Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - In the days leading up to the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship bout between Forrest Griffin and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, fans and pundits almost unanimously agreed that, on paper, the champion, Jackson, should win. Yet those comments were always followed by the word ‘but’ and some way of describing how you could never count Griffin out.
By Thomas Gerbasi
LAS VEGAS, July 5 – In the days leading up to the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship bout between Forrest Griffin and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, fans and pundits almost unanimously agreed that, on paper, the champion, Jackson, should win. Yet those comments were always followed by the word ‘but’ and some way of describing how you could never count Griffin out.
Tonight, at the sold out Mandalay Bay Events Center, Griffin took all the ‘buts’ out of the equation, overturning the odds and pounding out a thrilling unanimous five round decision win over Jackson to win the 205-pound world championship and etch his name in the history books.
“This is the greatest night of my life,” said Griffin, the first winner of The Ultimate Fighter reality show and now the second TUF winner to earn a world title, following former welterweight boss Matt Serra. “I want to thank Quinton Jackson. It was close and I think we’re gonna have to do it again.”
“He whupped my ass,” said a gracious Jackson. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. He deserves it.”
Scores were 48-46 twice and 49-46 for Griffin who engaged in the frontrunner for 2008 Fight of The Year with Jackson.
And this one will be tough to top.
Griffin took the fight to the champion immediately, working behind his jab and some quick kicks to the head and legs. The challenger’s handspeed was impressive early, catching Jackson off guard. When the two would exchange at close range though, Jackson was in his element and he was able to land with more consistency, and with under three minutes left he was able to jar Griffin briefly with a left hook. The challenger recovered quickly and flurried back, but a right uppercut by Jackson with a little over a minute left dropped Griffin. Jackson pounced on his foe, but Griffin got his wits back and fought his way back up, where he continued to move forward and engage until the bell rang.
Continuing to be the aggressor, Griffin opened the second with more leg kicks, this time buckling Jackson’s left leg.
“He jacked my leg up,” said Jackson. “I’m not that good at acting. He knew he hurt me.”
As the champion staggered backward, Griffin moved in, clinching and landing knees at close range before trying to sink in a guillotine. Jackson escaped that trouble but wound up in more as the bout subsequently moved to the mat, with Griffin working for submissions and grounding and pounding Jackson steadily for the remainder of the round.
“You’ve got to make him fight you,” trainer Juanito Ibarra told Jackson between rounds two and three as the champion’s left knee was iced, and ‘Rampage’ showed his heart as he entered the fray again for round three. Griffin, not getting overly aggressive, pecked away from long range as Jackson concentrated on avoiding more leg kicks and on catching the challenger with haymakers as he came into range. As the round entered its final two minutes, Jackson appeared to be back in business as he scored with body shots and hard counters to the head when Griffin tried to open up. By the end of the round Griffin was landing his flurries though, and the crowd roared as the bell sounded.
As the fight entered the championship rounds, Jackson’s urgency was evident as he stalked Griffin and landed with heavy shots to the head.
“Every punch he threw hurt,” said Griffin.
Griffin responded with a takedown, with Jackson ending up in his challenger’s guard. With 3:40 left, Griffin, bow bleeding from over his right eye, locked in a triangle choke, and the response from Jackson was what you would expect – a slam that broke the hold and allowed Jackson to resume his ground and pound attack. The two fighters rose with two minutes remaining, and Jackson again jarred Griffin with shots to the side of the head. Griffin didn’t shrink under the attack, and he fired back with kicks and his own haymakers. Predictably, the round ended with a toe-to-toe exchange.
Griffin opened the final round with more leg kicks, hoping to repeat his second round success and 90 seconds in, he added pinpoint strikes to the head. That seemed to wake Jackson back up as he landed flush shots to the head and body, but Griffin took everything in stride and kept moving forward, jarring the champion with his own return fire. The final minute saw the packed house rise in appreciation for the effort of both men, and neither stopped swinging until the final bell ended, putting an exclamation point on an unforgettable night.
With the win, Griffin improves to 16-4; Jackson falls to 28-7.