Mir tabs former World's Strongest Man contestant as strength coach

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Saturday in Memphis, Tenn., the former UFC heavyweight champion returns to the Octagon near the division limit, a full 20 pounds more than he weighed for a July rematch against Brock Lesnar. When Mir approached 265 pounds in previous bouts it typically meant he was out of shape. Not so at UFC 107 against Cheick Kongo.

For that he can credit seven-time World's Strongest Man participant Mark Philippi, whose 3-year-old Las Vegas-based athletic performance facility, Philippi Sports Institute, has housed Mir's five-day-a-week workouts since the end of summer.

When Mir first arrived, nutritionists dissected his diet before recommending increased calorie and protein consumption to help pack on the pounds. The goal for Philippi was to ramp up Mir's power and mass without detracting from his speed or cardio.

"You're not trying to sacrifice athleticism for size," said Philippi, who served as UNLV's strength coach for 15 years before opening PSI. "Your body is pretty smart. As long as you keep performing your skills and work on the athleticism part of it, you can get bigger and still not really lose the ability to move."

It took a couple weeks before Mir (12-4) could make it through an entire workout, which lasted no more than 90 minutes per session.

"Fighters in general tend to operate in that endurance-based comfort zone where strength-, power- and explosive-type training with somewhat short rest periods take their toll," said the 6-foot, 300-pound Philippi.

Though every athlete requires some element of a unique workout, Philippi's previous efforts with mixed martial artists provided him with a framework from which to design Mir's routine.

Philippi remains an imposing figure, even if his days as a regular on the Strongman tournament series dwindle. Last year the American made just one major event at Madison Square Garden, which was fine with him since he says he's "trying to retire" and focus on training athletes like Mir.

Once Mir adjusted to the new training routine, Philippi said the fighter "was receptive. He put the time in everyday. He showed up everyday. He made a commitment to doing it, and he got a lot stronger."

Mir, 30, will need to continue focusing on strength-building exercises if he intends on maintaining and improving upon gains.

"If he wants to reap the benefits of it, it has to be part of what he does from here in out, otherwise he's eventually going to lose the size and strength he put on," Philippi said. "You trend to overtrain your skills and under-train your athleticism, which in the long run affects the level your skills can rise to."

Ben Askren expects a busy June 2010.

The 25-year-old wrestler, a member of the U.S. Olympic freestyle squad that went to Beijing in 2008, had already counted on heading to Council Bluffs, Iowa, for USA Wrestling's World Team Trials. After signing with Bellator Fighting Championships, Asken may need to set aside another mid-year weekend if he makes good on his expectations.

Bellator, a tournament-focused MMA promoter that debuted in 2009, announced the acquisition of Askren, a 3-0 welterweight considered among America's top mixed martial arts prospects, Wednesday. Askren said Strikeforce showed interest, however Bellator was the right fit because he wanted to fight often (to capture the eight-man tournament he would need to step in the cage three times in as many months); the pay for someone of his experience was unmatched; and the agreement afforded him the freedom to continue wrestling.

"I plan on making the world team in 2010 for the United States, and they're just fine with that," said the two-time NCAA champion for the University of Missouri and two-time Dan Hodge Trophy award winner, which is awarded to the country's top collegiate wrestler.

Askren, who failed to medal at 174 pounds in Beijing, plans on simultaneously preparing for the trials and his Bellator tournament run, which commences April 8 and is scheduled to air (sometimes live) on Fox Sports Net, NBC and Telemundo.

Where and with whom he trains over the next few months hasn't been decided. Currently living in Phoenix -- Askren serves as a volunteer assistant coach for the Arizona State University wrestling program -- the fuzzy-haired Iowan has spent most of his time inside one of the sport's top gyms, Arizona Combat Sports.

"He's a solid athlete and one of the best wrestlers in the industry," ACS head trainer and co-owner Trevor Lally said of Askren, who is known for his unorthodox approach on the mat. "His jiu-jitsu is purple belt or higher level. He's got a sick jiu-jitsu game that will make him tough if he can get you one the mat. He needs to work on his standup. Cardio-wise, he never gets tired."

With Lally also supervising undefeated welterweight Jacob "Tick-Tock" McClintock (6-0), who has signed to compete in the same field as Askren, training might "get weird" he said. The trainer hasn't determined how ACS will manage to prepare both fighters, but as an early measure they asked Bellator to slot Askren and McClintock on opposite sides of the bracket.

"We'll see if they do that," he said. "I don't know."

Should Askren capture the tournament, which is rumored to include the hungry and dangerous Dan Hornbuckle (19-2), he would be matched against undefeated season one welterweight champion Lyman Good. The winning-means-everything energy created by Bellator's single-elimination tournaments feeds right into Askren's mandate as an athlete.

"If Ben has shown anything it's that his competitive nature is a very pronounced part of his personality," said Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney. "I think what we provide is a very fast track with a guy with that level of confidence and that kind of résumé to get to where he wants to get to. The magic with a guy like Ben at the NCAA or Olympic level is all he has to do is win."

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker dismissed quotes made by Gegard Mousasi (27-2-1) to FanHouse on Tuesday that the 24-year-old Strikeforce light heavyweight champion was contractually obligated to appear on the same cards as Russian heavyweight king Fedor Emelianenko.

While Coker said promoting both fighters on one bill is something he could accommodate, "in no way are we saying [Mousasi] will only fight on Fedor cards," he explained. "In fact, I think it's better sometimes when he doesn't fight when Fedor fights. I think Gegard is on his way to becoming a star in the sport, and sometimes fighters need their own identity."

Both Mousasi and Emelianenko are promoted by M-1 Global, and are contracted to Strikeforce when fighting in the U.S.