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A Look Back at UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008

December 19, 2018 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
UFC 92

It was a time of Tapout shirts. The Ultimate Fighter was still relevant, the UFC had only five champions, and there were few enough events that fans would recognize everyone on the main card. The year was 2008—one year after Pride closed its doors, two years after the UFC exploded on pay-per-view, and three years after Forrest Griffin edged Stephan Bonnar on Spike TV.

After the upsets of 2007 upended several major fights, the pieces began coming back together in 2008. Brock Lesnar stormed the UFC and intersected with Randy Couture. Georges St-Pierre took his game to the next level, while BJ Penn began to live up to his potential. Anderson Silva was poetry in motion, while Forrest Griffin, the popular everyman, improbably rose to the light heavyweight title.

Ten years ago this month, the UFC capped off a remarkable year with a remarkable event. UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008, one of UFC’s final named pay-per-views, is a fine portrait of the era. The show featured two stars made on The Ultimate Fighter competing for the promotion’s marquee championship. It also continued one of MMA’s greatest feuds, pitting two Pride rivals against each other once again. Notably, it also put the pieces in place for UFC 100, the crowning achievement of the era. In short, it was a special night.

At the start of the summer of 2008, the odds on seeing Forrest Griffin vs. Rashad Evans for the UFC light heavyweight championship before the end of the year would have been exceedingly long.

Griffin catapulted to a July 2008 championship match following his upset win over Shogun Rua in 2007. However, Quinton Jackson, the light heavyweight champion, entered their fight as the clear favorite. Jackson had significant power, boxed as well as anyone in the division, and wrestled well. Most figured he’d knock out Griffin, who was looked as a jack-of-all-trades type fighter, although he employed a very strong ground game. In a close, controversial decision, Griffin took the title from Jackson. Had Jackson not had a public meltdown shortly after the fight, he may have received an immediate rematch.

As Griffin upset Jackson, Rashad Evans prepared for the biggest fight of his life. He had a date with Chuck Liddell, the former champion whose career was just beginning to slide. Evans would put his career in free fall, but that wasn’t clear at the time. The idea was that Liddell, the slight favorite, had always done well against wrestlers, and Evans was another wrestler for him to beat. Certainly, the UFC must have been salivating over the idea of ending the year on a Griffin vs. Liddell title fight, which could have broken pay-per-view records.

Instead, an Evans right hand flattened Liddell moved the division forward to its next incarnation. The UFC granted him the title shot against Griffin.

For several years, the key U.S. stars at light heavyweight had been Liddell and Tito Ortiz (who was on hiatus at the end of 2008), while dominant fighter in Japan had been Wanderlei Silva.

Silva reigned as Pride’s middleweight (the equivalent of the light heavyweight division) champion for more than five years. His fall began at the end of 2006, when he competed in Pride’s Open-Weight Grand Prix and found himself in a ring with Mirko Cro Cop, and his skull found itself dangerously close to Cro Cop’s left leg. Then he lost his title to Dan Henderson, and after a jump to the UFC, he lost the dream match against Chuck Liddell.

All it took for Silva to regain momentum was a brutal 36-second knockout over Keith Jardine in May 2008. You could talk people into believing Wanderlei Silva was back based on that performance because everyone wanted to believe Wanderlei Silva was back. Suddenly, the idea of Silva being one win away from a UFC title shot seemed not outlandish, but logical. At the same time, Quinton Jackson was eager to reclaim his light heavyweight title, but was easy to talk into a fight with an Axe Murderer.

Silva and Jackson went back more than five years, when Silva was on top of Pride and Jackson wanted his spot. Whereas some histories will point to Pride Final Conflict 2003 as the night Silva and Liddell didn’t cross paths, in reality the major story was the night in which Silva and Jackson finally crossed paths. From Pride’s perspective, Silva vs. Jackson was the fight the tournament built toward; they were the two favorites, and they had already had a heated in-ring confrontation.

In a classic, Silva stopped Jackson in the first round. That one fight certainly didn’t cool the rivalry though, so a year later they did it again. Another classic ensured, this time with the lasting image being Jackson’s unconscious body dangling through the ropes as blood poured from his head like a leaky faucet. Still, the firm result did nothing to quell the animosity both men had for each other.

When they met in 2008, it was with a likely title shot hanging in the balance; the chance at supremacy once more.

A chance was what Frank Mir needed to get back to fighting form. And then he needed another, and then another.

Mir became UFC’s heavyweight champion in 2004, but a motorcycle wreck took the title from him. He returned a different fighting, losing twice in first round stoppages, and winning one bad fight against an overmatched Dan Christison.

It took Mir only one quick victory over Antoni Hardonk to regain his confidence, which was in full force when he met Brock Lesnar in February 2008. He caught Lesnar that night and ran with it, establishing himself as one of the most effective talkers in the sport.

Meanwhile, with heavyweight champion Randy Couture on the sideline, the UFC crowned an interim champion in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Even by that time, Nogueira was considered the second-best heavyweight ever, renowned for his perseverance in the most difficult of spots, whether it was getting run over by a truck as a child or piledriven by a prime Bob Sapp (which are almost one in the same if you think about it).

With few big-name heavyweights available, and only Fabricio Werdum actually deserving a title shot, the UFC naturally went with Mir to fight Nogueria. First, they’d have to coach on The Ultimate Fighter, which meant pushing the fight off until the end of the year. Before the interim title fight could happen though, Brock Lesnar beat Heath Herring, Randy Couture re-entered the picture, the UFC naturally passed over Fabricio Werdum again, and Couture fought Lesnar. Lesnar defeated Couture to set up a unification fight with the interim champion in 2009.

The story of Lesnar and Mir, who became bitter rivals before and after their first match, competing in a rematch with the UFC’s undisputed heavyweight title on the line wasn’t meant to happen. Nogueira was made of iron, better than Mir at everything that Mir was good at, and had famously never been finished. He was the strong favorite; the end-game figured to be a Lesnar vs. Nogueira unification match.

These were the stories converging on the night of December 27, 2008—an exciting night to be a mixed martial arts fan. The stories were compelling enough to out-draw Lesnar vs. Couture (held one month earlier) on pay-per-view by a significant margin. (This was a surprise. Going in, the idea that it would even come close to Lesnar vs. Couture would have been a major win for the UFC.)

Evans took out Griffin in the third round. Although Evans wouldn’t hold the belt for long, his winning the title put him in position for his rivalry with Quinton Jackson, one of the UFC’s biggest drawing grudge matches ever.

The third time was the charm for Jackson, who thumped Silva in the first round, adding some unneeded shots to an unconscious Silva just to make sure people knew he really didn’t like him. Jackson would have went into an immediate title match had it not been for the UFC’s need to fill pay-per-view main events (Jackson ended up saving UFC 96 by fighting Keith Jardine). He eventually got the title shot he earned at UFC 92 in 2011, when he unsuccessfully challenged Jon Jones.

Even Frank Mir didn’t think he could beat Nogueira, but he roundly dominated the former Pride heavyweight champion to take back the UFC title and complete his comeback. To the world’s great shock, Mir became the first fighter to stop Nogueira, doing so in the second round after several knockdowns. The crowning win of Mir’s career put him in place for what will be remembered as the defining fight of his career: his rematch with Lesnar. Although it was initially tapped to headline UFC 98, Lesnar vs. Mir II was the perfect fight to headline UFC 100, checking every box for the main event on a card of that magnitude.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

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