Slowly but surely, the card for UFC 164 in Milwaukee is beginning to take shape. Predictably, three of the officially announced fights include a fighter with some connection to Wisconsin or the Upper Midwest. Ben Rothwell (from Kenosha, Wis.) will fight Brandon Vera, Erik Koch (an Iowa-born fighter who trains at Milwaukee’s Roufusport camp) takes on Dustin Poirier, and Clay Guida (a fan favorite and native of the suburbs of nearby Chicago) squares off against Chad Mendes to round out the trio of contests featuring area fighters.

Earlier this week, the UFC announced the fourth official fight on the Aug. 31 card, and while this particular bout lacks the regional connections of the three listed above, it nevertheless holds a significant amount of intrigue and should prove to be a major draw for the event.

Somewhere on the main card of UFC 164, former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett makes his return to the Octagon to take on fellow former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in a compelling heavyweight contest. The bout piques my interest not only because of the collective accomplishments of the two combatants, but also because this could very well be the fight that irreversibly alters the course of their careers. In other words, this is far more than a filler fight between two past-their-prime heavyweights.

While the best athletic days for Mir and Barnett have likely come and gone, both fighters remain firmly entrenched in the top 10 of their division.

Barnett is an impressive 9-1 since his last fight with Pride FC in 2006, reaching the finals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix before losing by decision to Daniel Cormier. Most recently, he outclassed a clearly overmatched Nandor Guelmino en route to a first-round submission victory. Outside of Fedor Emelianenko, Barnett is probably the best heavyweight that later adopters of MMA like myself have never seen fight in the UFC, and he’s got the resume to prove it. Of course, Barnett has also become quite well known for his multiple positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs, which has somewhat tarnished that resume. Nevertheless, he remains one of the heavyweights fans want to see in the Octagon, and the UFC did its part to bring him into the fold after Strikeforce’s closure.

When it comes to Barnett’s skill set, one would be hard-pressed to find a more suitable opponent than Frank Mir. Like Barnett, Mir is an extremely accomplished grappler who owns most of his wins by submission, but who has also been known to put a guy away with strikes from time to time. The first thing I thought when I heard about this fight, though, was “I really, really hope this one goes to the ground.” Rarely do MMA fans get to see two world-class heavyweight grapplers, ones who rely on submissions more than positioning to achieve their in-cage successes, do battle on the mat, and for that reason alone Barnett/Mir is an outstanding match-up.

From a promotional perspective, Barnett and Mir are two of the most media-friendly fighters in the UFC’s heavyweight division and will definitely have no problems drumming up hype for their showdown. Of course, I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention that, like Barnett, Mir has also courted controversy with performance-enhancing drugs, though not in a way that, say, got him stripped of a title belt or ultimately ended up shutting down an entire promotion.

Looking beyond UFC 164, though, the winner of this fight would give his career a late resurgence and could possibly find himself in line for a title opportunity with a win or two more. Both Barnett and Mir are in their mid-30s and time isn’t going to do them any favors moving forward, but if there’s one weight class in MMA where an older fighter can still fight his way to the title, it’s the heavyweight division. On the other hand, the loser would probably be relegated to non-contender draw status, taking on up-and-coming heavyweights or other aging stars at the beginning of a future UFC main card, provided he doesn’t simply choose to retire. A loss for Mir would be his third straight, and he’s suffered the sort of injuries throughout his career that might make him think twice about returning to the Octagon again. For Barnett, this fight should represent a litmus test measuring his ability to compete among the UFC’s heavyweights. If he loses to Mir, something tells me he might finally switch to professional wrestling full-time, or just walk away from competition altogether.

On paper, the fight between Barnett and Mir might not seem all that significant. The heavyweight title picture is basically set for now, with the Cain Velasquez/Junior dos Santos rubber match all but inevitable, and the winner, be it Barnett or Mir, would still probably need to earn additional victories to be considered for a shot at the belt. Looking a little more closely reveals the many important facets Barnett/Mir brings to the table, though. Two former champions and superior grapplers face off in a fight to determine which still belongs among the heavyweight elite and which might consider an alternative career path. It might not have the local connections of some of the other UFC 164 fights, but it’s a fight that ticket-holding fans should relish all the same.

Photo: Frank Mir (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.