Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013 | 1:30 a.m.
The only thing that burned as visibly as the rage in Josh Barnett’s eyes was the fire in his feet.
The former UFC heavyweight champion marched to the octagon for the first time in 11 years Saturday seeking to supply the type of destruction his death-metal entrance music only embellishes. Frank Mir found out the hard way, as the local past champion couldn’t survive an immediate attack and lost via TKO less than two minutes into the bout when Barnett dropped him with a knee to the chin.
“My strategy was just to bring it from start to finish — to be aggressive, put the pressure on,” Barnett said.
Mir had a similar approach an hour after their co-main event meeting. He was just relegated to using his words instead of his limbs.
To open the UFC 164 post-fight press conference, Mir went on a minute and a half-long rant of condemnation over what he called “a fast stoppage” in the fight.
“I think the referee ruined it,” Mir said without once breaking the scowl on his face. “I think it was shaping up to be a great fight. I think the fans got robbed. I think I got screwed over.”
Mir instantaneously protested the fight getting waved off while in the cage. He found allies in the 9,178 fans in attendance at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, who booed in unison while Barnett was announced the winner.
But the crowd cooled off, turning jeers into cheers for hometown hero Anthony Pettis who won the UFC’s lightweight championship belt in the main event. Mir never did, especially not after seeing the replay.
He felt it confirmed his original argument: That he never lost consciousness or wasn’t intelligently defending himself, as Barnett scored nothing more than “a flash knockdown.”
“There are too many fights in our sport that are exciting,” Mir said. “You’ve got to let us fight. I didn’t sign up for a tennis match.”
Borderline stoppages are as common in mixed martial arts as six-game sets in tennis. And most come and go without much commotion.
The surprising part of Mir’s Saturday was how many important figures took his side. Even Barnett sympathized.
“I understand Frank’s frustration,” Barnett offered. “But I think there was no getting out of that, personally. I felt that was the beginning of the end, but that’s what I’m supposed to feel. And thank God it wasn’t a tennis match because I’m not all that good at tennis.”
UFC President Dana White sent an expletive-laced tweet right after the fight accusing referee Rob Hinds of pulling the trigger too quickly. He continued disparaging the official in the press conference — characterizing Hinds as too inexperienced for the commission to allow him to work such a major fight — but mostly agreed with Barnett.
“Do I think the outcome would have been different? The way the fight was going, it didn’t look like it would have been,” White said. “But who knows? We’ve seen crazier things.”
The saving grace of it all, whether Mir realizes it or not, is that now no one is questioning his future. A 34-year-old veteran on a three-fight losing streak — Mir came into Saturday’s bout riding losses to Daniel Cormier and Junior dos Santos — isn’t typically the type of competitor White is enthusiastic about getting another bout.
Although White had no interest in a rematch with Barnett, he expressed no reservations about giving Mir another fight. Mir, coming off of his second training camp under coach Greg Jackson, wants nothing more.
“Hopefully I can turn around and fight again as soon as possible so I can showcase what I’ve been working on and what I’ve improved,” Mir said.
Mir didn’t believe Barnett could keep the same pace for 15 minutes, so his plan was to “weather the storm” and wait back for opportunities. Erroneous stoppage or not, that reasoning may have been flawed.
Barnett’s goal was to incinerate everything in his path. Passivity never slows flames.
“I love to fight,” Barnett said of his return to the UFC. “You could just put this out at a parking lot like we used to do and go at it and I’d still be happy to go out there and bash somebody’s brain in.”