UFC Light-heavyweight Title Fight
The weirdest thing happened...I
just could not get interested in this past season of The Ultimate
Fighter. I have been a huge fan of the show since it’s beginning in
January 2005. I remember Ryan Bennett calling me up and telling me how
great the show was after seeing a screening of the first episode. From
that very first show, with Chris Leben meting out his territorial
spritzings, I was hooked. And when I first heard that the UFC had
announced Jackson and Griffin as the head coaches I was excited. I
agreed with the casting; it seemed logical.
In the coming months (and years) the show has introduced many upcoming
athletes (Diego Sanchez, Michael Bisping, Rashad Evans), re-established
venerable ones (Matt Serra, Din Thomas, Chris Lytle). However, the
question always lingered “How will they do against a top dog?” Then
Forrest Griffin dominated and choked out Pride tournament champion
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. The TUF franchised received a huge infusion of
confidence. Everything seemed in place: a star making show (The Ultimate
Fighter) with graduates who COULD hang with the best.
So...why, in the midst of a season that features two legitimate and
charismatic fighters as coaches, UFC light-heavyweight champ Quinton
“Rampage” Jackson and Griffin, do I no longer care? I was baffled. And I
have tried to get into it but alas; deep inside I have somehow lost my
enthusiasm for the show, or at least this season. Hopefully it’s a
On paper, this, the 7th TUF season, seemed like a “can’t miss”
proposition. I thought so anyway. But...where the best previous seasons
seemed to be sailing into uncharted, unpredictable, unrehearsed
territory, this installment seems almost too nice and neat, too planned,
with too many obvious expectations. Long story short (and probably much
to the chagrin of management) Forrest and Quinton don’t “hate®” each
other. And what’s privately worse is they seem to be canceling each
other out because they’re sense of humor is basically of the same breed.
Here is no straight man, no hero, no bad guy and therefore no drama.
Jackson and Griffin are just too similar in temperament, two wise
crackers who aren’t easily rattled. They know, and the producers know,
that they are “supposed” to be rivals, they are “supposed” to have
confrontations, and they are “supposed” to have bad blood. But as much
as they try, they don’t.
Trust me, the pre-fight heat on this ain’t Wanderlei/Quinton, November
2003. The UFC can only hope the actual fight is a return to, or an
eclipse of, the friendly splatterfest between Griffin and old pal
Stephan Bonnar (in the live finals from season one). Hopefully a slight
or an insult from one of the fighters to the other won’t be manufactured
before fight time to combat the doldrums. As tempting as it might be for
someone to encourage this, please, just let “reality” take its course.
Focusing now on the fight itself, in the UFC®’s popularity based system
of deciding who gets a title shot, Forrest Griffin absolutely deserves
to be in there. He won the first TUF season. He’s great with interviews.
But most importantly, his unexpected dispatching of Shogun arrested the
attention of the world. That combined with his ultra close decision loss
to Ortiz (I though Griffin won) and he was a solid candidate to
challenge for the belt, the TUFer who could.
But if Quinton fights up to his best...he will knock Forrest out. “If”...
The stress in Jackson’s life was at a peak before he faced Chuck Liddell
the second time (UFC 71, May 26, 2007). He was trying to let the
memories of being crushed by Wanderlei Silva twice and Shogun once fade
into the distance. He was just starting to get the groove of a new
trainer. His life was in flux. He wanted one more UFC® fight before he
faced Chuck (he’d only fought one in the Octagon® - a revenge win over
Marvin Eastman). He didn’t get it. His back was to the wall. SO...the
animal took over and he deposited Liddell on the deck with a right hand
to finally become a champion. The demons had been put to rest. But were
they his best friends, in a motivational sense?
Against Forrest Griffin, Jackson is expected to win. He beat Liddell and
Dan Henderson, two of the game’s best. He is a star now, guesting on
talk shows, in demand by ‘new friends’ and celebrities. Yes, he is
walking a different minefield, one of distraction and deception.
Everyone wants his time, his endorsement, and his energy. The parasites
have a new target and the champion has a new foe of which he has not
been trained for. What was once easy is now tricky. Life is a mirage.
On the opposite end of this combative equation, Griffin is in the same
position, to a slightly lesser degree, that he was before he fought Rua:
it was a foregone conclusion that he would NOT win. So...all the pressure
was/is off his shoulders.
One could argue that Jackson hits harder and once he finds Griffin’s
chin it will cause venerable UFC® broadcaster Mike Goldberg to shout out
his classic line, “It’s All Over!” But breaking down styles and
techniques and strategies are not the core issues here; Jackson’s mental
state is the area that will win or lose the championship. His mind will
control his bullets, not the other way around. And if his mind is
clouded, this will be a competitive fight indeed.
Still I see Jackson winning. But for the above-mentioned psychological
reasons, Forrest has a very good shot to spoil the ending “if” QJ is not
completely focused. And because both guys are so darn funny, the UFC®
wins either way.