When The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) catapulted the UFC into public consciousness back in 2005, it made superstars of a handful of relatively unknown regional fighters.
Naturally, that rubbed some people the wrong way. Members of the UFC roster like Nick Diaz derided the "reality show" fighters leading up to his bout with Diego Sanchez and continued to do so -- even after losing to him.
Some Internet critics shared the same sentiment, feeling the popularity given to fighters like Chris Leben, Stephan Bonnar, and Forrest Griffin from the show also unfairly gave them unearned spots on "Fight Night" and pay-per-view (PPV) cards.
But it was when he made his first defense -- against fellow TUF winner Rashad Evans -- the reality show -- and by proxy its participants -- became fully legitimized.
This Saturday night (August 6) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "Suga" is set to rematch Tito Ortiz at UFC 133: "Evans vs. Ortiz II," so to help get us better prepared, we will take a closer look at the aforementioned title win over Griffin.
It was a bout that included everything we've learned to expect from Evans: smart gameplanning, lightning fast strikes and a whole lot of cockiness and swagger.
Leading up to their clash, both fighters had done what was previously though impossible.
Griffin was seemingly booked as a lamb to the slaughter for "Shogun" -- the Muay Thai knockout machine that ran through the 2005 Pride FC grand prix and who had now made his way across the Pacific to lay the Octagon to waste.
Griffin outstruck, outpointed, and scraped a decision win when he stepped inside the cage against Jackson. The man who had given pretty much given birth to "Fight of the Night" bonuses going to "sloppy kickboxing" bouts was now the undisputed number one 205-pounder in the world.
Evans wasn't doing as hot. He drew against Ortiz in a fight he wouldn't have won if not for a point deduction handed down to "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy." His next fight was an uninspiring split decision win over Michael Bisping.
He seemed to be -- after earning a highlight reel worthy knockout win over Sean Salmon -- treading water when he was booked against former champ Chuck Liddell.
"The Iceman" had earned his millions knocking out wrestlers, but those opponents were nothing like "Suga." Evans possessed a level of athleticism that Liddell had rarely seen previously and The Pit fighter paid for it.
From Geno Mrosko's Legendary Knockouts:
Evans, knowing and expecting this, does the same, unloading a monster right hand of his own that finds its mark faster than Liddell and hits with so much power that Chuck immediately goes limp, crashing to the canvas in one of the most shocking scenes in UFC history.
Draw and split decision or not, that single punch made Evans an instant headliner and the first fighter to challenge Griffin for his newly-won title.
And so, a little over three years after TUF hit the airwaves, we had the first season's winner taking on the winner from the sophomore season in the deepest division in the sport.
Let's take a closer look.
The first round was spent by each fighter feeling the other out. Griffin immediately began to employ his reach advantage and the kicks he used to topple Jackson only months before.
Initially, Evans either allowed the champ to launch kick after kick without consequence or simply decided to bide his time. Griffin consistently took the center of the cage and was the main aggressor.
Going into the second round, the two fighters began to loosen up and as such, the exchange came more frequently. One exchange saw the champ landing cleanly with a hook that staggered Evans.
Griffin unleashed on the challenger, pressing him against the cage and unloaded with a barrage of punches and knees before relenting.
Then it happened: Evans smile at the champion, kissed his hand, and then grabbed his crotch.
If you didn't love or hate "Suga," before that, you finally got off the fence at that moment.
But the champion continued to frustrate the Greg Jackson-trained fighter for the rest of the round and going into the third, it didn't seem likely that Evans was going to figure out the riddle that was Forrest Griffin.
That theory was put immediately to rest when Evans finally times a kick from the champion, caught it, and dropped him onto his back. Then, like a 205-pound Brock Lesnar, "Suga" began raining down huge hammerfists but none found their mark perfectly. Griffin survived.
For two minutes, they jockeyed for position on the mat. Evans -- unable to posture up for any extended period of time -- was content to land devastating punches or elbows one at a time. The champ did his best to get himself off his back.
But the amazing run -- fueled by luck, talent, or a little of both -- that consisted of beating "Shogun" and "Rampage" en route to becoming the best light heavyweight in the world came to an end for Griffin.
A punch slipped through his defenses and cracked him right on the jaw. His head bounced off the mat and it's likely he blacked out for a split second. "Suga" continued the barrage until little doubt was left if the champion was unconscious.
There was no Redd Foxx impersonation, no smug wiping of his brow. Evans calmly walked away from his still-wobbly opponent and simply raised his arms. He was now the champion and as champion, the theatrics simply weren't needed.
Unfortunately for him, his tenure at the top of the light heavyweight mountain was short-lived as he was usurped seven months later by Lyoto Machida in equally brutal fashion.
Injuries -- both on his end and on that of his opponents -- have kept his attendance in the Octagon down to two since his bout with "The Dragon," but Evans looks poised to return guns-a-blazing this Saturday night against Ortiz.
And if he wins, a title shot seems likely.
Is it time for more "Suga" on top?