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Take Two: Ortiz vs Griffin

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Tito Ortiz versus Forrest Griffin will be decided by one simple action: takedowns.

If Ortiz is able to take down Griffin with any sort of regularity, he wins the fight. If Griffin is able to avoid being taken down for two of the three rounds, he wins the fight.

By Michael DiSanto

Tito Ortiz versus Forrest Griffin will be decided by one simple action: takedowns.

If Ortiz is able to take down Griffin with any sort of regularity, he wins the fight. If Griffin is able to avoid being taken down for two of the three rounds, he wins the fight.

It really is that simple.

That is somewhat of a refreshing reality in an age where mixed martial arts fights are so complex that wrestlers are looking solely to knock out opponents on the feet and former professional boxers are consistently taking down opponents. Ortiz and Griffin are far from simple personalities, but their respective fighting skills fit together so nicely that the outcome will hinge solely on takedowns.

How can I be so sure? Griffin has tremendous Brazilian Jiu Jitsu skills, including a very effective offensive guard. In fact, nearly half of his professional fights have ended with a submission. Isn’t there a chance that he will submit Ortiz after being taken down?

No chance at all. Not unless he first places Ortiz in danger with some sort of strike, resulting in Ortiz making a rudimentary mistake. Fans must remember that Ortiz has not been submitted in just over a decade, and the last time that it happened, he was so exhausted that he could hardly move, a situation that a cardio machine like Ortiz is not likely to face again. That isn’t a coincidence or just some random occurrence. Ortiz, who is a dominant MMA wrestler, has only found himself on his back a handful of times in his career, and his top game is such that he doesn’t take chances in an opponent’s guard, so there are very few opportunities to slap on a submission during his ground-and-pound attacks.

What about Griffin surviving Ortiz’s ground and pound attack to win on the cards due to near misses and other offensive activity from his guard?

Nope. No chance there, either. Anyone who watched Ortiz’s split decision victory over Vitor Belfort understands that reality. It’s undeniable that judges usually place too much scoring deference on takedowns and ground control. One guy lands a few big punches on the feet but gets taken down and spends three-plus minutes on his back without a submission and he loses the round 99 out of 100 times (the one exception was Jeremy Horn versus Trevor Prangley at UFC 56 four years ago, but that decision can be the subject of an op-ed piece all by itself). That trend won’t change if a fan favorite like Ortiz is the one who spends the majority of a round in the top position.

What about Ortiz scoring a knockout on the feet?

Once again, no chance. Ortiz has shown better and better striking skills in each of his last several fights. I certainly acknowledge that fact. I will also acknowledge that anything can happen with those little vale tudo gloves. It’s also accurate that Griffin has been knocked out in each of his last two fights. Nevertheless, the odds of Ortiz knocking out Griffin on the feet are similar to the odds of either fighter getting eaten by a great white shark this week – in the bathtub.

Griffin’s two knockout losses came at the hands of guys with sensational knockout power. Anderson Silva knocks out just about everyone, and Rashad Evans can knock out anyone if he lands one of his supersonic right hands. Neither of those two losses does anything to diminish the thickness of Griffin’s whiskers. Anyone thinking otherwise need only watch his title-winning effort against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Whether one believes that the judges scored the Rampage fight correctly or incorrectly is not germane to the question of Griffin’s chin. Rampage, who is an apex striker in his own right, landed more than one monster punch. He hurt Griffin several times with those shots, but he was unable to put him away. Ortiz’s standup, while constantly improving, remains nascent compared to the standup skills held by Silva, Evans and Rampage. Forget a knockout on the feet by Ortiz. It isn’t going to happen.

What about Ortiz outpointing Griffin on the feet?

Yet again, no chance at all. Griffin, like Ortiz, doesn’t carry much single-punch power into the Octagon. Yet, he is an excellent standup fighter because he uses activity, accuracy and an unbreakable spirit (barring a knockout, of course) to overwhelm his foes on the feet. Again, Griffin beat Rampage on the feet. He was beating Evans until the knockout. He thoroughly dominated Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, one of the more dangerous and unpredictable strikers in the division. Each time, he did it with his incredible work rate. Ortiz knows how to let his hands flow freely in the sparring gym, but he has yet to bring that sort of effortless striking to the Octagon. That won’t change after an 18-month layoff and a serious back surgery. If this fight remains standing, Griffin will overwhelm Ortiz with jabs, leg kicks and the occasional hard right hand—period.

Again, Ortiz’s overriding key to victory is taking down Griffin multiple times. Griffin’s overriding key to victory, of course, is to avoid being taken down multiple times.

So, just how is Ortiz supposed to get Griffin to the ground?

There was a time when Ortiz was one of the most dominant takedown artists in all of MMA. That was a long, long time ago. Over the last three or four years, Ortiz has been a shell of himself in terms of the explosiveness and brute strength that the world witnessed from him early in his career. Ortiz attributes that to severe back problems that started sometime before his loss to Randy Couture at UFC 44.

Thirteen months ago, Ortiz underwent a procedure to correct those problems. By his own admission, the surgery was extensive and lasted approximately three hours. Doctors inserted multiple screws into Ortiz’s spine to fuse some of his lower vertebrae. That is no simple procedure for a young athlete, let alone one who has been fighting for a decade. There is no guarantee that Ortiz will return to the Octagon with the same explosiveness and brute strength that made him the best light heavyweight in the world at one point in his career. If he doesn’t return perfectly healthy, I just don’t see him defeating Griffin.

Let’s assume for a moment, that the surgery was successful and the world sees the “old Tito” back in action on November 21. If that is the case, then he will score takedowns in two ways: by throwing punches to set up double-legs and by initiating clinches for Greco-Roman throws. At his peak, he was equally adept at both techniques.

Griffin will look to defend double-legs by keeping his weight on his toes and by holding his hands lower than normal so that he can effectively sprawl as soon as he notices Ortiz changing levels. Griffin has only marginal wrestling skills, but he has a surprisingly effective sprawl, as we saw in the second round of his first bout with Ortiz. In terms of defending Greco-Roman throws, Griffin simply needs to avoid the clinch. He can do that by using lots of lateral movement before and after his strikes. The more he moves, the more difficult it will be for Ortiz to initiate a clinch or trap him against the cage

So, how do I see the action unfolding?

This one is very difficult to call. A perfectly healthy, well-prepared Ortiz performing at the top of his game is pretty darn difficult to defeat. Yet, Ortiz is a complete unknown at this stage in his career. How will he recover from the surgery? Will he still have the same legendary cardiovascular conditioning? Will Octagon rust be a factor from his long layoff? Will nerves or excess adrenalin be a factor?

Honestly, I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, and neither does anyone else.

For his part, Griffin is also facing some unanswered questions heading into the Octagon. How will he face the first two-fight losing streak of his career, not to mention the first two-fight loss by knockout streak? Will the pressure of his past performances make him tentative against Ortiz? Will he hesitate to pull the trigger due to a lack of confidence?

Again, nobody knows the answers to those questions.

I could easily write 1,500 words stating a case in favor of either man winning. That is what makes this fight so intriguing.

Quick Facts:

Tito Ortiz

• 34 yrs old

• 6’3, 205 lbs

• 16-6-1 as a professional; 14-6-1 in the UFC

• Championship reign lasted 1,267 days (April 14, 2000, until September 26, 2003); 5 successful defenses

• 446 days since last fight (UD loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 84 on May 24, 2008); longest layoff since 1998

Forrest Griffin

• 30 yrs old

• 6’3, 205 lbs

• 16-6 as a professional; 7-4 in the UFC

• Championship reign lasted 177 days (July 5, 2008, until December 27, 2008); 0 successful defenses

• 105 days since last fight (KO1 by Anderson Silva at UFC 101 on August 8, 2009); typical fighting frequency