LAS VEGAS -- In a night of upsets the UFC crowned two new champions and saw the resurrection of a former title-holder, as the night's three main fights all ended in sudden finishes.
Rashad Evans took 2½ rounds to find his comfort zone against Forrest Griffin, but when he did he stunned the champ, dropping him midway through the third round and finishing him with a torrent of punches at the 2:46 mark to claim the UFC light heavyweight title.
"I knew I had him in trouble," said Evans. "He kept smiling, so I didn't know if he was hurt or not. They kept letting me hit him, so I was like, 'All right.'"
In the post-fight news conference Evans acknowledged that winning the light heavyweight title is one thing, but defending the belt that has had a host of owners in the last year is a more difficult matter.
"I was changing in the back room and I was thinking, 'I want to go and train.' I know there's a lot that I need to do."
In the evening's co-main event, former heavyweight champ Frank Mir became the first man to stop Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, outstriking the Brazilian from the start and putting him down three times before finally finishing him with strikes on the ground at 1:54 of the second round.
"A win over Nogueira is huge," said Mir. "The people who have wins over Nogueira are highly touted individuals, and now I'm part of that group."
Mir said that he'd "never been as scared" for a fight than he was in facing Nogueira, and admitted even he was surprised at the way the fight ended.
"I visualized winning the fight, but never by stoppage. I was able to jump on him that last time and I saw something in his eyes that I didn't expect to see -- he was dazed."
The win earns Mir a share of the UFC heavyweight championship, and sets him on a collision course with the other heavyweight titleholder, Brock Lesnar.
"I don't want any of this [expletive] that I'm half the champ," said Mir. "I beat Nogueira. [Lesnar] beat a champion in Randy Couture. Let's see if he can make it out of the first round. But, hey, this time I'll make him famous on the break that I do to him."
In the other marquee fight of the night, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson got back on track following the loss of his title in July with a devastating left-hook knockout of Wanderlei Silva that earned him a Knockout of the Night bonus worth $60,000. Jackson avenged his two previous losses to Silva in Japan's Pride organization, a feat he credited to his new coaches at England's Wolfslair fight team.
"I'm just getting myself back together," Jackson said. "I got to get my mind right, got to start training. I had to start all over. I had a new training camp, a new manager. Everything. God is on my side."
Though Silva was unconscious for several minutes after the knockout, UFC president Dana White said later that he had been evaluated after the fight and was doing fine. Former light heavyweight champ Griffin was taken to the hospital with a broken hand.
In other action:
• C.B. Dollaway fought through a very tight guillotine choke early on and used his wrestling skills to control Mike Massenzio on the mat. Dollaway later admitted that he didn't remember escaping from the submission, but did recall eventually taking Massenzio's back and finishing him with a flurry of punches from the top.
• Cheick Kongo and Mustapha Al Turk exchanged knees to the groin in the opening frame in their heavyweight bout. The interaction only seemed to enrage Kongo, who dropped Al Turk with a right hand and followed up with some vicious elbows and hammer fists before the referee finally called a stop to it at 4:37 of the first round.
•Yushin Okami might have liked a standup fight with Dean Lister, but Lister had other plans. The decorated jiu-jitsu fighter did everything he could think of to force a ground battle with Okami, from single-leg takedown attempts to sitting on the mat and practically begging Okami to enter his guard. Okami steered clear of Lister's submissions and won the striking battle enough to earn a unanimous decision following a lackluster fight.
- UFC newcomer Mike Wessel looked strong in the opening minutes of his bout with Holland's Antoni Hardonk, enduring some hard knees in the clinch and controlling the fight on the ground. The effort seemed to have exhausted Wessel in the second, however, and he began to look every bit the role of a fighter who stepped in on short notice. Hardonk took his back and pounded him with punches and elbows until referee Yves Lavigne stepped in to stop the bout at 2:09 of round two.
• Matt Hamill survived an early cut to defeat Reese Andy with a second-round ground-and-pound TKO. Hooks to the body from Hamill hurt Andy early in the second and after a failed takedown attempt Andy found himself stuck against the cage and receiving a pounding from Hamill before the referee finally waved it off at the 2:19 mark.
• Brad Blackburn outpointed Ryo Chonan for the first two rounds of their battle, using punch combinations to bloody the Japanese fighter and keep him on the retreat. Chonan came on in the final frame, rocking Blackburn and turning the tables, but it was too little, too late as Blackburn emerged with the unanimous decision victory.
• Kickboxer-turned-MMA fighter Pat Barry proved he belongs in the UFC, punishing Dan Evensen with leg kicks until Evensen gave up at 2:36 of the first round. A particularly brutal kick to Evensen's left leg caused him to limp away and signal his submission to the referee, marking a surprisingly easy debut victory for Barry.