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Posted: Monday December 29, 2008 2:58PM; Updated: Monday December 29, 2008 3:21PM
Josh Gross Josh Gross >

Evans proves he's morphed into a quality knockout artist, more

Story Highlights

Rashad Evans has morphed into a quality knockout fighter

Frank Mir was plain brilliant in his stoppage of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Yushin Okami deserves better than the cards he's been put on

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Rashad Evans topped Forrest Griffin at the final UFC card of 2008.
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Three headline fights. Three definitive endings. Once again, parity and power made a wonderful mess of things.

The final UFC card of a busy 2008 is behind us, but hardly forgotten. And it won't be for some time. Rashad Evans' stoppage over Forrest Griffin and Frank Mir's shocker against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira created intriguing scenarios that should play out in the coming year. Quinton Jackson also proved he's got plenty left by handing -- left-hooking, actually -- Wanderlei Silva his third brutal knockout loss in 27 months.

Though Mir and Jackson shined, it was Evans, part of a new class of athlete to grace mixed martial arts in the past five years, who stood above the rest. We knew he could slug. We knew he could dance. And now we know Evans is capable of making a moment his.

Anyone choosing to remember Evans as the green Michigan State wrestler who claimed season two of The Ultimate Fighter needs to take a serious second look.

Under the guidance of Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, Evans morphed quickly into a knockout artist. But unlike other sluggers, Evans also moves as well as anyone at light heavyweight -- equaled perhaps by Lyoto Machida -- and his defense is impressive. Against Griffin, Evans repeatedly darted in and out of range. When he couldn't sidestep or back away from the larger champion, Evans simply checked a kick or deflected an attack with his arms.

Great defense separates very good fighters from simply dangerous ones, and while Evans has room to improve, there's no doubt he is on his way towards becoming a defensive pain.

The question now that Evans holds the UFC's most prestigious title: Is he the man to bring some calm to the division? Since Quinton Jackson deposed Chuck Liddell in May 2007, the title has changed hands twice. Prior to that, "The Iceman" dominated the division for over 2 1/2 years, and defended the belt four times.

Evans (13-0-1) knows there won't be any breaks, and the 29-year-old fighter, who joins teammate and friend Georges St. Pierre as the second UFC champ out of Jackson's camp, has not shied away from competition during his undefeated run.

If "Rampage" manages his legal problems -- he's back in court Jan. 8 to answer for that mid-summer romp through Orange County, Calif. -- a shot against Evans would seem likely. All things being equal, that's a pick 'em fight.

Mir's Night

There will be attempts to diminish what Frank Mir accomplished in stopping Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira -- years of punishment finally caught up to the Brazilian; he was never that good fighting in Japan, etc -- but don't listen to any of it.

Mir was plain brilliant in the best performance of an on-again, off-again career.

Few, including myself, gave the 29-year-old Las Vegas resident a shot against a man who'd never been finished. After all, Mir didn't have a reputation for the kind of accuracy, power and hand speed that gave Nogueira, 32, so much trouble Saturday. It wasn't like his detractors were discounting these skills -- no one had ever seen Mir use them in a fight before.

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