— It is Christmastime, after all, and that alone makes it a time of miracles.
How else could you explain what went down in Las Vegas at UFC 92? How else could you explain Frank Mir and his one career KO becoming the man to stop the granite-chinned Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the first time? Or Quinton “Rampage” Jackson knocking out Wanderlei Silva after two decisive losses in the first two legs of their previously one-sided trilogy? Or Rashad Evans beating Forrest Griffin despite being a decisive underdog in their light-heavyweight title fight?
In the end, some may look at the results as little miracles, but in reality, the winners simply outperformed the losers in an action-packed year-ending card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Evans has come farther, faster, than perhaps any fighter in mixed martial arts history. When he came to national awareness on the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, Evans was what is derisively referred to as a “lay-and-pray” fighter – that is, a wrestler who scores a takedown, then lays on his opponent for the duration of the fight and prays for a decision win.
But in short order, he has rounded out his game brilliantly. His standup game features piston-like jabs, bazooka right hands, and head movement that makes him a hard target. He throws enough kicks to make that weapon a real threat, and he still has his wrestling background to fall back upon to steal a round when necessary. In short, he is a complete and dynamic fighter.
After he and Griffin competed in a pair of close rounds, Evans took over in the third. Evans hammered Griffin with a right, and the champ went down. Evans followed with hammer fists and power shots from the top. Griffin seemed to recover and regain his defensive guard, but Evans scored again with a sharp elbow from the top. Griffin appeared stunned and Evans followed with a flush right. By this point, Griffin’s guard was wide open, and Evans stood up and threw a series of lefts that rocked Griffin until referee Steve Mazzagatti called an end to the fight, making Evans the new world champion.
“It sounds real good,” Evans said after hearing himself announced as the champion. “It was a great fight and Forrest gave me everything I could handle that first two rounds. It took me a while to get warmed up but I got there.”
Evans finished Griffin in a similar way as his teammate, Keith Jardine did the deed back in Dec., 2006, with overhand rights from inside Griffin’s guard.
“Yeah, that’s that ground-and-pound we learn at Greg Jackson’s” Evans said, paying tribute to his coach. “I knew I had him in trouble, but he kept smiling so I didn’t know if he was hurt or not. But they kept letting me hit him.”
“I’m fine, I’ll be back,” Griffin said shortly after the fight. “I don’t know who I’ll fight, but congratulations Rashad.”
Mir had a similarly impressive performance, becoming the answer to the trivia question as the first man to knock out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 38 pro fights. By virtue of his second-round TKO—only the second of his career—Mir became the interim champ and earned a rematch with current UFC champ Brock Lesnar in what will determine the undisputed champ.
Mir, a former UFC heavyweight champ, never got a chance to defend his crown after suffering a career-threatening injury in a motorcycle crash while the belt-holder. The accident resulted in a broken femur and torn ligaments, and kept him out of action for 20 months. Many thought he’d never again return to his previous form, and he certainly faced a long road back, losing two of his first three return fights before turning his fortunes around.
“I faced such demons after my wreck,” he said, “To come back and fight the best heavyweight to ever fight in UFC and to get the win over him after going what I've gone through… Everybody, look at your life. You go through life, and people say you can’t do ****. I'm proof you can do things. I didn’t even think I could beat Nogueira. If I was a betting man, I wasn't on Mir's side tonight.”
Mir came in a heavy underdog competing against his longtime idol, the former PRIDE champ Nogueira. But from the outset, Mir looked the superior fighter, landing at will from his southpaw stance. Over time, Nogueira has repeatedly found a way to withstand huge amounts of pain and emerge victorious, and after badly losing the first round, many fans likely figured it was the beginning of another comeback win.
But Mir had other ideas. The former UFC champ finished matters in the second round with a straight left that floored Minotauro, then followed him to the mat. It is a position where other fighters often back off, afraid of Nogueira's jiu-jitsu. But Mir has long considered himself among the best heavyweight jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world, and he showed no fear following him there and unleashing a torrent of abuse until the fight was stopped. There was no question Nogueira was out, as he wobbled upon returning to his feet after the stoppage.
Mir immediately pointed in Lesnar’s direction letting him know they’d be going at it again, mouthing "You have my belt." Lesnar, who had voiced a hope to rematch Mir, smiled back in his direction.
In a light-heavyweight grudge bout, Jackson gained revenge over longtime nemesis Silva with a devastating first-round knockout.
After a short feeling-out period, Silva threw a lazy right that missed, and was slow returning his hand to a defensive position. Jackson answered with a sharp left hook that landed on the point of Silva's chin. The former PRIDE champ went down like a fallen tree. Jackson jumped atop his fallen foe and dropped two hammer shots from the top even as the referee was calling a halt to the action.
It was Jackson's first fight since losing the title to Griffin in July and days later making tabloids due to an arrest for felony evading and reckless driving following a car chase. The UFC later said he had been fasting for days while relying only on energy drinks for sustenance. He eventually parted ways with his trainer and joined forces with UK-based camp Wolfslair in preparation for Silva.
“I’m getting my stuff back together and getting my mind right,” Jackson said.
With the win, Jackson could get the first crack at the new 205-pound champ Evans.
Patrick Barry def. Dan Evensen via TKO (injury), Rd. 1
Brad Blackburn def. Ryo Chonan via unanimous decision
Matt Hamill def. Reese Andy via TKO (strikes), Rd. 2
Antoni Hardonk def. Mike Wessel via TKO (strikes) – Rd. 2
Yushin Okami def. Dean Lister via unanimous decision
Cheick Kongo def. Mostapha Al-Turk via TKO, Rd. 1
Rampage Jackson def. Wanderlei Silva via TKO, Rd. 1
CB Dollaway def. Mike Massenzio via TKO, Rd. 1
Frank Mir def. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira via TKO, Rd. 2
Rashad Evans def. Forrest Griffin via TKO, Rd. 3