By Michael DiSanto
On Saturday night, two of the UFC’s most popular fighters will square off to decide who is the king of the light heavyweight division.
There won’t be any trash talking in the days leading up to the bout. No venom soaked words to help polarize fans and build additional hype.
Instead, fans are more likely to hear UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and first-time title challenger Forrest Griffin mix praise about each other with a bit of humor and self-deprecating comments, all in an attempt to keep the air light and fun. In fact, it wouldn’t be out of the question for the pair to share a laugh if they run into each other at the Mandalay Bay this week, possibly even at Friday’s weigh-ins.
Fans should not, however, allow the competitors’ affable personalities and genuine fondness for each other to overshadow the fact that these are two of the most deeply competitive fighters in the sport. They can share a meal before and/or after the fight. But once the cage door closes on Saturday night, Rampage and Forrest will collide like two bitter enemies seeking to end a long-standing, ultra personal feud. Neither man will pull his punches. Both will fire shots laced with bad intentions. And then they will hug, acknowledge the crowd that they spent the past three, five, 15, 20 or 25 minutes entertaining and return to being the class clowns that have endeared them to fans around the globe.
Rampage-Forrest doesn’t need a storyline beyond the fact that two extremely competitive, proud fighters will test themselves inside the ultimate proving ground – the Octagon – in a fight that, based on the style matchup, has very real potential to be the most thrilling 205-lb title bout in recent memory. In other words, this is a fight that sells itself.
While there is little doubt that the pair will thrill the crowd, if Rampage wants to thrill his corner and hold onto his title on Saturday night, he needs to stay loose, make sure nerves or excess adrenaline don’t prematurely drain his gas tank, let his hands go and compete. People in Forrest’s camp won’t necessarily agree with this next statement, but I write it with absolute certainty: Rampage is better in every physical aspect of the game, except for submissions, period.
On the feet, Rampage unquestionably possesses the cleaner, more precise striking. He fights very well behind a quick, snapping jab and regularly fires two- or three-piece combinations that include overhand rights, right hands down the pipe, left hooks and uppercuts with either hand. He also varies his combinations, which makes him very tough to counter.
Once the action gets underway, Rampage has a choice: does he want to lead and fight behind the jab or does he want to sit back and counter Forrest. The better option is to force the action early, keeping a very active jab in Forrest’s face and firing varying combinations in an attempt to frustrate the former TUF winner. When Forrest gets frustrated, he tends to lunge more and more with his strikes, which will open up great opportunities for Rampage to land big counter strikes. Rampage can counter one of those lunging jabs slipping slightly to his right and firing a right hand over the top of Forrest’s jab.
Forrest, by contrast, is a brawling kickboxer. He fights with his hands down around the center of his chest, rather than up guarding his chin, and he is somewhat predictable in his combinations – jab, right hand. He rarely leads with or cleans up a one-two combination with a left hook. Instead, he throws one shot at a time, unloads the occasional one-two, and pretty regularly charges at opponents while throwing both fists like pumping pistons.
Forrest may have an armor-plated jaw, but Rampage can crack. Anyone who is able to drop Chuck Liddell with a single counter right hand carries dynamite in his fists. If Rampage is able to land a few big right hands squarely on the button, he will turn out Forrest’s lights, and if he strikes at a distance with the champion long enough, some of those big right hands will find pay dirt.
As a result, Forrest should be careful striking at a distance with Rampage. Instead, he should focus more on using his strikes to close the distance and secure a Thai clinch. He is not the most effective Thai fighter in the world, but he does know how to throw knee strikes, and that is the one technique that Rampage struggles badly to defend. Both Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua used knees to stop Rampage cold in his tracks, partly because he becomes wholly defensive and passive when caught in a Thai clinch, crossing his arms in front of his face in an ineffective attempt to prevent damage.
Forrest should try to capitalize on that tendency and resurrect that little monster named “Doubt” through knee strikes. Rampage has certainly reinvigorated his career after suffering knockout three losses to Silva and Rua, but put him in a position where he begins eating knee strikes and those memories will come flooding back into the forefront of his thoughts, possibly causing him to crumble mentally.
Rampage also holds a healthy advantage in the wrestling realm. He was extremely effective in neutralizing takedowns from one of the sport’s most accomplished wrestlers, Kevin Randleman, several years ago in PRIDE. The champion also outwrestled former two-time Olympian Dan Henderson for long stretches during his title unification bout back in September. And he possesses the most dynamic slams in the sport, bar none.
Forrest, on the other hand, won’t confuse anyone for a wrestler any time soon. He has a very good sprawl (though Rampage rarely shoots for a single- or double-leg) and is adept at defending Greco Roman throws from the clinch, but he struggles in the takedown arena. Part of that comes from the lack of an amateur wrestling pedigree. Part of it comes from the fact that he is so tall and long. And part of it comes from the fact that he loves to stand and bang, so his weight is forward most of the time, putting him in great position to throw, slip and eat punches, but not the optimal position for defending takedowns.
If Rampage decides to take the fight to the ground, he will do so. He possesses the brute strength to force Forrest to the cage, pick him up and brutally slam him to the canvas. The champion would be wise to go that route if he gets crowded and senses that a Thai clinch is coming.
Once on the ground, Rampage’s submission game is nothing to write home about (this is the one area where Forrest’s skills surpass those of the champion), so he is not going to be looking for arm bars, chokes or Kimuras. Instead, he will be looking to pound out his opponent, just like he did to Liddell in their first bout, and his ground-and-pound game is something to be feared.
Forrest would be wise to quickly work for a scramble if he finds himself on his back. The TUF winner has a very good offensive and defensive guard, but there is no need to risk suffering a fight-ending cut on all the scar tissue that resides around Griffin’s eyebrows. He knows that Rampage isn’t slick enough to catch a submission during a scramble, unless Forrest is completely irresponsible in his technique, so he should work back to the feet at every opportunity. Even though Rampage is the better striker, the standup world is where Griffin stands his best chance at scoring an upset win, unless, of course, he can put the champion on his back, but that seems like such an unlikely scenario that we will leave it alone, for now.
As mentioned earlier, Rampage is better than Forrest in virtually every physical aspect of the fight game. That means he should have an easy time with the tall, entertaining light heavyweight from Athens, Georgia, right?
When the referee signals for the action to begin, all the above-written analysis will likely go out the window because Forrest Griffin probably has the strongest mind in the sport. Opponents and pundits know what he brings to the table in terms of skills, but it is impossible to prepare for, or game plan against, his mental strength, as evidenced by his tremendous heart and determination.
Simply put, Forrest will not ever quit in any situation. He will not cower in the face of adversity. And he will not back down from any man.
Actually, let’s take that whole notion one step farther. I’m not sure that Forrest would back down or cower in the face of an attacking grizzly bear or a pouncing Bengal tiger. As insane as it sounds, I can see crazy Forrest standing his ground in those situations and thinking, “I’m going out either way, so I might as well fight and see what happens.”
Forrest is an extremely skilled fighter, but his skills (at least on paper) don’t rival those of fellow world class fighters like Rampage, Liddell, Shogun or Silva. Nevertheless, his skills are magnified 10x when the action begins by his tremendous heart and unbreakable mind. And that allows him to beat guys who appear to have the edge on paper heading into a fight.
Case in point: Shogun Rua is superior to Forrest at every single physical aspect of the fight game, including submissions. Yet, Forrest tossed him a thorough beating back in September, dominating the superstar for 14 minutes on the feet and on the ground before mercifully clamping down a rear naked choke as the bell approached and giving the former No. 1 ranked 205-lb’er a reason to tap out.
Shogun was the more skilled fighter heading into that night, but Forrest was the better competitor that night. His mind elevated his performance beyond what anyone not named Griffin thought was possible.
His ability to rise to the occasion mixed with his unbreakable mental strength makes Forrest ultra dangerous in every minute of every fight.
Rampage should be fully prepared to go to war with a man who will not be intimidated, will not cower and will not break mentally in any situation. He had better be physically prepared to dominate Griffin for 25 minutes and mentally prepared to face a guy who will take his best shot and keep on coming forward with a smile on his face and guns blazing. Otherwise, the champion may end up following in Shogun’s footsteps.
And that is what makes this fight impossible to predict.
Rampage-Forrest: The Breakdown
Michael DiSanto, UFC - ...Rampage-Forrest doesn’t need a storyline beyond the fact that two extremely competitive, proud fighters will test themselves inside the ultimate proving ground – the Octagon – in a fight that, based on the style matchup, has very real potential to be the most thrilling 205-lb title bout in recent memory. In other words, this is a fight that sells itself.