The UFC suffered a major blow when heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar was forced out of his UFC 106 title bout with Shane Carwin due to a severe case of the flu.
With time ticking away and no main event in sight, what did UFC president Dana White do?
He simply bumped the night’s slated co-main event—a rematch between Forrest Griffin (16-6) and Tito Ortiz (16-6-1)—to headlining status.
“It sucks when we have to go rip down some billboards and put up new ones,” a calm White said when asked about the loss of the card’s headlining fight. “In boxing, this card would’ve had to be cancelled, but we stacked this card with great fights.”
Ortiz-Griffin 2 is perhaps the best representation of MMA’s selling power. Griffin is coming off two straight losses and Ortiz has been sidelined for nearly two years. The first bout between the pair of former champions ended with Ortiz having his hand raised and fans split on who should’ve won the fight.
The paths of the fighters diverged from there. Following consecutive victories over Ken Shamrock, Ortiz found himself on the losing end of fights with Chuck Liddell, a draw with Rashad Evans, and a loss to current 205-pound champion Lyoto Machida. To top it off, the lopsided defeat at the hands of Machida was the last on “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’s” previous UFC contract; sending the bleach blonde fighter out on a sour note.
Griffin, on the other hand, found himself on the fast track to the top of the light heavyweight division. The original Ultimate Fighter bested Stephan Bonnar in a rematch of the historic bout Dana White credits with saving the UFC, and rebounded from a disappointing loss to Keith Jardine to beat Hector Ramirez and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. The win over Rua vaulted Griffin to an Ultimate Fighter coaching slot against then champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and a title shot. As history shows, the tenacious Griffin grinded out a five round decision victory and became the first Ultimate Fighter winner to get a taste of UFC gold.
MMA’s favorite underdog found his meteoric rise cut short by fellow Ultimate Fighter winner Rashad Evans at UFC 92. Griffin was pounded into oblivion in the third round. Without the duties of a champion, Griffin found time to pen a book and was tapped to challenge middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 101.
The result wasn’t pretty, and the much larger Griffin found himself on the receiving end of a knockout jab from the champion. When asked if the book and subsequent book tour were distractions for the Silva fight, the Georgia native is quick to give “The Spider” his props.
“I trained for that fight for a good 13 weeks,” Griffin said. “I think Anderson Silva was pretty much the problem and not the book tour.”
Back-to-back losses may have diminished Griffin’s stock in the eyes of the fickle fan, but one person who won’t be sleeping come fight night is the other man occupying the main event slot—Tito Ortiz.
“Forrest is a great opponent and he puts it on the line,” Ortiz said of Griffin. “I think we’re going to put on the fight of the year.”
The Forrest Griffin entering the Octagon Saturday night will not be the same Forrest Griffin that Ortiz faced at UFC 59. Griffin describes the loss as a “wake up.” Judging by his performances following the controversial end, Griffin is no longer asleep at the wheel. While both men are workhorses inside the cage, they take different approaches to the main event. Ortiz emphatically states that he is looking to not only win, but make a statement; Griffin takes the opposite approach, preferring the W by any means necessary.
“I’m not looking to make a statement, I’m looking to win a fight any way that can happen,” Griffin stated. “I’ll take anything. I really just want to win.”
Griffin is many things. One thing he is not is underprepared. Respected by other fighters for an unrivaled work ethic in the gym, Griffin—who makes a living fighting— surprisingly enjoys training more than being punched in the face in an actual fight.
“If it was up to me, I would probably never fight,” Griffin said before adding, “But I’d be the most ready guy in the world; when you keep [training consistently] you break down and you don’t have the pop you have in the beginning. I’ve got to get with my people and maybe schedule some work outs a little different.”
Pop or not, Griffin will be ready to rumble for three rounds of action in the UFC light heavyweight division. The light heavyweight fighter with the awkward sense of humor will also come into the fight with a new lease on life.
So what’s gotten into Griffin these days? A new training regimen? Main event status?
Neither, Griffin revealed candidly. The smile on Griffin’s face and his renewed fighting focus is due to his status as a newlywed.
“I’ve never been happier,” Griffin said of the married life. “A lot of people say that when they first get married, but it’s great. All my needs are met. It’s helped me have a more positive outlook and to start training more to have fun. The last couple of years I’ve trained out of fear and anxiety, ‘am I training enough?’ Now it’s fun. That’s been the difference for me, just being more positive.”
UFC 106: Ortiz vs. Griffin 2 takes place next Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.