2008 Bloody Elbow Reader Awards: Upset and Performance of the Year

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PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: Frank Mir vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
UPSET OF THE YEAR: Frank Mir vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

For all their similarities, Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira and Frank Mir entered the cage on December 27th miles apart as fighters. Both men rose through the ranks in their twenties. Both owed their success to the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And both recovered from horrific motor vehicle accidents to reach the pinnacle of fight sport.

Nogueira held the distinction of being the only man to have held belts in both Pride and the UFC. He had only 4 losses - split decisions to Dan Henderson and Josh Barnett and two wars with Fedor Emelianenko, and had never been stopped in his career. His fights with Josh Barnett, Mirko Cro Cop, Tim Sylvia, and others arguably comprised the best collection of victories in the sport's history. Nogueira looked to rule over a shallow talent pool in the UFC's heavyweight division.

Mir, on the other hand, held a reputation as wasted potential. After winning the UFC title from Tim Sylvia, Mir's career derailed following a high speed motorcycle crash. He fell victim to journeyman Marcio Cruz after rushing back from rehab. He then fell out of the sport's radar until a bout with WWE superstar Brock Lesnar. Following a 90 second blitzkrieg which ended with Mir tapping the wrestler via heel hook, Zuffa inserted Nogueira and Mir into the Ultimate Fighter 9 culminated with a title bout at UFC 92.

Few gave Mir any legitimate shot at beating the legendary Nogueira. Mir himself forecasted a Nogueira victory. The fight analyzed itself. Any advantage either had on the floor was marginal and they would likely nullify each other there. Therefore, Nogueira would dominate the fighting standing utilizing his clinch work and pedigreed boxing training.

Even after Mir stared well out of the gates, few minds wavered from the pre-fight prognostications. Nogueira, after all, built his career on taking a beating before miraculously reversing course and marching to victory. Mir dropped the Brazilian early in the first period, and it's doubtful even his heart rate fluttered.

Suspicions arose, however, when Mir dropped Nogueira again towards the very end of the first stanza. Mir, one of the top jiu jitsu players at heavyweight, still showed respect for the specter of Nogueira's reputation refusing to launch a ground assault. When the horn sounded, a battle weary Nogueira gingerly wobbled back to his corner.

Round two began where round one left off. Mir repeatedly landed a lead left uppercut that confused the champion all night. Meanwhile, Nogueira continued to fight tentatively and seemed unable to pull the trigger. The barrage continued until Mir landed two straight lefts which floored the champion for the third time. The challenger wasted no time following up this time around. Referee Herb Dean eventually stepped in when the normally resilient Nogueira offered little to defend himself.

The jubilant Vegas crowd exploded in applause for its native son. Mir rose from the floor with an expression consisting of one part shock and one part relief. He found newly crowned champion Brock Lesnar in the front row, pointed towards him, and said, "You got my belt."

In his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, Mir gave one of the most genuine and inspirational speeches from a fighter just mere moments pulled from battle. After thanking his wife, kids, camp, and others, Mir reminded the audience that less than three years ago he struggled to even walk and pointed to himself as an example that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. He repeated his pre-fight doubts and added that he had never been as scared entering the Octagon as he had that night.

Mir wasn't the biggest underdog to emerge victorious this year (that, I believe, would belong to Sergey Golaev or Junior dos Santos). But he takes the award when you combine the result with his nearly flawless performance against one of MMA's most decorated stars. The victory also sets him up for an even bigger 2009 as he looks to repeat the result of his UFC 81 encounter with linear champ Lesnar. If Mir fights Lesnar with as much confidence and improvement as we saw against Nogueira, we might witness the crowning of a two time heavyweight champion.

UPSET OF THE YEAR

2nd PLACE: Mike Thomas Brown vs. Urijah Faber
3rd PLACE: Rashad Evans vs. Chuck Liddell

PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
2nd PLACE: Georges St. Pierre vs. Jon Fitch
3rd PLACE: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Tim Sylvia

 

 

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