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UFC 92:

Evans wins light heavyweight title

Mir becomes first to stop ‘Nog’, ‘Rampage’ gets revenge

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Justin M. Bowen

Rashad Evans raises his hand in victory after defeating Forrest Griffin to win the UFC’s light heavyweight title Saturday night at the MGM Grand.

Updated Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008 | 11:11 p.m.

Underdogs Have Their Day

As the final, and biggest fight card of the year, UFC 92 featured the rise of the long shots as Quinton Jackson, Frank Mir and Rashad Evans handily beat the odds and their opponents Saturday night at the MGM Grand.

UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008

Rashad Evans poses with his new UFC light heavyweight title belt after a third-round TKO over Forrest Griffin Saturday night at the MGM. Launch slideshow »

The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s end-of-the-year show Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden arena left adrenaline-pumping mixed martial arts fans thirsting for even more despite a card that basically featured three main events.

The electric evening became a night for the underdogs as Rashad Evans hushed the sellout crowd of 14,103 when he beat fan favorite Forrest Griffin to become the UFC’s new light heavyweight champion.

Las Vegas’ own Frank Mir pulled off an even more stunning upset when he became the first fighter to ever stop Antonio Nogueira, scoring a second round TKO to earn back the interim heavyweight crown.

Finally Quinton “Rampage” Jackson enacted the revenge he had long been waiting for against Wanderlei Silva, finishing his longtime foe with a big first round knockout and $60,000 bonus for Knockout of the Night.

“The biggest card of the year lived up to the hype,” said UFC president Dana White, who announced the event produced a live gate of $3.47million. “It was a great night.”

While all three bouts featured big-time storylines in their own regard, it would be hard not to say that the undefeated Evans’ victory in the sport’s glamor division was the biggest highlight on arguably the organization’s most stacked card ever. It earned both Evans and Griffin the prestigious Fight of the Night honors

“I guess I am the Ultimate Fighter,” said a smiling Evans, who much like he did in his prefight press conference dressed to impress in a dark colored suit at the postfight press conference along with a pair of shades.

Evans was the Season 2 winner of the UFC’s reality TV show called the “Ultimate Fighter.” Griffin won the first installment.

While Griffin took an early lead on the first two rounds of the judges scorecards, Evans, a 29-year-old from Albuquerque, fired back in the third.

He scored a smooth takedown that put Griffin in a vulnerable position on his back. From there he landed several over-the-top blows, including one that clearly dazed Griffin.

But Evans didn’t stop, hammering out at least a dozen more shots before referee Steve Mazzagatti stopped it at the 2:46 mark.

“He was smiling the whole time,” said Evans, who improved to 18-0-1. “I didn't know if he was hurt or he was pretending, so I was just like 'I'll keep hitting him in the smiling face.' And then he stopped smiling. But Forrest was tough, man."

True to his character Griffin, shrugged off medical personnel after the fight so he could embrace Evans.

"I'm fine," said Griffin, who was taken to the hospital afterwards for a broken hand. "I'll be back. I don't know who I'll be fighting. Congratulations to Rashad."

A beaming Evans said he would party “ever so slightly” tonight in Las Vegas before chilling out with his family. Even after the fight the former Michigan State wrestler couldn't pinpoint why he was slow coming out of the gate.

"I felt kind of sloppy in the first two rounds,'' Evans said. "I don't know where I was at when I first came out. ... I knew sooner or later something we worked on would show up and I'd be able to capitalize on it.

"Sometimes you rhyme slow, sometimes you rhyme quick,'' Evans said, to the delight of his family members and friends in attendance. "And I came out rhyming real slow man, but I pulled everything together at the end."

But in a division where hanging onto the title has been extremely hard lately, Evans said he knows there's little margin for error and that as soon as possible he will be back in the gym polishing up certain aspects of his skills before his first title defense in 2009.

It was these thoughts of improvement of what it will take to be a champion, not the roller coaster ride he had just completed to get to the ultimate peak of the sport that made Evans reflect in the locker room moments after his stirring victory.

"When I was changing in the back, I wanted to go and train," Evans said with a chuckle. "There's a lot that I need to do and a lot that I want to do to make sure I hold on to this belt."

Main card (7:00 p.m.)

The main card of the night is underway. There are few empty seats inside the MGM Grand Garden Areana, and the energy level has definitely increased the noise level upward a couple of octaves thanks to the UFC's montage highlight reel played to "Teenage Wasteland."

Rampage says he wants to smash Silva and end their third fight by KO. The normally reserved Nogueira gets in on the action, saying: "The reality show is over. Now it's just me and Frank."

"We are liiive," Buffer screams to the roar of the crowd.

After the Cheick Kongo-Mustapha al Turk match, the camera panned in on UFC legend Randy Couture, and the crowd erupts with its approval. WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres is also ringside with a handful of other WEC fighters.

Things didn't die down either, as the first main event of the evening, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Wanderlei Silva, was just announced.

"I'm going to give him more because I don't like him," said Silva, who had the crowd on his side when he walked to the ring to the theme he used during his PRIDE fighting days.

"I've been fighting my whole life, I'm not afraid of any man," Jackson said.

Click to enlarge photo

Wanderlei Silva lays knocked out inside the Octagon Saturday night at the MGM Grand after Quinton "Rampage" Jackson delivered a perfectly-timed left hook.

Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson

A couple quick exchanges. They're clearly feeling each other out. A resounding Silva chant begins. Rampage cheers follows suit, but part of crowd drowns it out with boos.

Silva lands a knee. He tries for a sweeping kick a little later. He connects with a kick at the 2:30 mark. Jackson blocks another kick and nearly got on top with a punch of his own, but Silva recovers. Chants began for Rampage and Silva charges forward. At that exact time, Jackson lands a precise left hook that floors Silva. Jackson throws three more blows while Silva's down. The fight is stopped and Silva is completely knocked out. A camera shows UFC legend Chuck Liddell, who looks down, knowing he suffered the same fate at the hands of Rashad Evans in September.

Jackson walks over to check on his opponent, who he KO’d at the 3:21 mark of the first round, and tries to tap his shoulder. Silva finally wakes up at least two and half minutes later. While Jackson gives an interview to Joe Rogan, Silva stumbles out of the Octagon only to stop at the door to the cage and watch the big hook that put him to sleep on the screen in front of him. Silva was evaluated by medical staff on site and cleared.

“Wheeew!" Jackson said, screaming into the mic. "This is real sweet. I had to let you know, it wasn’t right the last time (I fought Silva). I went to the Wolfslair in the UK, go my wolf on. Rampage is back. I ain't going anywhere."

The crowd still seems to be catching it's breath after the Jackson-Silva fight during the CB Dollaway vs. Mike Massenzio contest. A ringside UFC cameraman does an excellent job of catching himself, avoiding a tumble off the stage. Definitely some electric excitement going on right now inside the MGM.

The crowd is having a tough time waiting on the first title fight. Eventually Noguiera and Mir pop up on the big screens.

"He’s the best heavyweight in the world. He’s the guy standing in front of the door," Mir says of getting a win over the legendary Noguiera and then a title fight against Brock Lesnar. "Nothing to lose."

While respectful, Nogueira said he wants to make it painfully obvious who the best heavyweight is.

"I want to submit this guy and leave no doubt who the best fighter is in the world," he said

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Frank Mir

From the get-go, this fight lives up to its billing. A big right by Mir knocks Noguiera back. Mir responds with a flurry of shots as the crowd goes crazy. Another big right by Mir. He knocks Nog down and throws a series of shots. Mir is all over him, but can’t end the fight. He walks away, letting Big Nog off his back. Nogueira lands a big right of his own, showing this one is not going to be one-sided. Mir tries a large leg kick. Crowd is hanging on every blow. Mir lands another combo. The two briefly feeling each other out. Just as the bell sounds, Mir knocks Nog down once more.

Mir continues to push the action with his punches. Noguiera is enduring a lot of shots. Mir lands two big lefts and Nog is down. Mir pounces and lands a couple more punches before Herb Dean stops the fight at 1:54 in the second.

"If I was a betting man, I wouldn't have had money on Frank Mir tonight," Mir said. "I didn't even think I could beat Noguiera."

Mir turned is attention to the current UFC heavyweight champ, Brock Lesnar, who was sitting beside the Octagon. “I don't want any of this (expletive) that I'm half the champ,” Mir said. “I beat Nogueira. (Lesnar) beat a champion in Randy Couture. Let's see if he can make it out of the first round, but hey, this time I'll make him famous on the break that I do to him.” Lesnar answered with a little sign language, pointing to his own eyes, then to Mir.

The MGM crowd is like sharks smelling blood in the water after Mir's shocking knockout of Big Nog — the first time the big Brazilian’s ever been stopped. And the main fight still hasn't started.

But it’s right around the corner.

Evans enters as hip hop music blasts over the arena. Moments earlier the big screen showed him saying: "I want to knocked (Griffin’s) head off."

While Evans warms up in the Octagon, the lights flash off, Griffin enters with what looks like almost the exact same outfit that he was wearing during Tuesday's press conference.

The crowd is at a frenzied level.

"And now the moment that UFC fans around the world have waited for ... It's tiiime!" Buffer screams over the building crescendo of the crowd.

Rashad Evans vs. Forrest Griffin

The two each exchange punches as a punch drunk crowd seems almost delirious from the night's excitement. Forrest goes for a big kick. Both men are slightly cautious. The crowd gasps on an exchange that just clips each fighter’s extremities. Evans lands a leg kick, then a solid punch. Griffin responds with a pair of blows and a kick. Both counter each other with solid exchanges. Evans then lands a leg kicks that turns Griffin around. Griffin attempts two high kicks, but misses. Evans connects two solid blows to Griffin’s head as the crowd comes to their feet at the end of the first round.

Evans slips briefly at the start of the second. He gets up and the two share counter punches. Griffin lands a big blow and starts attacking. Evans takes another shot and is on the cage as Griffin lands a series of knees. Evans points to his chin, taunting Griffin to hit him. The crowd loves it, and begins a chant of “Forrest-Forrest." Evans gets a punch in as the two circle the Octagon. They exchange again and Evans gets the best of a flurry of shots as the continuous action is back and forth. They tap gloves after a quick restart, with the “Forrest” chant again rising from the crowd. Evans connects with a right and Griffin counters. Evans lands a couple of big blows right before the bell, but Griffin gets in the last say with a flush shot right before the buzzer.

Evans comes out as strong as he has all night at the start of the third. He lands a punch and Griffin slips a bit, allowing Evans to shoot in for a take down. Evans hops on Griffin and lands a flurry of hammer punches. Griffin recovers briefly. While Griffin is on guard, he is stunned by a big right. Evans pounces on the opportunity and hops on Griffin, finishing the fight and his journey to the light heavyweight championship with a flurry of fists. Griffins shakes off medical help and walks over to hug Evans.

“It sounds real good man," Evans tells Joe Rogan of winning the belt. "A great fight. Forrest was in control. It took me a while to warm up, but I finally did."

In typical Griffin fashion he played off the emotions of losing, cracking a joke about how he “wasn't tapping, I was just flailing,” before encouraging the crowd to congratulate the new champ.

Cheick Kongo vs. Mustapha al Turk

Both fighters suffered low blows to the groin that stalled the first round. Kongo was visibly after his shot and evened the match out with a big knee to the groin to Turk. After Turk was impaired, Kongo came out super aggressive, got him up against the cage and ended the fight with a slew of nonstop shots that created a large gash to Turk's head before Steve Mazzagatti finally called the stoppage. It took Jacob "Stitch" Duran several minutes to stop the bleeding from the large cut.

"I work out so much, and have sacrificed," said Kongo, who said he hopes he's on the shortlist to get a heavyweight title shot. "This is my dream.

CB Dollaway vs. Mike Massenzio

Dollaway, who looked on the verge of defeat as Massenzio slipped a guillotine on him, somehow slipped out. He got into full mount position and was able to started throwing punches to the side of Massenzio's head until the match is stopped at 3:01 in the first.

"I don’t remember. Maybe it was close, I got out of and did what I had to do," Dollaway said of slipping the choke hold. "Mike is a tough competitor. I wrestled him in the junior college nationals, he was tough there, was strong tonight and I was glad to come out with the victory.

Undercard bouts (5:00 p.m.)

Click to enlarge photo

Matt Hamill, right, forces a stoppage in his light heavyweight fight against Reese Andy Saturday night at UFC 92 at the MGM Grand.

A minute before 5 p.m. the lights inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena turned off to the delight of the early-arriving mixed martial arts fans that were filing into their seats Saturday night for the Ultimate Fighting Championships’ end-of-the-year show, UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008.

Video clips began blinking highlights across the six large screens of the stacked card to come, which features three main caliber events — including the light heavyweight championship bout between champ Forrest Griffin and undefeated Rashad Evans; an interim heavyweight title fight featuring title-holder Antonio Nogueira and former UFC champ Frank Mir; and a bad-blood showdown between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Wanderlei Silva.

“We are ending 2008 with a fight card like no other,” UFC President Dana White said, after the event's announcement back in October. “One for every fight fan out there.”

The night started with a bang as soon as ring announcer Bruce Buffer lent his voice to the festivities.

Pat Barry followed suit, buckling opponent Dan Evensen’s left knee and signaling an end to the first contest just two and half minutes into the first round.

“This is better than Christmas,” Barry screamed. “That’s one hell of a start to the show.”

Before and after the Antoni Hardonk-Mike Wessel bout, the cameras focused on all six of the main event fighters, first on Silva, who received loud cheers. Then on Jackson, whose response was greeted with a mixture of cheers and jeers. Nogueira, Mir, and Evans all received hearty applause, but the biggest ovation was reserved for the light heavyweight champ, Griffin, who strutted into the bowels of the MGM with a stocking cap and some kind of beverage in what looked like a plastic coffee cup.

Yushin Okami vs. Dean Lister

Fans were none to pleased about this match as Lister constantly challenged Okami to come down and try his jiu-jitsu skills. Okami didn't bite as the boos got louder during the handful of times the match had to be restarted because of Lister staying on his back. In the end, Okami pleased MGM fans with a 30-27 unanimous decision.

Antoni Hardonk vs. Mike Wessel

Wessel, the former strength and conditioning coach at Arkansas held his ground in the first round of his first UFC fight. But it didn't last long as Hardonk took control in the second period, reversing from his back into a full mount where he was able to land a series of uncontested punches. Wessel avoids being choked out, but instead eats a ton of punches and the contest ends with Hardonk winning by TKO at the 2:09 mark of the second round.

"I know more than just kickboxing. People talk about my kicks, and I take it as a compliment, but there's more than that," said Hardonk, who improved to 8-4 with the victory. "As soon as I was on top of him, it seemed like he didn't know what to do. He took the fight short notice, I thank him for that, and it takes courage to do that."

Matt Hamill vs. Reese Andy

After a self-described "horrible" first round, in which he found himself cut under his right eye, crowd favorite Matt Hamill came out like a banshee in the second stanza. He wasted little time in forcing his will upon Andy with a series of big shots. He got him on the ground twice, seemingly ending the fight. Referee Steve Mazzagatti finally stopped the light heavyweight contest at the 2:19 mark of the second round as Hamill overpowered Andy with a serious of head punches.

"The second round I was going to give it all I got," Hamill told the crowd with the help of an interpreter. "I got the heart. I'm not going to give up."

Brad Blackburn vs. Ryo Chonan

The two fighters made grand entrances with Blackburn coming out to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," and Chonan rocking a robotic mask and red stripes in his hair. Blackburn got in some early shots, looking for a knockout in the first two rounds.

Didn't happen as Chonan withstood the punishment, before dishing out a ton of his own blows and badly bloodying Blackburn by the end of the third. The judges awarded Blackburn a unanimous decision, 29-28, as a heavy round of boos reigned down from the crowd in disapproval.

"C'mon it's a three round fight," Blackburn said, trying to calm the crowd down. "I definitely won the first two rounds, but he was in phenomenal shape and he definitely won the third round. He busted me up a bit at the end."

Pat Barry vs. Dan Evensen

Barry made his UFC debut in impressive fashion, showing off the fearsome striking skills that helped make a name for himself in K1. A couple of early strikes caused damage, his big right kick midway through the first ended Evensen's night.

Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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