In our first two editions of Ultimate Rivalries we re-lived two of the rivalries that helped the Ultimate Fighting Championship go from underground fight league to mainstream brand – Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock and Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture – but for our latest instalment we are looking back at a feud that took the UFC to new box office heights a decade ago, Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir.
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Could a former professional wrestler really cross over and dominate in the world of ‘real fighting’, or would he be sent back to the script writers with his tale firmly between his legs? That was the question on everyone’s lips when former WWE star Lesnar put pen-to-paper on a deal with the UFC. Former heavyweight champion of the world Frank Mir was the man to greet him at the door, and so began the road to one of the biggest events in the history of the mixed martial arts.
Lesnar’s Road To The Octagon
When it was announced that Brock Lesnar was heading to the UFC this was not a tale of a ‘fake pro wrestler’ who wanted to try his hand in a ‘real’ sport. Lesnar had been a stand-out amateur wrestler during his collegiate days, earning him a lucrative deal with the WWE in 2000, but he walked away from professional wrestling in 2004 and despite having never played a down in college, he set his sights on becoming a football player in the National Football League (NFL).
His dream of making it to the NFL suffered a setback when he was involved in a motorcycle accident not long after leaving WWE, but despite suffering from several injuries he impressed enough to land a spot with the Minnesota Vikings and he appeared in a handful of pre-season games before being released. Lesnar snubbed the opportunity to extend his career by heading to NFL Europe and instead returned to professional wrestling with New Japan Pro Wrestling, but by 2007 he was itching to try his hand at something new. That something new would be mixed martial arts.
What other wrestlers could play in the League? pic.twitter.com/hIEBDrKqeM
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) April 9, 2018
Lesnar made his MMA debut by defeating Min-Soo Kim in 69 seconds as part of the K-1 HERO’S Dynamite!! USA card on June 2, and four months later, with a professional record of just 1-0, it was announced that he had signed a deal with the premier organisation in the sport, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Taming The Beast
Lesnar could not have asked for a much tougher introduction to the UFC than a fight with a former heavyweight champion, but at this time Frank Mir was still on the comeback trail after a horrific motorcycle accident and many were questioning whether or not he had the heart to compete, including UFC analyst Joe Rogan. However, what could not be questioned was Mir’s ability as a fighter and it was as if Rogan was looking into a crystal ball when he said before the fight, “If Brock Lesnar makes a mistake, Frank Mir is the perfect guy to capitalise on it.”
Lesnar took Mir down to the mat almost immediately and began to unload with hammer-fists, but just as quickly as the fight hit the canvas referee Steve Mazzagatti made the controversial call to separate the two men, stand them up and deduct a point off Lesnar for landing a single blow to the back of Mir’s head as the former champion tried to turn away from strikes. The former WWE star would soon send his opponent back to the mat though, landing a right hand as Mir attempted a kick, and once again he began dropping hammer-fists in an attempt to get the fight stopped. Mir remained cool though as Lesnar rained down strikes and just like Rogan warned could happen, a rookie error by the ex-wrestler cost him dear. Mir worked his way into position to sink in a kneebar that left Lesnar with no choice but to tap out.
— danawhite (@danawhite) December 22, 2015
Afterwards Mir resisted any temptation to mock his beaten opponent and Lesnar respectfully admitted that the former champion had been the better man on the night, but it was not too long before hostilities were renewed, setting up a huge rematch at the UFC’s biggest card up to that time, UFC 100.
The Beast Bites Back
Lesnar bounced back from his first career loss by dominating veteran Heath Herring for three full rounds just six months later, and by the end of 2008 he was sitting on top of the world after stopping the legendary Randy Couture in the second round to become UFC heavyweight champion in only his fourth professional fight. Mir, meanwhile, capped off his year with an impressive TKO win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and that meant he and the newly-crowned champion were on course for a massive rematch in 2009. That rematch would take place on the biggest card ever – UFC 100.
UFC 100 smashed the company’s PPV record, setting a mark that would not be beaten for over seven years, when the Nate Diaz-Conor McGregor rematch eclipsed it by a few million dollars, but would the main event deliver in front of this blockbuster audience? Would Mir once again get the better of Lesnar, or had the heavyweight champion learned a valuable lesson when he tapped out almost 18 months earlier? The answer was definitive.
Lesnar came out a lot more tentative than in the first fight, but he soon found himself on top of Mir on the canvas after the ex-champion attempted to roll into some sort of leg lock during a takedown attempt by the current title-holder. Lesnar had clearly learned his lesson from the recklessness that had cost him dear in his UFC debut, and instead of trying to take out Mir quickly he began to pick his shots, busting up the face of Mir to dominate the remainder of the round.
Mir appeared to have some success early in the second as he landed an elbow and a knee with Lesnar’s back up against the cage, but an attempt at a flying knee presented the champion with an opportunity to take his challenger to the mat and he took it. Lesnar took Mir down, pinned him up against the Octagon wall and unloaded with some heavy punches that forced referee Herb Dean to bring a stop to the contest. Lesnar than capped of his night with one of the most memorable post-fight interviews in UFC history.
“Frank Mir had a horseshoe up his ass – I told him that a year ago,” Lesnar told Joe Rogan. “I pulled that son of a bitch out and I beat him over the head with it. I’m gonna go home tonight. I’m gonna drink a Coors Light… that’s a Coors Light because [UFC sponsors] Bud Light won’t pay me nothing. I’m gonna sit down with my friends and family, and hell, I might even get on top of my wife tonight!”
Lesnar would go on to defend his title one more time, against Shane Carwin a year later, but his MMA career was derailed by a serious battle with illness and although he did return he was not the same fighter, losing to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem before calling time on his UFC career and heading back to the WWE. Fight fans were left to wonder what could have been had Diverticulitis not taken its toll on his health, but he left a lasting legacy in the form of big box office numbers, legendary post-fight interviews and, of course, the rivalry with Mir.