Photo via UFC
Back when PRIDE Fighting Championships was still around, the big argument in the mixed martial arts (MMA) community was just who, exactly, was the best 205-pound fighter in the world.
Was it Randy Couture, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight kingpin? Or Wanderlei Silva, the PRIDE champion for nearly half a decade? Once Couture was defeated by Chuck Liddell, the argument shifted to "The Iceman" and "The Axe Murderer."
But in 2005, another Brazilian entered the argument.
It was Mauricio Rua who conquered the talent-heavy grand prix that year and arose as a legitimate contender to the number one light heavyweight crown.
Combined with "Shogun's" tournament win and Silva's loss to Ricardo Arona, the argument again shifted. This time, Rua and Liddell were at the center. Knockouts of the American and Silva, plus the purchase of PRIDE by Zuffa, followed and it left Quinton Jackson and Dan Henderson with titles and a unification bout.
They fought, putting their belts on the line, and finally decided who was the undisputed best 205-pounder in the world. Still though, there was "Shogun" who staked a claim.
That is, until Forrest Griffin choked him out at UFC 76.
The unlikely Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner had accomplished the impossible and defeated the man many considered to be the best in the world at his weight class. It earned him a shot as Jackson, who took Rua's place as number one upon the Brazilian's loss. Again, Griffin accomplished what many thought was impossible when he took a five-round decision from "Rampage."
Before Griffin steps into the Octagon for his rubber match against Tito Ortiz at UFC 148, we'll take a look at the bout that made him a champion and in turn, justified the entire Ultimate Fighter (TUF) project.
Griffin, within the first 15 seconds, lands two leg kicks. It is the precursor to the gameplan he would employ throughout the rest of the fight.
"Rampage" tries to get inside -- and does so a few times -- but doesn't manage to land as cleanly as he'd hope. When he does close the distance on his opponent, Griffin manages to land as many punches and knees as the champion while landing a flurry of legs kicks when space separates them.
A little over midway through the opening round, a hook from Jackson catches Griffin on the temple and wobbles him. The champ refuses to go in for the kill and allows his opponent to recover.
A minute later, though, a perfectly placed uppercut drops the TUF winner to the mat and "Rampage" follows him to the mat. Griffin struggles to his feet and the two exchange punches to finish off the round.
Griffin opens up the second round with a huge leg kick and "Rampage" visibly looks hurt. He limps back and the challenger charges with a second kick. Jackson clinches up but Griffin manages to lock in a guillotine choke and while it doesn't seal the deal, it allows the TUF winner to wind up on top when the fight hits the mat.
The challenger transitions to sidemount and threatens with a keylock while landing elbows the entire time. Finally, he makes it to full mount and the crowd erupts in delights. Punches and elbows from Griffin and it's an incredible sight seeing a fighter fans became familiar with on a reality show taking the fight to the best light heavyweight in the world.
The third round begins and Jackson refuses to switch stances even as Griffin continues to swing his pale leg around over and over. The champ still continues to threaten with his stand-up but seemingly has no answer for the lower body barrage he's taking.
Halfway through the fight, there's no clear winner. And that's utterly exciting.
Both men spend the next two and a half minutes doing what has brought them this far. Jackson unleashes furious boxing while Griffin continues to brutalize the champion with leg kicks. It's likely the most contentious round of the five as neither fighter emerges as the clear winner.
The first championship round sees "Rampage" unload on his challenger with a bevy of hooks and uppercuts, drawing first blood. Griffin attempts a trip takedown but ends up with Jackson on top of him. The champion survives a triangle attempt but doesn't manage to land much offense before both men return to their feet.
"Rampage" spends the remainder of the round allowing his challenger to dictate the pace of the fight as the seconds tick away to the fifth and final stanza.
The fifth round seems to be a repeat of the third with neither man gaining the advantage. A punch from Jackson, a kick from Griffin, it's hard to distinguish who gained the upper hand. The two men split the opening couple of rounds, that much is clear and "Rampage" took the fourth but the third and fifth rounds are a toss up.
In the end, it was Griffin who won out. And in doing so, he became the world's best light heavyweight fighter.
From the TUF house to the top of the mountain, Griffin has seen it all, including a pair of fights with a fellow former champ in Ortiz.
Can he win the rubber match and send "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" packing with a loss?