Leading up to the main event, the main card had seen three decisions and one submission. None of the fights had been edge-of-your-seat, back and forth barn burners. In fact, the bouts were rather dull. Chris Lytle suffered an intense cut that was pouring blood and covered a good portion of the octagon floor. Joe Stevenson came back from being on the verge of defeat, to win via solid submission. Aside from those few highlights, however, the action and excitement was sparse. But, whatever the earlier fights lacked, the main event redeemed them all and reinvigorated the evening. Rampage versus Griffin has got to be an early favorite for fight of the year, living up to its billing.
Not many people believed Forrest Griffin would survive five rounds with the now former champ, Rampage Jackson. Even fewer people gave Griffin a chance at winning (this writer believed it was possible though-?http://cagetoday.com/ufc-86-preview-and-predictions-part-2/#comments). But, once again, Griffin was able to prove the critics wrong in impressive fashion.
Griffin used constant movement, fired off non-stop jabs, and consistently hobbled Rampage with bad intentioned leg kicks. Instead of throwing one punch at a time, Griffin would often throw combinations. He was able to set the tempo of the fight and effectively control Rampage’s aggression. Griffin entered the fight with a clearly defined strategy; stay out of Rampage’s range, never stop being aggressive, and keep him off balance with a wide variety of strikes (he used knees, elbows, combinations, leg kicks, high kicks, etc).
At no point during the fight did Rampage look 100% comfortable. He rarely threw more than two punches at a time and simply tried to counter punch for most of the fight. Instead of setting up his power punches, Rampage was content to unload a few big shots at a time and then sit back. Unfortunately for Rampage, looking to end the fight with one big punch would prove a costly decision. It seemed from the outset that Rampage had no clear strategy or game plan.
There were times during the fight when Rampage displayed his freakish strength. After losing the majority of the first round, Rampage rocked Griffin with an uppercut that floored him. Later in the fight, Griffin attempted to lock on a triangle chock and Rampage displayed a modified version of the devastating slams that made him famous in PRIDE. Rampage has sick power, but relied on it too much and was unable to harness it effectively. Throughout the fight, it looked as though Rampage was waiting to see what Griffin was going to do next. It was as if Rampage knew he wanted to knock Griffin out, but couldn’t figure out the best way in which to do it. All the post-fight complaints about Griffin having to “beat the champ” never made sense to me. Griffin avoided a brawl, moved forward most of the time, landed more shots, was the aggressor, and never let Rampage get comfortable. If anything, it was Rampage who seemed overly tentative.
Losing to Keith Jardine has been the best thing to ever happen to Forrest Griffin, because he has looked like a completely different fighter ever since. Rarely will you see Griffin make a mistake these days. He strictly adheres to his game plan, forces his opponent to play into his hands, and does not get overzealous. In his last two fights Griffin has thoroughly beaten two of the pound for pound best fighters in the world.
Overall, Rampage landed the much bigger shots, but Griffin was far more active and landed frequently. The swings of this five round war were tremendous. When one fighter would seemingly gain confidence and the upper hand, the other would regain it with a drastic maneuver. Both fighters displayed a tremendous amount of heart, but the right decision was made, and a new world light heavyweight champion was crowned in Forrest Griffin.
As far as title eliminators go, this one was incredibly unimpressive. If the UFC had hoped to see Patrick Cote or Ricardo Almeida rise to the occasion and look spectacular enough to warrant a shot against Anderson Silva, they were surely disappointed. Neither fighter looked remarkable and the fight itself was lack luster.
After a strong opening round, Almeida looked gassed and all but abandoned trying to work his ground game. Cote was careful and reserved, not wanting to get taken down. In the end, Cote eked out a split decision, but did nothing to improve his stock.
Who is the UFC trying to kid? Neither of these guys is qualified to challenge Silva. And, as little a chance as Cote would have against Silva, his odds of winning are better than the UFC’s chances of selling that as a main event. That match would be similar to the 90’s film Mars Attacks! The filmmakers had packed the movie with well-known actors and likeable entertainment personalities, pushed the movie hard through different forms of advertising, but, ultimately, it was only slightly successful because it just wasn’t a very good film. Cote doesn’t overly excite fans because he isn’t an exceptional fighter and has little chance of beating the best. The fight simply isn’t appealing.
What the UFC needs to do is start pitting their established fighters against one another and see who emerges as the best. While the division has few stars (besides Silva and Dan Henderson), they do have solid fighters who could provide some clarity for the division. Thales Leites, Dan Henderson, Nate Marquardt, Chris Leben, Patrick Cote, and Michael Bisping (not including Yushin Okami) round out a solid group of prospective title challengers. Building some of them up through a series of high profile wins would help increase their exposure and credibility. They have already begun to use this strategy by having the upcoming Leben/Bisping bout.
After Cote’s performance last night, the UFC is going to need to build more excitement before they can sell any of those fighters as a legit contender.
I’ll give Josh Koscheck his due. En route to dominating Chris Lytle, Koscheck played it incredibly safe, used his wrestling skills, and kept Lytle controlled on the ground. Yes, Kos was smart. He avoided striking with Lytle at all costs. But, he did nothing to endear himself to fans.
Kos was perfectly content to coast to an easy win. He took zero risks and except for a brief flurry at the end of round three, it almost looked like he was running away from Lytle on his feet. Not exactly an awe inspiring display of heart or tenacity. He didn’t need to engage in a war, but he could have been more aggressive overall.
Lytle was overwhelmed and the fight played out as expected. It’s time for Kos to once again fight the division’s best. He has put himself right in the thick of the title picture and he needs to be pushed and tested, so his place in the hierarchy of the stacked welterweight division can be decided.
The first is his enormous amount of skills. He is well rounded, good at just about everything. And best of all, he continues to improve regularly.
Secondly, though, it’s apparent he has zero knockout power. If he doesn’t submit his opponents, it is difficult for him to knock people out. He reminds me a lot of Forrest Griffin. Tyson makes few mistakes, but he must learn how to finish an opponent off. Nonetheless, he has put himself in the title picture, and established himself as a rising star.