FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: Rashad Evans
Rashad Evans entered 2008 as just another body in the second tier of the 205 scrap heap. He started 2007 blazing hot with a highlight reel KO over Sean Salmon, but lost steam after stealing a draw from Tito Ortiz and winning a razor-thing split decision over Mike Bisping in November.
He had to wait just shy of ten months before he had the opportunity to redeem himself. Scheduled as a replacement for Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 85, Evans' found himself without an opponent after Chuck Liddell and James Irvin both pulled out with injuries.
Zuffa rescheduled the Evans/Liddell matchup for UFC 89 and banked on a Liddell victory. The company forsaw a huge moneymaker with a potential fight with Forrest Griffin at their year end show. Evans put the kabosh on all of that.
In a patient first round, Evans kept out of Liddell's range while figuring out his timing. A minute into round two, Evans backed into the fence, planted his feet, and unloaded a huge overhand right. Liddell lost consciousness before he hit the mat, and Evans found himself with the knockout of the year.
Without a clear contender for Griffin, the UFC inserted Evans into a main event title fight pitting the winners of seasons one and two of the Ultimate Fighter at UFC 92. Evans again started slow in the fight, losing the first two rounds decisively. In round three, Evans dropped the champion , who survived the early onslaught. Griffin's jiu-jitsu failed him over time, however, and Evans earned himself a TKO stoppage halfway through the period.
Evans finds himself in an entirely different situation than the previous year. He holds the title for the most prestigious MMA organization in the most prestigious weight division. He arrived here after impressively finishing two top ten fighters while improving his overall MMA game.
The upcoming year will be a huge test for "Sugar." He's lined up with former champ Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, and should he get by Rampge, he'll have to figure out the Lyoto Machida puzzle. Should he run the gauntlet, we may be crowning him fighter of the year yet again.
2nd PLACE: Miguel Torres
3rd PLACE: Gegard Mousasi