RUSTY GRIFFIN REMAINS RELEVANT
Forrest Griffin will be the first to admit that his performance against Rich Franklin was not very Forrest-esque. The effort was certainly there. The intensity was certainly there. Yet, it seemed a bit difficult for him to both pull the trigger and, when he was able to pull the trigger, find his mark.
That is what a 441-day layoff will do to most mortal men.
After putting up back-to-back losses followed by a razor-thin split decision win over Tito Ortiz, Griffin had to wonder where he stood in the division he once ruled. The win over Franklin answered that question with an exclamation point.
I completely agree with UFC color commentator Joe Rogan that Franklin is a more effective fighter at 205 pounds than 185 pounds, despite the fact that “Ace” is a former champion at the lighter weight. A win over this guy catapults anyone to the top of the division. Not to mention a win by a former champion.
Griffin now sits in prime position for another marquee matchup in his next bout. Whether he wins or loses on March 19, Shogun is a logical next opponent. Griffin spoiled the UFC debut of the reigning champion, battering him from pillar to post in their 2007 matchup before bringing the bout to an end with 15 seconds on the clock courtesy of a rear naked choke.
Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson also have history with Griffin. A bout with either of those former champions would be a box office hit, as well as a nice way to determine the next in line for the winner of Shogun-Jones. Assuming that up-and-comer Phil Davis is successful against Matt Hamill on April 30, he is another intriguing opponent for Griffin. Even a rubber match with Ortiz, assuming “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” survives Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, which is no safe assumption, would be a fun fight that makes a lot of sense, since the pair traded split decision wins.
In other words, the UFC has a lot of options on what to do with Griffin. Whatever UFC President Dana White and matchmaker extraordinaire Joe Silva decide to do next, it is clear that Griffin is now firmly back in the 205-pound mix.
Franklin was clearly surprised at the outcome when ring announcer Bruce Buffer read the judges’ cards. He was convinced that he had done enough to earn the win, shrugging at Griffin after the announcement as if he was expecting his opponent to agree with him.
Granted, the fight was close. Griffin won the first round. There is no plausible argument to the contrary. The second round was tough to score. Both men threw a decent amount of strikes—most missed. The only truly significant strike of the round was the left hook that wobbled Franklin with just over 90 seconds remaining. They traded a couple of power shots and body kicks over the next minute, but the left hook was far more significant than any of the other shots.
Griffin also scored two takedowns and kept Franklin down for 30 seconds or so, but didn’t really do much with either one, other than controlling the position. It is tough to argue that Franklin won the second round. At best, he earned a draw for being the more active of the two. I scored it 10-9 for Griffin.
The third round was great. Both men were active on the feet, with Franklin appearing to be the sharper of the two. The pair fought to a stalemate in terms of takedowns and transitions. I scored it 10-9 for Franklin, principally due to his effective striking and effective aggressiveness.
I don’t see how Franklin was surprised at the decision. He has to remember getting rocked late in the second round and knows full well how that impacted the judges. Griffin was awarded a well deserved decision.
Nevertheless, this is one of those fights where there was no loser. Franklin did not hurt his standing in the division by dropping a highly technical, close fight to a former champion. I think he instead proved that he belongs among the division’s elite.
TOO MUCH TOO SOON FOR JONES?
Following Jon Jones’ lopsided win over Jake O’Brien at UFC 100, I wrote the following words in my post-mortem report:
Jones, who turns 22 this weekend, is only three fights into his UFC career. No matter, I’m going to go out on a limb with what many may think is a crazy prediction: at some point in his career, Jones will wear UFC gold.
Within 24 hours, my inbox was filled with literally dozens of emails criticizing my praise of the young New Yorker. Those words don’t seem so crazy four fights later, do they?
Jones has been so dominant through his first seven UFC bouts that it is difficult to deny that this kid has a chance to beat anyone, including reigning champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on any given day. It is fitting, therefore, that UFC President Dana White rewarded Jones’ two-round annihilation of previously unbeaten Ryan Bader with an immediate title shot—and I literally mean immediate.
Rua-Jones will take place on March 19 in Newark, New Jersey, a mere 42 days following UFC 126. That is an insanely short turnaround for a UFC title shot.
If Jones is successful against Rua, he will set a new record for the shortest duration between two UFC bouts leading up to a successful title challenge. Rich Franklin currently holds that distinction with his 56-day layoff between defeating Ken Shamrock at the finale for the first season of The Ultimate Fighter on April 9, 2005, and winning the 185-pound title from Evan Tanner on June 4, 2005. Frank Shamrock rested only 22 days before becoming the inaugural holder of what became the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, though his preceding bout was in Japan Vale Tudo, an organization that was not affiliated with the UFC.
I’m sure Jones is already champing at the bit to get into the gym and begin preparations for Rua, but his body needs time to recover. Not from the fight itself. Jones needs time to recover from the grueling training camp he went through in preparation for Bader. If he doesn’t give his body enough time to rest before diving back into training, then his gas tank will be far less than full come March 19, no matter how hard he trains between now and then.
It is the proverbial Catch-22. His body needs time to rest. Yet, at the same time, he must prepare himself for the first 25-minute fight of his career. I’m not sure that is possible.
Every champion will admit that preparing for a five round fight is different than preparing for a three round fight, both mentally and physically. Let’s assume that Jones take a week to rest and recover before beginning his preparations in earnest. That will leave him five weeks to condition his body to go 25 hard minutes, rather than 15 hard minutes—and there is no doubt that Shogun will push the pace against him, particularly in light of his short turnaround time.
I am convinced that Jones has the tools to win the fight, but is this a case of too much too soon? Whether he has sufficient time to get his body adjusted for a championship fight remains to be seen.
At the end of the day, this is a tremendous opportunity for Jones. Even if he comes up short, he will gain invaluable experience. The only real risks are injury or getting blitzkrieged in a way that ruins him mentally—I don’t see the latter happening. Maybe he doesn’t win UFC gold on his first try, but I stand by my initial words, with a slight adjustment: Jon Jones will wear the belt sooner, rather than later.
CONTRASTING STYLES IN THE CORNER
Rob Radford and John Hackleman are two of the better trainers in the business. Both have trained champions. Radford has Rich Franklin in his stable. Hackleman rose to MMA fame by molding Chuck Liddell into a living legend. But the two take very different approaches to cornering fighters. That was evident during UFC 126.
Radford positively reinforced Franklin after the first round—a round that Franklin clearly lost - by stating that he was doing just fine and Griffin was rapidly tiring. We’re talking about Forrest Griffin, a guy who has possibly the deepest gas tank in the sport. In between the second and third rounds, Radford told Franklin, “The last round was yours.” He admitted that the first round was a bit “squirrelly because he held you down.” But the message was clear: win the third round and you win the fight. Franklin gave a spirited, effective effort in the third, so it is no wonder why he was shocked when Buffer announced Griffin as the victor. After all, if Radford was giving him accurate advice, he should have won the fight.
Hackleman’s messaging in between rounds to Antonio Banuelos was on the other side of the spectrum. He accurately told his fighter that he lost the first, stating that he “gave away” the round. He had a similar message after the second round, sending a clear message that his man needed a stoppage, if he wanted to win the fight. Banuelos didn’t do anything different in the third round, apparently uninspired by Hackleman’s words. As a result, he dropped a clear 30-27 decision to the former bantamweight champ.
Granted, Banuelos was never in the fight against Miguel Torres. Franklin was never really out of the fight with Griffin. Maybe that is why Radford and Hackleman differed in their approaches. I tend to be of the opinion that a cornerman needs to be honest with his guy. Maybe that is because of my history with boxing, where “you’re blowing it son” speeches are common.
I’m not suggesting that Radford was wrong in the way he approached cornering his fighter. From his perspective, Franklin might have appeared to be even on the cards going into the final round. Nevertheless, I’d be interested to know whether Franklin would have taken a different approach to the third round if he knew that he was down on the cards.
WELCOME TO THE OCTAGON—GOOD AND BAD
Donald Cerrone has been a top lightweight contender in the WEC for years. Yet, he had to feel like he was in the “best of the rest” club than truly being one of the best lightweights in the world because he wasn’t fighting in the UFC.
Right or wrong, that was the perception. I’m sure guys like Cerrone, Ben Henderson, Anthony Pettis and others were thrilled when Zuffa announced the merger because they would have the opportunity to prove their doubters wrong.
Cerrone did just that on Saturday night. “The Cowboy” looked extremely sharp in his UFC debut, eschewing first-time UFC jitters for a thoroughly dominant performance against a very tough Paul Kelly. The win legitimizes him as a presence in the division. While he cannot yet be considered a contender, he certainly proved that he belongs in the UFC.
That isn’t the only reason Cerrone is celebrating the UFC-WEC merger right about now. He also took home an extra $75,000 for his Fight of the Night performance. He has now won that award for six of his last nine fights, an incredible streak that makes him one of the more entertaining lightweights in the world.
Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto did not experience the same success as Cerrone in his UFC debut.
Once viewed as the best featherweight in the world, Yamamoto was soundly defeated by Demetrius Johnson in a rough three round fight. The bout was his second at bantamweight.
Yamamoto was yet another in a long line of former Japan-based fighters to badly struggle in their UFC debut. He suffered the same fate as Shogun, Takanori Gomi, Mirko Cro Cop, Denis Kang, Yoshihiro Akiyama (I don’t care that the judges awarded him the fight, Alan Belcher should have gotten the nod), Ryo Chonan and others.
Fighting in a cage versus a ring is a major transition for most fighters. Fighting in front of the raucous crowds of US can also impact opponents because they are not used to picking out their corner’s voices through the noise generated by the crowd.
The loss is Yamamoto’s third in his last four fights. That is a bad stretch by anyone’s definition of success. The positive is that he has not been stopped in any of those fights. It is possible that Kid is just in the midst of a tough stretch and will bounce back with the ferocity that made him a superstar in Japan long before he ventured across the Pacific Ocean for his US debut.
On Thursday, DiSanto returns with his thoughts on Anderson Silva's knockout victory over Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC 126