It's not often that a heavyweight championship fight is regarded as an afterthought in the UFC, but it's exactly what happened to UFC 81. The main event of the card, which was held on Feb. 2, 2008, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, was a bout for the interim title between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Tim Sylvia.
Stealing the spotlight from though, was a match between ex-professional wrestler Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir.
Lesnar's debut in the UFC set off a frenzy of fan and media interest. It also brought several of his former colleagues in the WWE, notably "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Undertaker, to cageside to cheer him on.
Lesnar sold the fight beautifully. In interviews, he repeatedly referenced Mir's win over Tim Sylvia in 2004 in which Mir snapped Sylvia's forearm with an arm bar. "He broke Tim Sylvia's arm. Who cares!" Lesnar snorted.
The crowd was deafening when the fight began. Lesnar stormed Mir and took him down and began pounding him with hammer fists. Incredibly, Lesnar seemed on the verge of victory only seconds into the bout.
Referee Steve Mazzagatti ordered a controversial standup when he ruled Lesnar hit Mir in the back of the head. That allowed Mir to clear his head, but when the fight resumed, Lesnar took him down again and began pounding.
This time, though, Mir was able to grab one of Lesnar's legs. The noted submission expert caught Lesnar in a knee bar and forced a submission at 1:30 of the first round.
Nogueira and Sylvia fought for the interim belt because Randy Couture, who held the title, declined a match with Nogueira. Couture was still in the midst of a contract dispute with the UFC.
Tim Boetsch made his UFC debut in spectacular manner. He literally spiked David Heath and then finished him quickly on the ground for a first-round knockout.
Rob Yundt made his UFC debut as a late replacement for Alan Belcher, who withdrew because of severe bronchitis. But the Alaskan didn't last long in his bout against Ricardo "Big Dog" Almeida. Almeida submitted him in 1:08.
Quoteworthy: "Thereâs no shame in losing. I lost my first amateur wrestling match as a kid. My coach told me when I was wanting to quit, that you first have to lose before you learn how not to lose. I donât like to lose so I have to learn not to lose in this sport." – Brock Lesnar, on losing to Mir.
Rob Emerson def. Keita Nakamura, split decision
Marvin Eastman def. Terry Martin, unanimous decision Tim Boetsch def. David Heath, TKO, 4:52 R1
Chris Lytle def. Kyle Bradley, 0:33 R1
Tyson Griffin def. Gleison Tibay, unanimous decision
Ricardo Almeida def. Rob Yundt, submission (guillotine choke), 1:37 R2
Nate Marqurdt def. Jeremy Horn, submission (Guillotine choke), 1:37 R2
Frank Mir def. Brock Lesnar, submission (kneebar), 1:30 R1
UFC interim heavyweight championship: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira def. Tim Sylvia, submission (guillotine choke), 1:28 R3 (Nogeuira wins title)