Friday, Dec. 26, 2008 | 2 a.m.
- Title fight: Rashad Evans (17-0-1 mixed martial arts) vs. Forrest Griffin (16-4), UFC light heavyweight championship
- Featured fights: Frank Mir (11-3) vs. Antonio Nogueira (31-4-1), heavyweights; Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (28-7) vs. Wanderlei Silva (32-8-1), light heavyweights
- Time/site: Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena; doors open, 4:30 p.m.; first undercard bout, 5:15 p.m.; main card, 7 p.m.
- Tickets: $75-$800, www.mgmgrand.com or MGM Grand box office
- TV: Pay per view, $44.95
- Other fights: C.B. Dollaway (8-2) vs. Mike Massenzio (11-2), middleweights; Cheick Kongo (22-4-1) vs. Mostapha Al Turk (6-3), heavyweights; Yushin Okami (23-4) vs. Dean Lister (11-5), middleweights; Antoni Hardonk (7-4) vs. Mike Wessel (8-1), heavyweights; Matt Hamill (6-2) vs. Reese Andy (7-2), light heavyweights; Ryo Chonan (15-8) vs. Brad Blackburn (13-9-1), welterweights; Dan Evensen (10-3) vs. Pat Barry (3-0), heavyweights
1. Going deep
Mixed martial arts fans surely would be satisfied with any of the three headlining fights on the card as a main event, so to have them all on the same show is an extra treat. The light heavyweight championship fight matches Forrest Griffin, the winner of the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the reality-competition TV show, against Rashad Evans, the winner of the second season. Frank Mir and Antonio Nogueira square off for the opportunity to challenge Brock Lesnar for his UFC heavyweight championship belt. Quinton Jackson against Wanderlei Silva shapes up as an intriguing matchup, with one possible drawback: Silva has defeated Jackson twice, by TKO and knockout, when both were fighting in the now-defunct Pride organization in Japan in 2003 and 2004.
2. Top two
Griffin and Evans are both coming off important fights that could well mark turning points in their pro careers. Griffin stopped Jackson in a five-round decision in July for the UFC light heavyweight title. Evans earned his shot at the belt by knocking out Chuck Liddell in September in Atlanta, earning the “knockout of the night” honor at UFC 88. Even UFC President Dana White acknowledged he has underestimated Evans throughout his career. “Forrest is somebody I’ve been watching for a long time,” Evans said. “As the winner of Season 2 of ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ following him was not an easy task. We finally meet at the pinnacle and I believe it’s very fitting.”
3. Frank focused
Mir, a Las Vegas native and former UFC champ, has publicly blamed his own “laziness” and lack of intensity in training camp for some of the losses and subpar performances in the octagon. Mir says those days are behind him and he’ll enter the fight against Nogueira, who owns the interim UFC heavyweight title, in top condition. Mir said he believes his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills measure up favorably with Nogueira’s though it’s possible much of the fight could take place standing up, which would allow both men to showcase their boxing ability. “It’s an honor to step in there with the best,” Mir said. “Very few people get that opportunity to fight somebody I’ve idolized for a while ... The title has actually been on the back burner (behind) the thought of fighting Nogueira.”
4. A new man
Jackson was not pleased with the judges’ decision in his loss to Griffin, but he also admits he was not satisfied with his own execution in the octagon. He said he revamped his training as well as his mental state in preparing for Silva, who broke a three-fight losing streak by stopping Keith Jardine in May. “You guys are going to see a new Rampage up there,” Jackson said. “I’m older now (30), I treat my body better and I’m more focused. I’m not happy with how I performed in my last fight. It gave me a lot of motivation to push myself and train hard this time, to do things the right way.”
5. Betting lines
Of the three featured fights on the card, the betting marketplace reflects the least amount of confidence in Mir, who enters as a plus 300 underdog (risk $1 to net $3) against Nogueira, a minus 360 favorite (risk $3.60 to net $1). Silva is the slightest of favorites at minus 120 against Jackson, listed at even money. The oddsmakers and betting public have been showing respect for Griffin despite Evans’ undefeated record. Griffin is a minus 135 favorite with Evans a plus 115 underdog. As always, odds are subject to change.