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Forrest Griffin vs. Tito Ortiz / UFC 59

By Cliff Montgomery,
The match between Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz in UFC: 59 was of course a fine one, a battle which ended in a split decision for Ortiz. But to fans, a professional fight often becomes a battle of personalities, and who a fan supports often says more about the fan than it does about the fighter.

I mention this because it seems this fight was seen--and certainly reported--as a clash of personalities, rather than as two well-trained, professional fighters engaging in a simple contest of abilities.

Forrest Griffin of course was the first-season winner of the SpikeTV series The Ultimate Fighter. He defeated Stephan Bonnar in a wildly popular final bout, winning by unanimous decision. The victory landed Griffin a professional contract to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

With his easy charm and unassuming character, Griffin may be the most immediately accessible person in the UFC. Much of the pre-and post-fight analysis therefore favored him in spirit, if not in fact. It's understandable; I truly like what I've seen of Forrest Griffin too. But on that night, Tito Ortiz really did outfight him.

Jacob "Tito" Ortiz is a former Light-Heavyweight UFC champion and one of the UFC's true stars. Ortiz has headlined several UFC championship undercards, and has appeared on the covers of such publications as Black Belt Magazine.

As for Ortiz' character...let's be generous. My personal view? I suspect all that bragging and bad-mouthing which Tito constantly spews is his attempt to show some of the flair which legendary boxers like Ali or Hector "Macho" Camacho had so successfully employed in their day. Only Ortiz doesn't possess that sense of satire which seemed natural to Ali and Camacho, an irony which allowed those men to perform their bragging spectacles with a wink and a nod to the crowd, even as their 'misdeeds' preyed on their opponents. Ortiz consistently plays the act without a touch of playfulness, and so it's perceived as simple vulgarity.

Both are fine athletes in any case, and unless one bites off the other's ear that's all that should matter. Thomas Gerbasi of knows this, and tellingly scored the best pre-fight analysis:

"If the fight hits the mat...Griffin can still be successful as long as he's not on his back. If Ortiz gets him down and is on top of him, raining down elbows and forearms, game over."

And indeed in round 1 Ortiz began showing some of the old aggression which made him a UFC star, catching Griffin with a solid left hook before securing a takedown 30 seconds into the 1st round. And as Gerbasi suspected, once Ortiz had his opponent down, he edged the talented and aggressive--but less experienced--Griffin towards the cage and began punishing him with a hail of his patented elbow strikes. As is often the case with Griffin, he absorbed a fine pummeling before escaping Ortiz.

Once free Griffin sprung to his feet and began throwing a few punches, which may well have been his best bet against his opponent. Griffin is probably the better striker, and the unyielding fighter would almost certainly out-tough ground-and-pounder Ortiz in a straight slugfest.

But the barrage from everyone's favorite UFC fighter wasn't to last this round. With 50 seconds remaining in the 1st, Ortiz scored his second takedown of the match, and rained blow after blow onto Griffin before the round came to a close.

The 2nd was another story. Griffin had begun to figure out Ortiz' gameplan, and the effect was obvious. And though Tito opened the 2nd by landing a couple of jabs and a strong right, he began to go up against Griffin's strength: toe-to-toe boxing. This helped Forrest to stifle five takedown attempts by Ortiz. As to be expected, Griffin also consistently scored the cleaner shots, and landed a vicious left hook midway through the round.

Early in the 3rd and final round Griffin stopped a couple of quick takedown attempts by Ortiz, but Tito did land a left hook, and walloped Griffin with a huge straight right. Ortiz also scored a couple more right hands which caught Griffin looking.

But Forrest wasn't out of weapons just yet. Throughout the round Griffin landed a number of low leg kicks, and then began letting his hands go in the remaining 2 minutes of the match, pummeling Ortiz with a right uppercut and left jab.

Ortiz quickly answered back with a right hand of his own, then finished his reply with another big takedown with about 90 seconds remaining of the 3rd.

Griffin had learned from his mistakes in the 1st, and refused to again be trapped on the ground by Ortiz. Forrest did a wonderful job of getting back to his feet with 30 seconds remaining, and landed some terrific shots just as the furious match ended.

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