The more things change in sports, the more they stay the same. This doesn’t always prove true, as changes can cause significant alterations to the landscape in a sport, but when a team or athlete dominates high-level competition by consistently performing at a higher level than their foes for a lengthy duration of time, the constant influx of challengers in a division or conference does not spell much of an initial difference. Of course, that dominance occurs for so long that everyone expects the champion to continue on forever, and so it does count as an upset when someone finally brings that reign to a screeching halt.

For a case in point, Randy “The Natural” Couture dominated Tim Sylvia in 2007 en route to unquestionably one of the most one-sided unanimous decision wins in MMA history, and once he followed it up with a UFC 74 win over Gabriel Gonzaga, few thought any heavyweight would put up a fight against Couture, let alone beat him for the UFC heavyweight title. When 2009 dawned, however, former WWE champion Brock Lesnar stood as the champion after he did the unthinkable and beat Couture in November 2008 at UFC 91..

At the time of UFC 91, when Lesnar scored the TKO to earn his way to the UFC heavyweight crown, he only held the submission loss to Frank Mir on his record. Mir’s UFC 92 knockout win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, which granted Mir the interim UFC title and meant that the man that many felt never lost the belt years earlier would rematch Lesnar. Mir pointed to Lesnar after the bout with Nogueira and told the former WWE superstar that he had “his” belt. Come July of 2009, however, Lesnar would have something else for Mir.

On July 11, 2009, the promotion hosted UFC 100, which emanated live from Mandalay Bay Events Center and featured one of the most stacked cards in UFC history. That evening in Las Vegas, Georges St-Pierre scored a unanimous decision win over Thiago Alves and Dan Henderson landed arguably the greatest knockout shot in the history of the sport in defeating fellow coach of The Ultimate Fighter 9, Michael Bisping. Still, for all the fun that came with the card, all eyes truly focused on Lesnar and Mir.

The rematch showed much of the same dominance that some expected out of Lesnar in the first fight. From the onset, Lesnar looked to take Mir down and found success. From there, he controlled the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert and began to find openings to connect with some ground-and-pound. Once he found his opening to attack, Lesnar punished Mir. Although Mir made it out of round one, he did not escape the round unscathed.

Lesnar finished the job in round two after eating one elbow and two knees from Mir. Lesnar took Mir down again, secured the half guard, forced Mir against the cage and pinned Mir’s left arm behind his back before connecting with 16 unanswered right hands. Referee Herb Dean saw enough and ended the contest. With the win, Lesnar avenged his only pro loss and made the first successful defense of his title.

Of course, many remember the fight more for Lesnar’s post-fight interview and the subsequent fallout than they do for how Lesnar put away Mir. After Lesnar suggested that he had pulled a horseshoe from out of Mir’s hind quarter, he declared his intentions to drink a Coors Light—claiming that Bud Light, a sponsor of the UFC at the time, would not financially compensate him as he wanted—and then he implied the possibility of taking some personal time to enjoy his wife’s company, albeit in a more spirited way than the audience would have preferred to know.

As for the fallout, the loss sent Mir back to the drawing board, and Lesnar prepared to fight then-undefeated Shane Carwin. Carwin developed a reputation for first-round TKOs and knockouts, which led him to a UFC 96 bout with Gonzaga. Gonzaga found a home for an uppercut, but crumpled after a short right hand found the mark. After the bout, rumors arose about a heavyweight bout between him and now-champion Cain Velasquez, but the UFC opted to instead toss Carwin into a title tilt with Lesnar.

Lesnar’s first bout with diverticulitis prevented the title fight from happening, however, and led to UFC 106’s eventual headliner of Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin 2. The bout came as a result of Mark Coleman pulling out of his originally planned bout with Ortiz due to injury. Ortiz made his return to the UFC on that night against Griffin, who came off of back-to-back losses to Rashad Evans and then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

Griffin needed a win over Ortiz to avoid the chopping block, but whether he earned the win depends entirely on who you ask. Did Griffin control the action on the feet and not allow for Ortiz to keep the brunt of the action on the ground, where Ortiz normally excels? Did Ortiz’s efforts on the ground make it to where Griffin could not do as much on the feet as the judges thought?

Either way, this fight flies under the radar when speaking about 2009’s best fights, especially given that Lesnar-Mir, GSP vs. Alves, Henderson vs. Bisping, Silva vs. Griffin and a host of other tremendous fights took the MMA world by storm and kept fans talking for a long time. Arguably the best fight of the year happened just before UFC 100, when Diego Sanchez took a split decision from Clay Guida at The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale, but don’t discredit Ortiz-Griffin 2.

First of all, it silenced critics that claimed that Ortiz could no longer compete in MMA. He performed better than expected in the bout and made a case towards the victory through his efforts, even though he did not leave as the winner. Aside from that, the bout set the stage for a trilogy that would reach its end three years later, underneath another paramount title fight in the UFC’s history.

2009 began and ended with Lesnar as its heavyweight champion, but as it progressed, it a number of changes took place. Evans lost his light heavyweight title in his first defense against Lyoto Machida. B.J. Penn first lost a welterweight title bout to St-Pierre, only to record back-to-back lightweight title wins over Kenny Florian and Sanchez, submitting the former and brutally decimating the latter. “The Spider” followed up his bizarre win over Cote with a rather lackluster decision win over Thales Leites just prior to his stunning victory over the former UFC light heavyweight champion, Griffin.

As title scenes changed in 2009, others stayed the same. But 2010 demanded that things bring about noticeable differences. Little did anyone guess that the biggest changes would come both outside of the UFC and inside the Octagon.

Photo: Brock Lesnar (Sherdog)