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Frank Mir's sights set on return to heavyweight summit at UFC 146


LAS VEGAS -- Frank Mir doesn't want to have to break UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos's arm this Saturday night. So he says. So he would have us believe. He finds such endings to fights distasteful, a little aggravating. Apparently, that's not reason enough for him to stop talking about the last time he did it, at UFC 140 in Toronto. Though, in fairness, those of us in the media won't stop asking about it.

"I don't like the fact [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira didn't tap and got his arm broken," Mir said at Wednesday's open workouts inside the MGM Grand, making conspicuous use of the passive voice. "I think he was sharp in the fight. I think he would have made me look better if he had tapped and gone on to win another fight in two or three months."

OK, so it's not exactly the most altruistic of explanations, but what do you expect from Mir, who on Thursday blasted the unintelligent fans and "few stupid people" who are dismissing his chances of once again become UFC heavyweight champ at age 33?

In a lot of ways, the sound of Nogueira's arm snapping under the strain of that kimura has been reverberating throughout the hallowed halls of the MGM all week. Not only is it the selling point that the UFC has seized on to promote this main event -- Nogueira is one of Dos Santos's mentors, after all, and the revenge plot is as old as The Iliad -- but it's also Mir's best selling point as he plugs away in what ought to be the downslope of his career.

You see, Mir's been here before. A couple of times, actually. He was a UFC champ back when a little bit of jiu-jitsu went a very long way in the heavyweight division. But, especially in that weight class, the title belt seems to have no owners -- only temporary wearers. Throughout the short, but furious history of the UFC, no heavyweight -- not Mir or Randy Couture or Brock Lesnar -- has successfully defended that title more than two consecutive times. Something bad always happens to the big man at the top, whether it's knockouts or motorcycle accidents or rare intestinal ailments. For whatever reason, putting on the UFC heavyweight title seems like a great way to ensure that you'll come face to face with your own professional vulnerability soon, if not your mortality.

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Which brings us to Dos Santos. If you didn't know better, you'd think that Vegas was his hometown rather than Mir's. It seems like everywhere he's gone this week, his fans have been there to greet him with cheers and cell phone photo flashes and chants of his nickname ("Cigano! Cigano!"). And why not? It's easy to like Dos Santos, perhaps because he seems to genuinely want to like you. He starts off assuming the best of everyone he meets, then waits for them to talk him out of it.

But then, even Dos Santos is beginning to show signs of the strain that comes with being the UFC heavyweight champ. With that job, he told reporters, comes "a lot of attention from the people, the media," and also a lot of demands on his time.

You can ask former champ Cain Velasquez what that's like. After shouldering the bulk of the PR load heading into his first title defense against Dos Santos last fall, he's walking around Vegas this week like a man who's just had a weight lifted off his shoulders. Sure, he still has media obligations in advance of his bout with Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva on the main card, but it's nothing like the burden that comes with wearing that belt.

"Until you're there, then you understand it, what kind of stuff you have to do," said Velasquez, who suffered a first-round knockout loss after enduring an exhausting pre-fight media blitz in the lead-up to the UFC's debut event on Fox.

His trainer, Javier Mendez, put it a little more plainly, saying: "The time demands, the travel, you know, they don't get to rest. They don't get into a regular pattern where they need to be. It kind of messes with them."

Will it mess with Dos Santos? Tough to say. Oddsmakers have pegged him as the heavy favorite in part because he's stifled the takedowns of better wrestlers than Mir in the past, and has wailed away on opponents with better chins. Skill for skill, it seems like he should win, like he should extend his lease on the heavyweight strap, at least for a little while longer.

But even Dos Santos, who admitted in Thursday's press conference that he slept with the belt on the night that he won it, would do well to remember how many other beds that title shared before it found its way into his. It could very well be tucked in with a new owner after Saturday night. And some small part of Dos Santos, like Velasquez before him, might be surprised to find that he's just a little bit relieved to be free of that weight, that baggage, that sparkling accessory of doom.