Tuesday, July 11, 2006 | 7:30 a.m.
Before the main card of Saturday's Ultimate Fighting Championship show, right about the time a highlight video of vicious hits set to the Who's "Baba O'Riley" was working the crowd into a frenzy, Frank Mir was feeling a strange sensation.
Uncertainty. About himself. About his place as a top-level mixed martial-arts fighter.
"It was a lot of questioning myself," Mir said in his locker room after beating Dan Christison by three-round unanimous decision. "Whether I still had what it took. I don't think you can answer that until after you win, you know?"
Mir, a Las Vegas native and former UFC heavyweight champion, was fighting for the second time since a 1 1/2-year layoff caused by a broken left femur sustained in a motorcycle crash in September 2004.
In his comeback fight in February, Mir lost by first-round technical knockout to lightly regarded Marcio Cruz, a defeat that made Saturday night's bout against Albuquerque's Christison even more crucial.
So nerves certainly were a factor, Mir acknowledged, as he prepared to take center stage before a sellout crowd of 12,400 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center and an international pay-per-view audience.
It was an unfamiliar feeling for a man once considered nearly invincible in the octagon.
"Before, I was so nonchalant about it," said Mir, a 27-year-old Bonanza High grad. "Now I had to fight with pressure on my shoulders.
"I was putting so much pressure on myself - I knew I had to get a victory - that when I went in the ring I was already tired."
Mir weighed in at 262 pounds for Saturday's bout, 20 pounds heavier than in previous fights, but said he was comfortable with the extra weight. He scored a takedown in each of the five-minute rounds against Christison, who has an 8-5 record in mixed martial arts and appeared on the second season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show. Mir was deft enough to slip away from an arm-bar attempt by Christison in Round 1.
The three judges scored a close first round in Mir's favor and awarded the second to Christison, who was more aggressive throughout the round despite the takedown.
Mir sealed it, though, with the best round of the fight by either man in Round 3. He opened a cut with a strike to Christison's nose early in the round, and followed the takedown with an unrelenting barrage of left hands.
"It was a tough fight, not technically great," Mir (9-2) said after winning by scores of 29-28 on all three judges' cards. "I needed a tough fight to show I could still gut it out."
It was not a sterling performance, but Mir saw the victory as a confidence-builder as he aims to work his way back into the heavyweight championship picture. Mir won the title in June 2004 when he broke Tim Sylvia's arm with an arm bar in the first round. He had to relinquish the belt after his motorcycle crash.
"I definitely proved that I can take shots and still come after you," Mir said. "I took a couple punches to the face. In the second round he came up and hit me with some pretty good shots.
"It was good to get my confidence back. When I had to come back in the third round, I learned a little bit about myself. I realized I couldn't do it without a push. I don't think I ever felt that before. I always thought I had to front-run to win fights."
Mir said he's fully recovered from the crash and that his leg is back at full strength. He said he's looking forward to some "big fights" but declined to name any opponents he might have his eye on.
"It's a step forward, you know?" Mir said. "It's a win. We're definitely still building up. I showed I'm still in it."
A couple of major players in the heavyweight division showed their stuff elsewhere on the card Saturday night.
On the undercard, contender Jeff Monson displayed some impressive fighting skills along with a keen sense of irony. Monson (24-5) entered the octagon to the strains of John Lennon's peace anthem "Imagine," then used a series of brutal knee shots, a searing uppercut and a fearsome series of cleanly landed punches to subdue Anthony Perosh (5-2) by first-round TKO.
After light heavyweight Tito Ortiz (15-4) stopped Ken Shamrock (26-11-2) in the first round in the co-main event, Sylvia (24-2) defended his heavyweight title against Andrei Arlovski (11-5) by five-round unanimous decision.
Sylvia made it clear that he wants a chance to avenge his loss to Mir.
"I would love to fight Frank Mir again," he said. "More than anything in the world."