Just about everyone who watched the performance Frank Mir put on against UFC interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira came away shaking their heads in disbelief. Mir beating Nogueira was not expected to happen at UFC 92.
Mir didn't simply beat Nogueira; he punished him en route to a second-round TKO. But more impressive than pulling off the night's biggest upset was the manner in which Mir secured his 12th professional win.
Fighting out of a southpaw stance, Mir confused and outworked Nogueira. According to CompuStrike stats, Mir delivered 86 total strikes in the opening round; 32 connected. Nogueira, who was forced to fight mostly from a defensive posture, landed only 10 strikes.
Mir not only landed more strikes; his were harder, especially the uppercuts. His accurate jabs and kicks made Nogueira a sitting duck for vicious uppercuts, which snapped the defending titleholder's head backward each time they landed.
As a result, Mir would drop Nogueira twice in the first round. The knockdowns were a precursor of what would take place in Round 2.
Mir, whose stand-up game was viewed as his biggest weakness entering the bout, appeared at ease on his feet against Nogueira. Mir was so dominant standing that on those few occasions when the fight did go to the ground, he quickly got back on his feet.
"I have been doing stand-up [fighting] since I was 4 years old," said Mir, who previously held the UFC heavyweight title in 2004. "The issue was conditioning. Before, I would walk into the Octagon afraid of getting tired. Tonight it could have gone 10 rounds and I would not lose in any position."
A well-conditioned Mir delivered the best performance of his career. Not everyone, however, inside MGM Grand Garden Arena walked away impressed with his effort.
"Mir's stand-up only looked better because Nogueira didn't show up," UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar told ESPN.com.
Lesnar sat a few feet from the cage, watching Nogueira-Mir intently. Unlike most observers, he had a rooting interest in the fight's outcome.
Throughout the bout, Lesnar sat stone-faced with his hands clasped tightly, hoping Mir would pull off the upset. With each punch and kick that Mir landed, Lesnar's wish was moving closer to reality.
Though things looked dismal for Nogueira after the first round, Lesnar could not breathe easy. His palms were sweaty and his heart raced a little faster than normal as he watched Mir do his thing.
Not until Nogueira hit the canvas at 1:54 of the second was Lesnar able to unwind. His wish had been granted: He was getting a second shot at Mir.
"My first thought was 'Nog looked like crap,'" Lesnar said. "My second was, 'Yes, a rematch! Payback time.'
"My Christmas wish has come true."
Mir and Lesnar met in February 2008 at UFC 81. Lesnar, who was making his UFC debut, dominated early in the fight. Using his superior size and strength, Lesnar easily knocked Mir down.
He then jumped on Mir and began pounding, but his inexperience immediately became evident. Lesnar had a point deducted for hitting behind the head. When action resumed, he would get Mir back on the ground.
But the ground was exactly where Mir wanted to be. It is difficult to find a heavyweight who fights better off his back than Mir, who holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Mir just needed Lesnar to make a mistake, and within seconds he would. While attempting to improve his positioning, Lesnar left his right leg exposed. Mir secured it and applied a kneebar; Lesnar was forced to tap.
Though he has not faced anyone who possesses Mir's level of jiu-jitsu, Lesnar has quickly become the UFC's most dominant heavyweight. Now he gets a chance, possibly in May, to further cement his position with a win over Mir.
Whenever the rematch takes place, Lesnar vows not to make the same mistake twice.
"I have come a long way on the ground since my first UFC fight," said Lesnar, who is 2-1 in the Octagon. "I will be much better prepared this time around.
"My striking skills have definitely improved. I have also become a much more well-rounded fighter."
Mir is well aware of Lesnar's desire to get him back in the cage. Shortly after regaining a piece of the title, Mir issued this warning to the champ: "Be careful what you wish for."
Franklin McNeil covers boxing and mixed martial arts for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.