Two former champions looking to climb back to the top will meet Saturday (Feb. 5) at "UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort" when former light-heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin clashes with former middleweight champion Rich Franklin from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Griffin will be fighting for the first time in nearly 15 months due to a shoulder problem. He was scheduled to fight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the co-main event of UFC 114 but was forced to pull out due to the injury. He last fought at UFC 106, winning a split decision from Tito Ortiz.
Franklin is coming off a first-round knockout win over UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell at UFC 115 in June. In that fight, Franklin's left arm was broken by a Liddell kick but he survived and knocked Liddell out with his right.
Franklin said this about the bout during Wednesday's "UFC 126 Countdown: Silva vs. Belfort" show: "You have a fairly well-rounded fighter that has knockout power on his feet and is a very tenacious fighter and as the fight goes on, he fights harder. Did I just describe me or did I just describe Forrest?"
Which fighter will win their second fight in a row and continue the climb back to the top? We'll find out Saturday when the two battle on pay-per-view, but for now, here's our preview of the fight between the sixth-ranked Griffin and the 11th-ranked Franklin.
Record: 17-6 overall, 8-4 UFC
Key losses: Tito Ortiz (UFC 59), Keith Jardine (UFC 66), Rashad Evans (UFC 92), Anderson Silva (UFC 101)
How he got here: Forrest Griffin will forever be remembered as the man who helped put the UFC on the map. A contestant on the original season of "The Ultimate Fighter," Griffin's slugfest with Stephan Bonnar on the show's finale helped spur the UFC to the popularity it enjoys today. Griffin, though, was a veteran of the sport before entering the house, holding wins over Jeff Monson and Chael Sonnen. He also participated in the famous "IFC: Global Domination" tournament in 2003.
Griffin was treated with kid gloves in his first two UFC fights, handling both Bill Mahood and Elvis Sinosic. That treatment ended when Griffin was paired with the returning Tito Ortiz at UFC 59 in April 2006. After enduring a beating in the first round, Griffin had a much stronger effort in the final two rounds but lost a highly-debated split decision. Despite losing, Griffin's stock rose as he competed well with the former long-time champion. People started taking him seriously after that fight. He rematched Bonnar at UFC 62, winning easily. He went on to face Keith Jardine at UFC 66 but was upset by the "Dean of Mean" in the first round. Griffin was supposed to meet Lyoto Machida in Machida's second UFC fight at UFC 70 but had to pull out due to a staph infection. Having to pull out of that fight arguably changed Griffin's career.
After recovering and beating an overmatched Hector Ramirez at UFC 72, Griffin was paired with 2005 PRIDE Light-Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in Rua's UFC debut at UFC 76. Many thought the UFC was leading the lamb to slaughter but at the same place where he earned the respect of so many against Ortiz (Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.), Griffin pulled one of the bigger upsets in UFC history, submitting Rua with a rear-naked choke late in the fight.
The win earned Griffin a shot a light-heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and the two opposed each other on "The Ultimate Fighter 7." Heading into their UFC 86 fight, Griffin again was a heavy underdog and once again, he shocked the world, beating Jackson by unanimous decision to claim the UFC light-heavyweight title.
Griffin's hold on the title didn't last long, though. He was stopped in the third round by Rashad Evans at UFC 92 and forced to go back to the drawing board after such an incredible two-fight run. The UFC had other plans. With middleweight champion Anderson Silva a target of criticism after two straight dull fights, the UFC needed someone to go in and make him look good. They called Griffin and he did just that. What ensued was one of the more embarrassing knockouts in UFC history as Silva put Griffin away with a falling away jab. After the defeat, Griffin immediately tried to leave the cage.
With his back against the wall, Griffin rebounded with a split decision win over Ortiz at UFC 106. He hasn't fought since due to a shoulder injury.
How he gets it done: An extremely big light-heavyweight, Griffin has learned to use his size to his advantage. At 6-foot-3, Griffin is extremely broad and cuts to 205 pounds from around 240 pounds, giving him a significant size edge against most other light-heavyweights. Griffin isn't an extremely powerful striker, but has good technique and can wear you down. His leg kicks, though, are powerful and are the main reason he won the title as he absolutely tore Jackson's leg up. Griffin's ground game is very underrated, as he recently received his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt from world renowned BJJ practitioner Robert Drysdale. For his career, Griffin holds seven wins by submission, seven by decision and three by (T)KO. In his eight UFC wins, five have come by decision, two by submission and one by TKO.
Record: 28-5-0 (1 NC) overall, 13-4 UFC
Key losses: Lyoto Machida (Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2003), Anderson Silva (UFC 64, UFC 77), Dan Henderson (UFC 93), Vitor Belfort (UFC 103)
How he got here: A veteran of mixed martial arts for more than a decade, Rich Franklin, to me, is one of the most under-appreciated fighters in the history of the sport. On the same show Griffin and Bonnar made the UFC into something big, Franklin was the headliner against an aging Ken Shamrock. Franklin blasted Shamrock and went on to meet Evan Tanner for the UFC middleweight title at UFC 53. After being dropped in the first round, Franklin came back to tear Tanner up, stopping him on cuts in the fourth round. He went on to annihilate both Nate Quarry and David Loiseau to move his record to 22-1 before running into the buzzsaw known as Anderson Silva. Silva viciously stopped the outgunned Franklin in the first round, horribly breaking his nose in the process.
Franklin rebounded with wins over both Jason MacDonald and Yushin Okami, earning a title shot at Silva in Franklin's hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Once again, Franklin was devastated, losing by second-round TKO. Having been dominated twice by the champion, Franklin became a bit of a weight class nomad. He beat Travis Lutter at middleweight before moving to 205 pounds to beat Matt Hamill by TKO. He stayed there, losing a tight decision to Dan Henderson to start 2009 and then fought both Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort at "Franklinweight" (195 pounds). His home now looks to be light-heavyweight after knocking out Chuck Liddell at UFC 115 and now facing Griffin at the weight.
How he gets it done: Franklin is a well-rounded fighter with knockout power in both his hands. We've seen him crush Quarry with the left and Liddell with the right (although you can put whatever stock you want in the Liddell KO). Although he doesn't use it much, Franklin's ground game is solid under the tutelage of long-time trainer Jorge Gurgel. Of his 28 wins, 15 have come by (T)KO, 10 by submission and just three by decision, a finishing rate of 89 percent. To the point of his ground game, Franklin has never been submitted. Of his five losses, four have been by (T)KO and one by decision. The lessons here are Rich Franklin fights don't tend to go to a decision and he can handle himself on the ground.
Fight "X-Factor:" Griffin's size is going to be the determining factor of this fight. Can Franklin handle it? Just like we talked about Ryan Bader being able to handle Jon Jones' athleticism, I feel the same way about Franklin against Griffin and his size. Griffin is just enormous. One factor in Franklin's favor is he didn't have much trouble with Matt Hamill and his strength, but Griffin is a better, more well-rounded fighter than Hamill. Another factor to look at is potential cage rust for Griffin. It's been a long time since his last fight. Will that impact him?
Bottom line: I like this fight but it's a tough one to call. Griffin needs to use his size, not to mention his leg kicks, to keep Franklin on the outside. Too often we see fighters not use their reach. I don't see that being a factor here. Both men are going to have good game plans and both are smart. When I think about this fight, all I see is Griffin controlling the cage, kicking Franklin, jabbing away and taking him down. Forrest Griffin picks up his second win in a row with a unanimous decision victory.
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