This Saturday night (August 27, 2011), two former light heavyweight champions will meet in the UFC 134 co-main event in a rematch four years in the making as Forrest Griffin grants Mauricio "Shogun" Rua an opportunity to avenge his UFC 76 loss.
Griffin has rebounded nicely since a pair of tough losses by defeating back-to-back former champions in Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin. Another victory over Mauricio Rua would cement his status as a hero to the "every man" and would likely push him into the title mix.
"Shogun" is in desperate need of a strong showing after getting thoroughly dismantled at UFC 128 by Jon Jones, losing his championship belt in the process. He's fighting in front of his native countrymen for the first time in eight years and he doesn't want to let his hometown fans down. He also wants to erase the past defeat to Griffin from his record.
Will Forrest Griffin scrap his way to another surprising victory? Or will "Shogun" prove that the first loss to the TUF champ was just a fluke? Which former champion will reign supreme on Saturday night?
Record: 18-6 overall, 8-4 in the UFC
How he got here: After a moderately successful start to his mixed martial arts career, Forrest Griffin was ready to call it quits at 25 years old with a 9-2 record before being talked into participating on season one of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) by Dana White, himself.
As the legend goes, Griffin would go on to make it to the finals, culminating in a wild back-and-forth slugfest against Stephan Bonnar that is widely considered the greatest fight in UFC history. Griffin won the six figure contract and after a few warm-up fights, was given a tremendous test against former UFC champion Tito Ortiz.
Griffin would lose a split decision to "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" but his performance in the final two rounds proved that he belonged with the best in the world. After stumbling to Keith Jardine at UFC 66, Griffin began a title run. He would score what was then the biggest victory of his career, upsetting the heavily-favorite "Shogun" Rua at UFC 76 with a third round rear naked choke which awarded him a title shot.
After an arduous season of The Ultimate Fighter, he would prove up to the task, defeating Quinton "Rampage" Jackson via unanimous decision to become the UFC light heavyweight champion.
Griffin's reign would not be long, getting snuffed by Rashad Evans in his first defense just five months later after slipping in the third round. He would take an ill-advised return fight against UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, getting humiliated with three knockdowns and hardly even landing a jab in just over three minutes before the fight was stopped.
Since that loss, the scrappy Georga native has bounced back, avenging his loss to Tito Ortiz and following it up with a safe decision victory over Rich Franklin this past February. When the UFC came calling with a rematch against Rua in Brazil, he reluctantly accepted.
How he gets it done: To learn how to defeat Rua, why not look at exactly what Griffin did correctly in the last fight?
The TUF season one winner pushed a tremendous pace in the first round, challenging "Shogun" in the stand-up and especially on the ground. Every action the Brazilian took was met with great resistance. He had to fight for every takedown, every sweep attempt and was forced to use every muscle in an action-packed five minutes.
By the midway point of the second round, Rua was completely gassed out. This is EXACTLY what Griffin needs to do this time around as well. Forrest is not a better striker, he's not much better on the ground and he's probably not better in the clinch.
His biggest strength is his heart and endurance. If he can weather the storm and really push the action in the first five minutes, the odds of him winning the later rounds increase significantly.
Griffin isn't exactly known as a ground fighter, but the more he can take the fight there and really force Rua to sap his strength, the better. "Shogun" proved against Machida that if a fight is kept standing, he can go all five rounds. The scrappy former champion needs to make this ugly by either pressing the former Chute Box fighter into the fence or repeatedly taking him down.
If Griffin can tire Rua out, he could score another dramatic third round finish.
Record: 19-5 overall, 3-3 in the UFC
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 128), Forrest Griffin (UFC 76),
How he got here: Mauricio "Shogun" Rua didn't last long on the local circuit, making his Pride debut in his sixth professional fight and after having competed for less than a year.
Over the course of the next two years, he absolutely smashed everyone in his path including the likes of "Rampage" Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Alistair Overeem en route to winning the Pride 2005 middleweight grand prix. Seven of his eight victories were by way of knockout.
He looked unbeatable until a freak accident less than a minute into his fight with former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman left him with a broken arm and started an in-cage brawl.
After sitting out for nearly seven months to heal, the Chute Box fighter came back with a vengeance, destroying the likes of Cyrille Diabate, Kevin Randleman and Alistair Overeem (again) before making his debut in the UFC against Forrest Griffin.
Things didn't go exactly as planned against Griffin as Rua slowed drastically in the second round and never recovered, losing via rear naked choke right before the final bell in a stunner. He would get back on track in an ugly affair against Mark Coleman, avenging his earlier loss.
"Shogun" would go on to smash former champion Chuck Liddell which would earn him a title shot against Lyoto Machida. He showed up to the title fight in incredible shape but would lose a highly controversial decision. After being granted an immediate rematch, Rua knocked out "The Dragon" to become the UFC light heavyweight champion.
The champ would be forced to sit on the sidelines for 10 months while rehabbing a knee injury and was welcomed back to the cage by the rising phenom Jon Jones. Jones battered Rua for two and a half rounds, finishing the champ with a left hook to the body and a knee to the face.
Afterwards, "Shogun" signed on to fight Forrest Griffin in Brazil for UFC 134, the first time he's competed in his home country in over eight years.
How he gets it done: Mauricio Rua needs to have these three words drilled into his brain for the next few days: keep it standing!
"Shogun" may be a competent grappler, but his biggest strength against any opponent is his striking. He's got devastating power in both hands and his kicks can brutalize his opponent's legs and body. Don't forget about those brutal knees if the fight gets up and personal either.
Going to the ground is exhausting, especially if you're primarily a stand-up fighter. Rua attempted multiple takedowns in his last fight with Griffin which was a horrible idea. He couldn't do much damage when he did take Griffin down and once he was there, he was constantly fending off sweep and submission attempts.
Forrest Griffin isn't exactly known for having a tremendous chin, so Rua needs to be a little bit patient, wait for an opportunity to strike and then plant his feet and blast him with a huge right hand.
If the fight goes into the clinch, "Shogun" really needs to work his elbows as his Xtreme Couture-trained opponent is prone to being cut. If he can break Griffin's skin, he needs to attack that spot repeatedly and he could force a stoppage there as well.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this fight is pretty simple. How much has each fighter learned from the first fight and what is going to be different this time around? Both men have gone on to become UFC champions in the four years since UFC 76, each in their own different way. Both have also crashed in highlight reel fashion, Griffin to Anderson Silva and Rua to Jon Jones. Griffin has rebounded nicely in his last two fights but we haven't had a chance to see how Rua will respond to such a thorough beating.
Another factor will be the home crowd. They will be almost unanimously in Rua's favor. Forrest Griffin hasn't been the bad guy in his entire UFC career. How much will this affect him as he walks to the cage getting booed tremendously? The crowd will almost certainly be holding a grudge for what Griffin did to "Shogun" the first time around.
Bottom Line: While there's an incredibly small chance that Griffin plays it safe like he did in the first round against Rich Franklin, he'll need to push a much more aggressive pace if he wants to wear Rua out. The first fight was filled with wild scrambles, exciting changes in momentum and some brilliant displays of heart. This shouldn't be any different. There's a chance Rua could score a monstrous knockout and there's a chance Griffin could gas the Brazilian with his workhorse pace. This should be a "can't miss" fight.
Who will come out on top at UFC 134? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!