Ronda Rousey will more than likely be one of the featured attractions at WrestleMania 35 in April. Three days earlier and about 11 miles away from MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, another former UFC champion will be performing at a professional wrestling event.
It was announced earlier this month that Frank Mir would be making his pro-wrestling debut at Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport event April 4 in Jersey City, N.J. The card, put together by Mir’s fellow former UFC heavyweight champion Barnett and promoted by Game Changer Wrestling, is focused on shoot-style wrestling that looks a whole lot like a real fight, though still pre-determined.
Mir told MMA Fighting that he was initially approached about doing an appearance and signing autographs at the event. He agreed. Then, he was asked if he’d participate as a wrestler. Mir, never one to turn down challenges, figured why not.
“I like to try out new things and it’s still in the genre of martial arts,” Mir said. “I see it as no different than making a movie. It’s stunt choreography. So, I was interested to get my feet wet and try it out. I figured instead of sitting there and wondering what I would do, I figured I’d jump right in with the first opportunity I’d get.”
Mir, 39, is still an active MMA fighter under contract with Bellator. But in the future, the Las Vegas native would like to branch out into other mediums and this, he believes, could be a gateway.
“In the future, I’d like to break more into acting and stuff,” Mir said. “I think that pro wrestling is a great springboard, really. You see a lot of guys coming from that world. In a lot of ways, it’s like live theater. Guys going out there and performing and having to act on the fly and be their own stuntmen at the same time. So, I’ve always had a great admiration and respect for the guys that do it.”
Currently, Mir is healing the alveolar ridge (mouth) fracture he sustained last month against Javy Ayala at Bellator 212. He said he plans to do some pro-wrestling training with his friend Tom Lawlor, a Las Vegas-based MMA fighter and pro wrestler. Mir said he won’t “overanalyze” it, especially since the Bloodsport show will play to his strengths. Mir is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, one of the best heavyweight grapplers in mixed martial arts history and a black belt in kempo karate. Barnett has promised that Bloodsport will be the “hardest hitting” wrestling show of the year.
“I feel like this is a little more close up to something that I’d understand, because when it was first explained to me they told me the event would be more like submission grappling holds, strikes,” Mir said. “Just like there would be in an MMA fight. I thought, Oh, well if I have to make that transition, then this is a more truer step than going into full-blown professional wrestling with the pinfalls and whatnot.”
As far as whether this will be a continuing thing, Mir said he’s not sure. Bloodsport could end up being a one-off.
“Honestly, waiting to see how it goes,” Mir said. “I don’t want to make any judgment, like how am I gonna follow this? What if I don’t like it? I don’t know. I’ve never really been a part of it on that side of it. That’s why I think jumping off at this level of a show and testing the waters before i start.”
Mir said he was a pro-wrestling fan as a kid, watching with his father. Before the UFC, Mir said, pro wrestling was one of the only vehicles that combined striking and grappling in that way. But when Hulk Hogan turned heel in 1996, Mir was out. He said he has always found wrestling “very interesting” and kept track of the forays of the likes of Bas Rutten, Don Frye, Mark Coleman, Barnett himself and many other MMA fighters into the wrestling ring in Japan.
“I very much like the Japanese version of pro wrestling, probably the most,” Mir said.
Over the years, when someone has poked fun at pro wrestling, Mir said he has essentially rolled his eyes.
“I hate when they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s fake,’” Mir said. “OK, hold on a second. You sit there and clamor about Bruce Lee. You know Bruce Lee didn’t do any real fights, right? That was all choreographed. But there was still danger. Guys still went to the hospital.
“Same thing. I’ve watched guys in pro wrestling actually die. It’s very dangerous. It’s very injury heavy. When people try to throw that one at me, I’m like, ‘C’mon, guys.’ First of all, you’re watching a 250-pound guy do a backflip over a rope. That in itself I’ll pay money to watch. That’s impressive. That’s one hell of a display of athleticism. Two, things go wrong all the time. These guys get gravely injured, which in the past led to issues before because of them trying to medicate themselves, because they are so ran through the ringer. So anytime somebody says ‘that’s fake,’ I always laugh. That’s laughable. You couldn’t even begin to do what they’re doing. Extremely strenuous, on the fly, working with another human component, while there’s a crowd watching.”
Mir doesn’t know if this will be a long-term thing or something he does once. But he does have something of a pro-wrestling dream match. He’s 1-1 with longtime rival Brock Lesnar, the former UFC heavyweight champion and current WWE Universal champion. Wouldn’t it be cool to have the trilogy at WrestleMania one day?
“I’m not opposed to it, man,” Mir said. “I actually like it. I always wanted a third one. And however, wherever it could take place.”