The last UFC of the year lived up to its name of “The Ultimate 2008” as the crowd of 14,103 witnessed two belts change hands and saw Quinton “Rampage” Jackson avenge his losses.
Jackson had previously suffered two losses when he met with fellow light heavyweight Wanderlei Silva in the Pride organization. Jackson endured some personal problems since his recent loss to Forrest Griffin, but last night he was able to put his demons aside and conquer Silva in a fight that earned him the Knockout of the Night from UFC president, Dana White, along with a $60,000 bonus.
Silva was out cold for several minutes, longer than I have ever seen a fighter stay on the mat, and never made it to the post-fight press conference, though White said that he had been cleared by the doctors following the knockout.
The co-main event of the evening featured hometown fighter Frank Mir against his fellow Ultimate Fighter coach and role model, Antonio Nogueira. Mir has often spoke of his admiration for the world renowned Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and before the fight said it would be a difficult win if he did emerge victorious because he would be defeating his hero in the sport.
Inside the Octagon, Mir demonstrated his own martial arts prowess and improved striking ability as he knocked Nogueira to the mat twice before the first round was over. Halfway through the second round, Nogueria was sent to the mat for the final time before the fight was called after a series of punches from Mir.
A May 2003 cover of Las Vegas Weekly features a buff Frank Mir with the title “Fists of fury: will ultimate fighter Frank Mir be Vegas’ next action hero?” The answer today is yes, a resounding yes.
Mir managed to do something no other fighter has ever accomplished: He finished Nogueira in a fight. The loss of his interim heavyweight belt hit Nogueria as hard as Mir’s punches as he appeared to be crying in the Octagon following his loss.
Mir attempted to hide his own tears of joy, covering his face with his hat immediately after the win. His father, a skilled martial artist in his own right who spent the fight in his son’s corner, encouraged Mir to show the world how happy he was.
Following the post-fight press conference, Mir’s family retreated to a private room to relax and listen to Mir do one last interview. His adorable children, Bella and Kage, sat on the couch next to their father, clutching his interim heavyweight belt and smiling proudly. Bella had been the sole holder of the belt, which dwarfed her small frame, until Kage tried to get his hands on it and was gently batted away by his sister.
Mir said he tries to look at himself, “through my kids’ eyes, which keeps me up to a pretty high standard.”
Mir also mentioned he tried to give “Big Nog” a false sense of security prior to the fight.
Nogueira was heavily favored and Mir said that if someone had seen him in a sports book before the fight, “They would figure I was betting on Nogueira.”
Mir had let it slip in interviews that he had sustained some injuries in training, a fact most fighters would keep secret, so Nogueira would think he had the advantage. It was all part of Mir’s plan to re-establish his dominance in the heavyweight field. Following his victory, Mir spotted Brock Lesnar, the heavyweight champion, in the crowd and told him, “be careful what you wish for.” Dana White said we can expect a Mir-Lesnar fight in the spring, to determine the true heavyweight champion.
The light heavyweight championship belt went to a new owner as well, as “Sugar” Rashad Evans defeated Forrest Griffin. At the end of the fight, Griffin looked emotionally defeated as he wobbled to his feet. He refused immediate medical assistance, so he could go and congratulate Evans on his victory.
This kind of sportsmanship, coupled with his overall lack of bravado, has made Griffin a fan favorite. Both fighters had won their respective seasons of The Ultimate Fighter and after three rounds of fighting, Evans said, “I guess I am the Ultimate Fighter.” Their bout took Fight of the Night honors.
Famous fighters were out in droves for the final UFC of 2008, along with a few celebrities. I shared a sink with Pink in the bathroom, and ring girl Arianny Celeste, present and looking beautiful, brought along a new ringside hottie, Logan Stanton.
UFC fighters Amir Sadollah, Stephan Bonnar, Matt Riddle, Ryan Bader, Brock Lesnar and David Kaplan were in attendance along with WEC fighters Jamie Varner and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Ryan Bader, the most recent winner of TUF light heavyweight division, was in pal CB Dollaway’s corner, helping coach him to a win against Mike Massenzio. Another Ultimate Fighter alum, Matt Hamill, was also vicotrious in his bout against Reese Andy.
In this fairytale finish to a year of intense UFC action, the underdogs came out on top, quieting those who had questioned their abilities and wondered if their careers in the Octagon were finished. For now, we have an answer, as well as new champions to lead the sport of MMA – at least until the first UFC of 2009.