The UFC held its biggest card of 2008 on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with not one, but two new champions crowned.
In the main event of UFC 92, subtitled “The Ultimate 2008,” season two heavyweight winner of The Ultimate Fighter Rashad Evans became the new UFC light heavyweight champion following a stunning third round TKO over Forrest Griffin.
Griffin, the light heavyweight winner from the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter, was making his first defense of the title he won from Quinton “Rampage” Jackson following a unanimous decision victory this past July at UFC 86.
Following a dominant second round showing, it appeared Griffin was well on his way to earning a successful defense in his first bout as the promotion’s 205 pound king but Evans turned the tide in the third after catching a kick and taking to Griffin to the mat.
Utilizing a loose guard in an attempt to pull off a submission, Griffin gave Evans plenty of room to work his ground and pound and the former police officer became dazed following a series of brutal hammerfists by Evans. As Evans began to rain down punches, Griffin turned to his side with his body flailing as a result of the furious momentum that were behind the blows being delivered by Evans.
Amid the barrage from Evans in which Griffin failed to intelligently defend himself, referee Steve Mazzagatti stepped in to call a stop to the fight at 2:46 of round 3 with Evans being declared the new UFC light heavyweight champion via TKO by way of punches.
Despite being a former wrestling standout at Michigan State, Evans’ ascension to the rank of the number one light heavyweight fighter in the world is one that had been considered unlikely. Even in spite of his devastating second round knockout over former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell this past September at UFC 88, Evans entered the fight vs. Griffin as a underdog.
While considered to be a good fighter, Evans was not viewed by many industry insiders as a future champion in one of the UFC’s deepest divisions. Counted out by critics at numerous times of his career, Evans proved the pundits wrong yet again by taking possession of what is considered by many to be the most prestigious title in mixed martial arts — a belt not only once held by Liddell, but also fellow UFC icons Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz.
But Evans isn’t the promotion’s only new unlikely champion to come out of UFC 92, with former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir taking his career resurrection to new levels following a second round TKO over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Like Evans, Mir was also an underdog heading into the bout but shook off rumors of a disappointing training camp leading up to the fight by turning in the best striking performance of his career. Nogueira was considered to be the better striker coming into the fight having trained heavily in the past with the Cuban National Boxing Team, but it was Mir who dominated the standup aspect of the fight.
Showing surprisingly good head movement and fancy footwork, Mir pressured Nogueira in the first round en route to not one, but two knockdowns which garnered him a probable 10-8 round on the judges’ scorecards. Mir had Nogueira in trouble on multiple occasions in the first round but displayed tactical mastery by electing not to punch himself out in an attempt to finish a fighter known for his ability to absorb incredible amounts of punishment.
In spite of Nogueira’s legendary reputation for escaping the brink of defeat and coming back to win, UFC 92 would mark the first time in his career in which he would be TKO’d. Following two stiff left hands courtesy of Mir, a grounded Nogueira was finished for good with the referee calling a stop to the contest at 1:54 of round 2. The former PRIDE heavyweight champion rose to his feet soon after the stoppage but any question as to whether the fight was stopped prematurely was erased as Nogueira wobbled while walking in the center of the Octagon.
With the win, Mir became the new interim heavyweight champion, earning the opportunity to unify his interim title with the official UFC heavyweight title in an upcoming rematch with incumbent Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar won the title from Randy Couture during UFC 91 on November 15 following a second round TKO. With Mir’s victory, he will now be afforded the opportunity to earn a measure of revenge stemming from their encounter at UFC 81 last February in which Mir secured a first round submission following a kneebar. The loss is the lone blemish on the former NCAA heavyweight champion’s MMA record.
In addition to Evans vs. Griffin and Mir vs. Nogueira, UFC 92 also offered a third highly-anticipated main event-caliber matchup between Jackson and former PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva.
Jackson overcame personal turmoil caused by a July episode in which he was arrested on felony evading, hit-and-run and reckless driving in order to knock out Silva with a brilliant left hook.
With the win, Jackson not only began to distance himself from his disappointing title defeat at UFC 86 but avenged two previous losses to Silva while the two men competed in Japan for PRIDE. Jackson now could find himself in a position to challenge Evans for the light heavyweight title while Silva will have to reassess his career following three severe knockouts within the last two years.
In addition to the hook that knocked him out cold at UFC 92, Silva also was taken out by a high kick delivered by Mirko Cro Cop at PRIDE’s “Final Conflict Absolute” in 2006. The Cro Cop knockout was then followed by another major knockout at the hands of Dan Henderson at PRIDE 33 in which Silva lost his middleweight title.
The show’s two other main card bouts saw Cheick Kongo TKO Cage Rage heavyweight champion Mostapha Al-Turk via strikes at 4:37 of round 1 and C.B. Dollaway TKO Mike Massenzio via strikes at 3:01 of round 1 in a battle of former Junior College wrestling rivals.
Results from the five-bout non-televised undercard included former K-1 standout Pat Barry make a successful UFC debut following a first round TKO over Dan Evensen due to injury. Additionally, Brad Blackburn defeated Ryo Chonan via unanimous decision; Matt Hamill TKO’d Reese Andy at 2:19 of round 2; Antoni Hardonk TKO’d UFC heavyweight newcomer Mike Wessel at 2:09 of round 2; and Yushin Okami defeated Dean Lister via unanimous decision. The victories by Hardonk, Barry, and Hamill all aired during the UFC 92 PPV telecast on a tape-delay basis.