LET'S DO IT ONE MORE TIME
Forrest Griffin was understandably unhappy the night of April 15, 2006, when Bruce Buffer announced that the judges had chosen long-time former 205-lb champion Tito Ortiz as the victor of their hard-fought split decision affair. He had every right to be upset that night because the fight was ultra close, so it was an absolute shame for either man to walk out of the Octagon with a loss. Maybe a draw was a better result for a fight so closely contested, though a rematch was certainly the only palatable next step.
Griffin got his opportunity for a rematch against Ortiz over the weekend, and he made the most of it, earning a split decision victory to avenge that bitter loss at UFC 59. This time, however, it was Ortiz who had every right to be upset with the decision. I’m not suggesting that Ortiz deserved the win. His offensive collapse in the third round cost him the win, since all three judges scored that round for Griffin. Nevertheless, one can very easily make the argument that Ortiz won the first two rounds with his takedowns and extremely effective ground-and-pound attack.
Personally, I scored the fight a draw. I gave Ortiz the nod 10-9 in each of the first two rounds and scored the final stanza 10-8 in favor of the former reality show star.
Immediately after the fight, Ortiz told Griffin that he was game for a rubber match. That makes a lot of sense. Two disputed decisions that left many scratching their heads. Two bona fide superstars headlining another pay-per-view card. It is a win-win for everyone. Ortiz and Griffin need to settle the question of who is the better fighter, and Zuffa, the owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the combatants can each make a killing at the box office by staging a third fight.
My guess is that a third fight will happen sometime in 2010. Whenever it goes down, I expect that the pair will engage in a third closely contested, fan-friendly affair.
LIFE CERTAINLY IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES FOR GRIFFIN
I’m not one to compare Forrest Griffin to Forrest Gump too often, but this is one of those opportunities that I just cannot pass up.
Gump, the lovable cinematic simpleton, liked to say that “life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get.” That certainly seems to be the case with Griffin over the last three-plus years.
Since winning TUF, Griffin has proven that he is far better than his self-deprecating humor and “awe shucks” attitude suggests. He is capable of beating the best of the best on any given day, and he beats everyone else the overwhelming majority of the time. In sum, he is a world-class mixed martial artist.
His blowout loss to Anderson Silva back in August made several critics doubt his true abilities. Griffin himself acknowledged that the loss to the pound-for-pound king was devastating. But the Ortiz fight reminds us that fights are all about matchups. Griffin was tailor made for Silva, so the result was to be expected.
The unfortunate part about that loss was that it occurred on the heels of his title-surrendering knockout at the hands of Rashad Evans. Back-to-back knockout losses gave the naysayers all the fodder they needed to go crazy criticizing a guy who has never once claimed to be the baddest man in the division. He instead refers to himself as someone who is “pretty good,” acknowledging that he has flaws, though he works diligently to lessen those flaws over time.
The fact remains all fighters have flaws. Nobody is technically perfect. Nobody is unbeatable. That includes Silva, Georges St-Pierre, B.J. Penn, Brock Lesnar and Lyoto Machida – I’m sticking with my original claim that Shogun beat Machida, and I’m not backing down from that (at the very least, that bout proved that he is not perfect).
Griffin’s flaws include his tendency to drop his hands during exchanges, leading with his chin when he runs in with punches and, above all else, his unadulterated fearlessness. Anytime he faces a lights-out puncher, there is a chance that he will lose spectacularly. Then again, there is an equal chance that he will score an improbable victory, like he did against Rampage and Shogun. Either way, Griffin will show up with his lunch pail packed to the brim, ready to put in a full day’s worth of work.
Griffin’s past and future might be filled with a mix of spectacular results. But just like with any good box of chocolates, can anyone actually get enough of watching him compete? I know that I cannot.
ORTIZ’S PRE-FIGHT HYPE CAUSED THE BOOS
Few fighters are better at marketing themselves than “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy.” The fact remains that virtually everyone knows his name, and very few who have watched him for even a few minutes have lukewarm opinions of the future Hall of Famer. The long-time fan favorite has largely turned heel in some quarters over the past few years, and to be honest, he embraces that role as tightly as he did the role of UFC’s poster boy back around the turn of the century.
Heel or not, it was a shame to hear the crowd boo Ortiz after such a thrilling fight with Griffin. No fighter deserves that sort of treatment after competing in the Octagon. He didn’t quit. He didn’t run. And he didn’t definitely did not hide once the action got underway. Instead, Ortiz fought his heart out for three rounds, and despite his lackluster performance in the third round, his overall effort was extremely impressive considering that this was his first fight in 18 months.
Oh yeah, he also underwent major back surgery during that long layoff.
A lesser fighter would not be able to overcome those hurdles and last the distance with a guy of Griffin’s caliber. A lesser fighter would have asked for a tune up fight. And a lesser fighter would have quit during the third round when he knew that he had nothing left and was left with the proposition of taking a terrible beating.
Ortiz chose to continue fighting, and for that, he deserves everyone’s respect. Love him or hate him, Tito Ortiz earned it.
Nevertheless, I can see why the fans were annoyed with Ortiz. In all of his pre-fight interviews, he spoke at length about how this was the first time since facing Randy Couture back in 2003 that he was able to complete a full training camp without any restrictions due to injury. He talked about being able to run for the first time in years. He talked about his sparring sessions. He talked about being able to lift weights. He repeatedly stated that he was finally healthy.
Then, on the heels of a closely contested fight, he answered the question of why he shut down in the third round by stating that he was injured coming into the bout.
I do not doubt for a moment that Ortiz fought at less than perfect health. Virtually all fighters compete with some sort of ailment suffered during training. That is just part of the job. Notice that after the fight, Griffin didn’t scoff at Ortiz’s injury claims. He instead took the microphone in support of his heated rival.
Injured or not, Ortiz cannot have it both ways. He cannot claim before a fight that he is 100% healthy and then blame his performance on pre-fight injuries. That sort of double talk justifiably enrages fans because it means that either Ortiz was being disingenuous when he was selling the fight or during his post-fight interview. The fans deserve better, and Ortiz knows it. In fact, few know that better than Ortiz.
I’ve been around Ortiz many times when he was interacting with the fans. I have never met a fighter who is more gracious with his time than Ortiz. I can vividly remember spending time with him after his first loss to Chuck Liddell at UFC 47 on April 2, 2004. Battered and bruised (much more so emotionally than physically), he still showed up at the House of Blues inside the Mandalay Bay for his after party to spend time with his fans. Ortiz shook hands and signed autographs late into the night.
As midnight approached, he had one of his handlers order a steak sandwich to be delivered to his suite, which was also in the Mandalay Bay. He was ravenous, as his body was still recovering from cutting weight and the intense physical competition with Liddell. Ortiz invited a group of people, including several fans who he had just met, up to his suite to continue the party while he quickly satisfied his hunger.
It took Ortiz 90 minutes to make it from the House of Blues to his suite—a voyage that normally takes about six minutes—because he obliged every single autograph request. When the group arrived at his suite, Ortiz took grabbed the now cold sandwich, began eating one half of it with his left hand, while offering the other half to every person in the room. It wasn’t a disingenuous offer. He really was willing to share his meal with anyone who was hungry.
Ortiz’s relationship with the fans is a large reason why he was such a major box office draw, which in turn has made him one of the wealthier mixed martial artists in the game. He isn’t one to forget that fact, either. That is why it was a bit surprising for me to hear the injury talk on Saturday night, and it is also why I believe that the fans had a right to be upset with Ortiz, though I personally do not think that he deserved to be booed.
KOS IS QUICKLY BECOMING A MONSTER THAT NEEDS HIS DAY OF RECKONING
I’ll concede that this post-mortem is a bit wordy at 1,750 words and counting, so I’ll be brief and to the point—for once.
For years, Josh Koscheck has been on the cusp of a 170-lb title shot. I’d argue that there is no other welterweight in the UFC who has accomplished more without receiving a chance at the division’s ultimate prize. Kos should be next in line. His impressive victory over Anthony Johnson was a vivid reminder of his place on the food chain.
I know that Dan Hardy is next up by virtue of his win over Mike Swick at UFC 105. I’ll disagree with Kos for a moment. Hardy is a very credible opponent for GSP’s next title defense. Beating Swick gives him that credibility, since Swick was universally regarded as being one of the top contenders in the division.
None of that alters Kos’s standing in the division, though. For my money, Kos should be next up after Hardy. I’m quite sure that he would be willing to fight whomever else the UFC believes is deserving of that spot in a title eliminator on the televised undercard of GSP-Hardy. Kos has the confidence in his own skills to participate in such an eliminator.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Kos will hold the UFC Welterweight Championship at some point in his career. I know that GSP is one of the greatest fighters in the world, across all weight classes. But nobody is unbeatable. Kos has the right blend of skills to end GSP’s reign. I’m not suggesting that Kos should be a betting favorite against the champion. I’m suggesting that he has the best opportunity of anyone in the division to score an upset victory over GSP. I’m also suggesting that if GSP decides to vacate the division in favor of the land 15 lbs to the north, then Kos is my odds on favorite to assume GSP’s tyrannical rule over the division.