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The UFC will ring in the New Year with a trio of headline-worthy bouts at UFC 92 "The Ultimate 2008" on Saturday in Las Vegas. The card features the first title tilt between alumni of "The Ultimate Fighter," the final chapter in a trilogy between two heated light heavyweight rivals and a bout that will decide who faces Brock Lesnar for the undisputed heavyweight championship in 2009.
Everybody, dust off your useless Y2K survival kits and prepare for some mixed martial arts breakdowns worthy of a Prince Paul mix tape.UFC Light Heavyweight Championship
The stakes: While Griffin's current run as light heavyweight champion might not compare to the reality-altering run of Matt Serra in the welterweight division, one has to wonder just how much longer the roller coaster ride will last for Griffin. That's especially true when you consider he took out Mauricio "Shogun" Rua right around the time the Brazilian's knees turned to peanut brittle and then went on to win the title against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who has the mental stability of Tom Cruise on the "Oprah" set. One way or another, we'll find out just how much of Griffin's success is owed to circumstance and if this unexpected run has any legs to it.
The breakdown: As much as Griffin loves a good scrap on the feet, his massive size advantage gives him the opportunity to bully around the undersized Evans, both in the clinch and on the mat. Now that we're finally starting to see Randy Couture's mentorship have an impact on how Griffin fights, there's a good chance we'll see him remain composed. From there, his combination of obvious size and underrated grappling skill is made to throttle a guy like Evans.Rashad "Sugar" Evans Scouting Report
The stakes: Evans might be MMA's most underappreciated star. Sure, he holds an undefeated record, but what about that "lucky" draw against Tito Ortiz at UFC 73? OK, he knocked out Chuck Liddell, but everyone fell asleep during the first round. Evans gets this kind of criticism on a daily basis, and while taking on the pseudonym "Sugar" may be a bit presumptuous, we just might be witnessing the birth of a storied division's latest superstar. If Evans is ever going to wake up fans to that reality, he'll need to ditch the sleepwalking routine and get straight to the sugar.
The breakdown: For Evans to survive in a division loaded with fighters who dwarf him, he has to continue turning his supposed weakness into a strength. That means taking advantage of his superior footwork while banking on hand speed to frustrate Griffin and set up the coup de grace. Evans must stay mindful of resisting the temptation to barrel forward in search of takedowns, as Griffin's size makes him difficult to push around, and his jiu-jitsu game remains a legitimate weapon.
The bottom line: As much as Evans' at times jaw-dropping physical ability has left the masses in awe, Griffin's rugged physicality and well-rounded style make him a tough draw for anyone. What really flips this bout in Griffin's favor is Evans' habit of starting slowly and practically giving away the first round like it's a government bailout. Griffin will take that ball and run with it, as he imposes a trench war-style fight on Evans, who will eventually buckle under the pressure in close quarters combat.UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship
The stakes: While the pay-per-view will likely bring up the whole "The Ultimate Fighter" coach vs. coach angle ad nauseam, those of us still firmly rooted in reality will realize that the aftershocks of this match will reverberate far beyond the reach of any reality show. For Nogueira, a heavyweight title match with Brock Lesnar is up for grabs, along with the chance to re-establish his legitimacy in a division that forgot him all too quickly. Taking out Mir and locking horns with Lesnar would remind the world that it was not all that long ago when Nogueira was the UFC's big ticket at heavyweight.
The breakdown: While the obvious temptation is to think this fight comes down to who can control the mat action, it's important to keep in mind that Nogueira has been showing off his boxing skills lately, and Mir remains somewhat clueless on his feet. If Nogueira can soften up Mir standing, it would make any jiu-jitsu exchanges all the more likely to end up in his favor.Frank Mir Scouting Report
The stakes: While Nogueira must face questions about his best days being far behind him, the question surrounding Mir will be the same one that's haunted him since the memorable mauling Ian Freeman handed him at UFC 38. Will Mir ever cash in his golden ticket and develop into the superstar that so many predicted he would become? Of course, injuries and an extended battle with the local doughnut shop have resulted in an uphill climb, but at UFC 92, Mir has a chance to defeat the forefather of heavyweight jiu-jitsu artists and set up a second run at the heavyweight title he once held.
The breakdown: Advising someone to take down Nogueira should be enough to secure a room at Bellevue, but that should be the game plan for Mir, who cannot afford to waste any time by testing his stand-up skills against a fighter who has shown marked improvement in that area. Mir's conditioning remains worrisome, and it would be best for him to avoid the issue entirely by scoring a quick takedown and going for broke in search of submissions. As long as Mir remains aggressive and does not work himself into any dangerous spots, he has the jiu-jitsu skills to give Nogueira fits.
The bottom line: This just is not a good style clash for Mir, who gets to take on a superior version of himself. Watch for Nogueira to peck away at Mir on the feet before moving to the ground, where the disparity in skill will become obvious in the time it takes Nogueira to send Mir on a roundtrip to Sleepytown.
The stakes: Normally, rebounding from a controversial decision loss that cost you the UFC light heavyweight championship would be a pretty tough challenge to overcome. That should be small beans for Jackson, who also has criminal charges hanging above his head thanks to a now infamous hit-and-run spree that left every teenage "Grand Theft Auto" fan sighing in envy. The last time Jackson went through a bout of mental mediocrity, he nearly sent his career off the skids with dreadful showings that led to multiple losses. Above all, Jackson has to prove he can keep his head above water, and he has to do it against a fighter who has already beaten him twice.
The breakdown: If nothing else, Jackson at least knows what not to do against Silva; for the love of Pop Tarts, do not go into the clinch. What Jackson can do is use his high-impact wrestling to get Silva on his back, where he can safely use ground-and-pound to pick apart the smaller Brazilian. Whether or not Jackson will have the presence of mind to do that remains to be seen.Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva Scouting Report
The stakes: Silva was supposed to call it a career by now; three straight losses in which it looked like Silva's legs were made of cement and his fists were loaded with feathers were supposed to be enough for the MMA cognoscenti to write off the Brazilian. Now, fresh off a vintage performance against Keith Jardine at UFC 84, Silva looks like a rejuvenated fighter who has been reminded that his true calling remains putting fist to face. Taking out a longtime rival and former champion like Jackson may be all Silva needs to secure the dream scenario his fans have been cooking up for years: Silva, the icon of Pride's middleweight division, taking on the UFC's light heavyweight champion.
The breakdown: The game plan is the same as always for Silva draw Jackson into a slugfest he cannot hope to win. While Juanito Ibarra did wonders for Jackson's boxing, his recent change of camps and tumultuous personal life place him in much the same situation as his previous bouts with Silva. All Silva needs to do is stay back and wait for the right moment to lock hold of the Thai clinch that has already made Jackson the subject of many a highlight reel.
The bottom line: On paper, Jackson should be able to beat Silva, but in reality, it's starting to look like the stars will never line up for him. Now's not the best time for the former UFC light heavyweight champion to go after Silva a third time, and it will show when the cage door closes, as a lethargic Jackson falls prey yet again to the relentless onslaught of "The Axe Murderer." Someone get the video camera ready; the last few seconds of this fight will probably find their way onto a medical school video on blunt force trauma.Tomas Rios is a contributor to Sherdog.com.