CARD OF THE YEAR: UFC 92
Zuffa historically pulls out all the stops for their year-end show, and UFC 92 proved no exception. The event featured three huge fights capable of carrying a card on their own - Quinton Jackson and Wanderlei Silva in a rubber match to add to their legendary feud, the conclusion of TUF season 9 pitting Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir, and a light heavyweight title bout featuring former TUF winners Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans.
High profile fights bring with them the risk of a letdown whether it be poor performances from the fighters, controversial referee decisions, or puzzling scorecards from the judges. So it's quite a feat that all three fights met the high expectations set before them.
Quinton Jackson led off the night with a bang when he knocked out Wanderlei Silva a mere three minutes into round one. The finish erased two brutal losses Jackson suffered to Silva in Pride. In addition, Jackson can now boast of putting down two legends of the sport with his right - when he beat Chuck Liddell at UFC 71 - and left hands.
The story of redemption continued when Frank Mir met interim heavyweight champion "Minotauro" Nogueira. Nogueira came in as a heavy seven-to-two favorite, and even Mir himself struggled to articulate his avenues to victory. Those doubts vanished as soon as the fight started. Mir battered the sluggish Nogueira with vastly improved striking and dropped the Brazilian twice in the first period. Mir, who had refused to engage Nogueira on the ground during the first five minutes, didn't hesitate to finish when he dropped him for a third time in the second stanza. Mir overwhelmed a shaken Nogueira and stopped him for the first time in his illustrious career.
In the final bout of the evening, the original Ultimate Fighter winner, Forrest Griffin, met the winner of season two, Rashad Evans, in a contest for the light heavyweight championship. Griffin controlled the first two rounds using his length and volume to his advantage. Evans, who later blamed his slow start to the lack of nipple tweaking, warmed up in the third. He knocked down the champion and followed up with strikes from guard. Griffin looked slow and ineffective off his back despite a reputation of having some of the best defensive jiu-jitsu in the division. The end came after Evans landed a bomb of a right hand and followed up with strikes. The final moments were reminiscent of Griffin's loss to Evans' teammate Keith Jardine just 24 months prior.
Despite worries about the effects of the economy, the holiday season, and being sandwiched between UFC 91 and 93, UFC 92 did tremendous business. Exact numbers are not available, but buyrate numbers appear close to the business UFC 91 did, if not better. The year produced many contenders for Card of the Year, but with the combination of financial success, star power, and exciting fights, the UFC's year-end bonanza wins in a landslide.
2nd PLACE: UFC 84
3rd PLACE: WEC 34