Two divergent paths will intersect when Frank Mir and Roy Nelson meet in the cage tonight.
Both were born and raised in Las Vegas and were standout athletes at local high schools. Both are contenders in the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight division and will meet for a spot near the top of the rankings at UFC 130 tonight at the MGM Grand.
Other than that, from their career paths to their demeanors to their looks, not much is the same.
Mir, 32, was in the UFC in just his third pro fight, only a few years out of Bonanza High School. He became a UFC champion at age 25 and has been one of the organization’s bigger stars much of the time since.
He looks every bit the part of professional athlete and can deliver a lengthy monologue on just about any subject.
Nelson, 34, is a Cimarron-Memorial alumnus who tries to lobby for shampoo endorsements for his mullet and a fast-food sponsor for his gut.
He takes little seriously, including himself, and just about everything he says is tinged with sarcasm.
His was a much more circuitous route to UFC stardom.
Nelson, a Renzo Gracie black belt in jiujitsu, was more interested in the teaching side of martial arts than becoming a cage fighter.
"He wanted to be a fighter and be famous and look pretty and all that jazz," Nelson said of Mir. "I just wanted to teach. I was helping out fighters, and then I couldn’t pay my bills because they weren’t getting paid, so I decided to go out there and fight and get my money."
While Mir was rising to stardom, Nelson languished in organizations such as FightForce and BodogFight before making a name for himself in the International Fight League. Even when he did sign with the UFC, he was placed on "The Ultimate Fighter," winning the Season 10 tournament.
Mir and Nelson, who first became aware of each other in 2000 when both were training at gyms just down the street from one another, have squared off before, though not in a mixed martial arts fight.
Though both dismiss it as a long time ago and under different rules, Nelson defeated Mir in a grappling competition in 2003.
Now, they meet with a great deal at stake in the UFC. The winner could find himself one win from a title shot.
Despite the similar backgrounds, Mir and Nelson aren’t particularly close, even though there has been a bizarre media-created storyline this week of two fighters putting their friendship on the line for their careers.
"I would say cordial," Mir said of the relationship. "I like Roy. I think he has a very intelligent outlook on a lot of things. For the most part — I’m not going to lie to anybody — we’re not the best of friends. But we have a lot of mutual friends that are very close."
Nelson echoed the sentiment.
"As for Frank and I being close, I’ve never eaten at Frank’s house, so that tells you how close of friends we are," he said. "I would never fight a real friend."
One thing they agree on is a preference for fighting in their hometown. Mir said he enjoys sleeping at home and staying in his routine.
Nelson has other reasons.
"Fighting at home is the best. Everything is open 24/7," he said. "You can get burgers any time of day or night."
The bout is part of a card headlined by a light heavyweight match between Matt Hamill and former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Also on the undercard, Brian Stann could move into the top 10 in the middleweight rankings with a win over Jorge Santiago.
Also, the UFC’s two tallest fighters — Stefan Struve (6 feet 11 inches) and Travis Browne (6-7) — will meet in a heavyweight bout, and Rick Story takes on former No. 1 welterweight contender Thiago Alves.
The pay-per-view broadcast will air live at 6 p.m. Two fights will air live on Spike TV (Cable 29) at 5 p.m. The remainder of the undercard will stream live on the UFC’s Facebook page at 3.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509.