to prove he could hang with the big boys – he had already done that.
Evans, on the other hand, hasn’t faced the same kind of adversity outside the cage. He has never suffered a major injury. He’s never tasted defeat inside the cage like Mir has. His road was different, but equally as difficult. To earn his title he had to go through Stephan Bonnar, Tito Ortiz, Michael Bisping, Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin. And he wasn’t allowed to miss a step. One could argue this is the most impressive list of fighters anyone has gone through without a loss to start a career.
The challenges that Evans faced were inside of the cage whereas Mir’s were mostly outside. Mir had to deal with the demons inside of his head after his crash, while Evans had to deal with the demons standing across the cage from him… and he had to do it repeatedly.
Despite their path to the title and the challenges they faced, they both proved Saturday night that by facing that adversity it can push a fighter over the final hump to becoming a champion. The two will forever be remembered as the fighters who won UFC belts on the same night to wrap up 2008. But let’s never forget how they got there.