The crowd at the Mandalay Bay reacted with something between disbelief and minor-league dismay after the main event, between Rampage Jackson and Forrest Griffin, went to the scorecards, and Bruce Buffer announced Griffin as the new UFC light heavyweight champion.
The judges, after five grueling, back-and-forth rounds on Saturday night at UFC 86, saw it unanimously for Griffin, the less experienced alumnus of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, 48-46, 48-46, 49-46, and the crowd didn’t roar in appreciation. They’d seen Jackson land the cleaner harder strikes, and drop Griffin to the Octagon mat in the first round, and expected Jackson to retain his belt, via win, or draw.
But as soon as Jackson spoke up, post-match, and congratulated Griffin, and admitted that he’d been whupped, all in attendance had to, at the least, concede that just maybe Griffin did indeed deserve props, and the decision, for fighting a smart, patient battle.
“I think we’re going to have to do that again. This is the best moment of my life, I can’t wait to do this stuff) again,” Griffin said postmatch, as he took in the muted reaction of the fans, who did not share the joy. The victor did concede that Rampage’s bombs were of the big league variety. “Every punch he threw hurt.”
The Tennessee resident Rampage entered the cage with a 28-6 record, and he weighed 205 pounds. The winner of the first season of the Ultimate Fighter, the Nevada resident Griffin came in with a 15-4 record, and he also weighed 205 pounds.
In the first round, Griffin worked inside leg kicks and jabs. His work rate was a solid from the get go. Outside leg kicks by Griffin, if allowed to pile up, looked like they’d pay dividends. But Rampage landed a left hook that wobbled Griffin, and then he dropped him with a right uppercut. Forrest snapped on guard, and then powered his way to his feet. The knockdown gave Rampage the round, a round in which Griffin excelled for much of the period.
In the second round, Griffin landed a leg kick and Rampage’s left leg buckled. Griffin clamped on a guillotine, but Forrest let go. In half guard, Griffin looked to rain elbows down on Rampage. Griffin passed guard, and tried to lock down his foe’s right arm in an Americana keylock. Now in full mount, with 2 minutes to go, Griffin’s weight was heavy on Rampage, who looked to play out the round, and come back in the third standing up.
Rampage’s left leg hurt him in the third but he was able to put some weight on it. Griffin didn’t go overboard targeting the leg, knowing that Rampage would be looking to crack with a right to finish the match in a hurry. Rampage scored with a combo, and then a left hook. Forrest didn’t hone in on the left leg as much he could’ve, you could argue. The old Forrest would likely have gone ballistic, and flurried furiously, trying to close the show. Using smart movement, Griffin won the round, quite possibly, with his patient style.
In the fourth round, the two traded and Rampage got the better of it. Rampage landed on top after a scrum, and in the guard, he targeted the slice over Forrest’s right eye. Griffin latched on with a triangle on Rampage, who powered out, with a slam that Griffin minimized, rather than tried to absorb full on. Rampage caught Griffin again with strikes, and the less experienced fighter looked gassed. Before the bell, Rampage caught Griffin with two strong strikes, putting an exclamation point on the round, in case the judges were leaning toward Griffin. Stitch Duran plugged the slice over Griffin’s eye after the round.
In the fifth round, the action was minimal for two minutes. Forrest worked harder, though, especially with the kicks. Jackson’s tank might’ve been closer to E than I thought. Forrest landed a right that shook Jackson a bit, and it looked like the leg kicks had drained Jackson, who wasn’t setting down on his shots as heavily. The two hugged, and smiled afterwards, and the crowd ate it up. As Forrest said before, when asked if there was any bad blood between he and Rampage, “I can get along with someone and still look to take his head off.”
Before the bout, the 30-year-old Rampage promised a stoppage win. “The judges will not be needed July 5th, I promise you that,” he said. The 29-year-old Griffin, meanwhile, promised to wade through the depths of hell to get the win. “I’ll take more pain than anybody, and I’m willing to do that,” Griffin said.
The two men had coached squads on the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter, which has become a breeding ground for rivalries, as the coaches traditionally face off with each other after spending some quality time insulting each other and staving off impromptu beefs. Jackson and Griffin, however, got along quite well, save for a spat or two, and saved the drama for the main event.
Griffin entered to the Dropkick Murphys’ I’m Shipping Up To Boston, a song which gained popularity after being featured in The Departed. I did not recognize Rampage’s entrance song, sorry.
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