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Las Vegas heavyweights go from pals to rivals for UFC 130

Frank Mir and Roy Nelson fight May 28

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Frank Mir (left) has an intimidating tattoo to match his record in the ring.
Photo: Sam Morris
Case Keefer

UFC heavyweights Frank Mir and Roy Nelson train in separate parts of the same private gym. They’re usually there at the same time, engaging in what Mir calls “drawn-out conversations” after morning workouts. Or rather they were, until recently.

Roy Nelson (right) shows his grit.

Roy Nelson (right) shows his grit.

The two native Las Vegans will set aside their friendship Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where they’ll meet in the co-main event of UFC 130. It will mark just the fourth time in UFC history that two fighters from the same hometown will clash in a headlining bout.

“We have always gotten along,” says Mir, who will put his 14-5 MMA (12-5 UFC) record on the line against the 15-5 (2-1) Nelson. “I like his outlook on things.”

The two fighters altered their concurrent training schedules at the gym near Red Rock a few months back. Mir says one of his coaches wasn’t wild about the friendliness between the scheduled opponents. “He thought it was appropriate that we didn’t see each other in the gym,” Mir says. “He didn’t want to give the wrong impression to everybody that these guys are way too buddy-buddy leading up to the fight.”

Details

UFC 130
May 28, 3 p.m.
$75-$800
MGM Grand, 891-7777

In some respects, it’s surprising an MMA bout between the two elite fighters took this long to materialize. The 34-year-old Nelson graduated from Cimarron-Memorial High in 1994, four years before the 31-year-old Mir got his diploma from Bonanza. It didn’t take long for either to launch a professional fighting career. Mir started learning jiu-jitsu at a gym at the intersection of Valley View and Sirius in 2000. By that point, Nelson was firmly entrenched at John Lewis’ jiu-jitsu academy—right across the street.

“Our paths have definitely crossed,” Nelson said. “I just did all my fighting outside of the UFC, and he did it in the UFC.”

The highlight of Nelson’s career before breaking into the UFC by winning the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter was capturing the International Fight League heavyweight belt. Mir has held both the UFC heavyweight championship and interim heavyweight title.

Their upcoming fight has split Las Vegas’ MMA community. Most of those heavily involved with the sport locally are friends of both Mir and Nelson as the two are part of the same social circles. One of Nelson’s current corner men was the best man in Mir’s wedding.

T.J. Lavin, a BMX pro and television personality who trains in MMA, has known both of them for more than five years. “I don’t think they are thinking it’s a battle for Las Vegas at all,” Lavin says. “I think they both want to go out and put the fight of the night on. That’s what I want to see from both of them.”

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