It likely says something about the current state of the UFC’s heavyweight division that a battle between Josh Barnett and Frank Mir at UFC 164 in Milwaukee this weekend has such significance.
It’s a fight that has been years in the making. Both fighters entered the UFC back in the early 2000s, and both have carved out impressive careers in very different fashions. Mir has been a staple with the organization, claiming the heavyweight title in 2004, winning an interim title in 2008 and registering the most fights, wins and finishes in heavyweight history.
He welcomed Brock Lesnar to the UFC by submitting him before losing a subsequent rematch, and holds a pair of wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. However, his career appears on a downward trend after back-to-back losses.
Barnett has definitely taken the nomad route in his career. “The Warmaster” was released by the UFC in 2002 for testing positive for steroids after his title-winning performance against Randy Couture at UFC 36. In his 11-year absence, Barnett has been a part of Pride, Affliction and most recently Strikeforce. He’s even dabbled in professional wrestling, which has become an influence in his post-fight interviews.
Not surprisingly, the back and forth verbal jousting between the two veterans was in full evidence in the UFC 164 Countdown show.
Many wondered if Barnett’s rocky relationship with UFC executives would ever see him back in the Octagon again, but apparently time heals all wounds. He’s being given a prime chance to make an immediate impact, and the 35-year old catch wrestling specialist has made no bones about his desire to shake up the heavyweight division.
It’s an extremely interesting matchup given the submission abilities of both. Mir is memorable for the damage he can inflict with his submissions — witness the broken arm sustained by Tim Sylvia in their 2004 title fight, and the fact that he also left Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira with a gruesome arm injury after becoming the only man to ever submit “Big Nog” in his MMA career.
Barnett seems to have no fear of Mir’s ground game, saying he’s just fine in his own right with 19 submission victories. His approach differs in that he’s more inclined to achieve top position and then pound on his opponents until they seemingly cave into a finishing move.
Barnett was bested by Daniel Cormier in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Final back in 2012, but put on a gritty display. It snapped an eight-fight win streak. He was victorious in his final Strikeforce fight before finally signing on the dotted line with the UFC. If Barnett doesn’t get it done against Mir this weekend, his return could be a one-and-done. A victory, on the other hand, would automatically vault him into title contention.
Mir, for his part, is badly in need of a victory after suffering losses his last two times out against Daniel Cormier and Junior dos Santos. While Mir has improved his boxing skills, Barnett’s left hook could be the most damaging punch if the fight turns into a stand-up affair. A third straight loss for Mir would definitely leave his career at a point of no return.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports