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Forrest Griffin Leaves a Lasting Legacy

Posted on by Jeff Cain

Forrest-Griffin-UFC-148-Pre-Press-9025Retired UFC light heavyweight Forrest Griffin may have become a household name by winning the debut season the The Ultimate Fighter in 2005, but he already had a reputation to industry insiders as a tough and talented fighter prior to the epic war with Stephan Bonnar in the TUF Finale.

Perhaps that’s why the UFC contacted him in late 2004 with an invite to appear on its new reality series.

Griffin made his professional mixed martial arts debut on Oct. 27, 2001, against UFC veteran Dan Severn.  Severn had won the UFC 5 tournament, “The Ultimate, Ultimate” 1995 tournament, and the UFC Superfight Championship at UFC 9.

Severn had a record of 48-6-4 at the time.  Inexperienced and outsized, Griffin took the future UFC Hall of Famer to a decision.

He won his next seven fights, including victories over Jeff Monson and Travis Fulton, before entering the IFC: Global Domination one-night, eight-man light heavyweight tournament in September 2003.

The now legendary tournament featured an abundance of future MMA stars.  Participants included Chael Sonnen, Maricio “Shogun” Rua, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Jeremy Horn, Trevor Prangley and, of course, Forrest Griffin.

Griffin submitted Sonnen by triangle choke in the first round of their fight in the opening round of the tournament, increasing his winning streak to eight in a row.

He was knocked out by eventual finalist Jeremy Horn in the semifinal round in his second fight that night, but the MMA world was well-aware of Griffin’s capabilities. “Babalu” Sobral went on to win the tournament and solidify himself as one of the toughest fighters in the sport’s history.

Griffin’s reputation grew following his next fight.

In December 2003, Griffin fought Edson Paredao in Brazil.  Paredao threw a kick to the body and as Griffin blocked it, he broke his left arm.  Despite the injury, Griffin pressed on.  After escaping an arm bar attempt, Griffin knocked Paredao out with a right hand.

Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonnar-UFC 62Following the fight, Griffin retired from mixed martial arts. He was working as a law enforcement officer in Georgia until he received the invitation to be on The Ultimate Fighter.

At the time, the UFC was heavily in debt.  The reality show and a new forged relationship with Spike TV would prove to be its saving grace.

The show consisted of 16 fighters, eight middleweights and eight light heavyweights, living in the same house and competing for a six-figure UFC contract.

Griffin advanced to the light heavyweight finals along with Stephan Bonnar.  Their epic back-and-forth battle on the finale would forever link the two and forever change the course of the UFC and MMA.

Millions of viewers tuned in and witnessed a slugfest for the ages.  Griffin won the fight by unanimous decision, but both he and Bonnar were awarded UFC contracts.  The bout was named the 2005 Light Heavyweight Fight of the Year.

The UFC and MMA were catapulted into the mainstream.

Coming off the show, Griffin won his next two fights in the UFC before facing former titleholder Tito Ortiz at UFC 59 in the first fight of their trilogy.

It was the biggest test of his career to that point and he headed into the match-up as a heavy underdog.

Ortiz put him on his back early and unleashed his patented version of ground and pound, but Griffin survived.  He came back, winning the final round, but lost the fight via split decision.  Despite the loss, Griffin showed he could hang at the top of the 205-pound division.

He won a rematch with Bonnar at UFC 62 before losing to Keith Jardine by TKO at UFC 66.

After defeating Hector Ramirez at UFC 72, Griffin was lined up against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

Rua was the top-ranked light heavyweight in the world. He had recently won the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix and was coming off a knockout win over Alistair Overeem.

It was Rua’s UFC debut and Griffin was his official welcoming party.

Griffin employed leg kicks and pressured Rua throughout the fight.  In the closing moments of the final round, Griffin took Rua’s back, flattened him out and applied a rear naked choke, forcing Rua to tap out.

The win earned him Submission of the Night and was named the 2007 Upset of the Year.  It also landed him in a title fight with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

On July 5, 2008, Griffin and Jackson met in the main event of UFC 86 with the light heavyweight title on the line.  It was a closely contested fight, but Griffin was declared the winner by unanimous decision. In the span of three years, Griffin went from retired to the top of the sport.

He lost the title in his first defense to The Ultimate Fighter 2 winner Rashad Evans in his next fight and was never able to recapture his status at the top of the division.

He was knocked out by middleweight champion Anderson Silva in the first round of a light heavyweight bout at UFC 101 in a one-sided fight.

Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz at UFC 148He and Ortiz rematched at UFC 106.  The fight would go to another split decision, except this time Griffin came out on the winning side.

He defeated Rich Franklin by unanimous decision at UFC 126 before losing a rematch with Rua at UFC 134.

At UFC 148, Griffin faced Tito Ortiz for a third and final time.  Ortiz announced prior to the fight that it would be his last.  The two fought to another razor-close decision with Griffin getting the unanimous nod from the judges.  The fight would also be Griffin’s last.

Griffin’s career ended on a high note of sorts, although he walked out of the cage prior to the scorecards being read and had to be brought back in to be declared the winner.

On May 26, 2013, Griffin announced his retirement during the UFC 160 post-fight press conference.  UFC president Dana White announced that he and Bonnar would be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame at the same time in July.

Griffin accomplished a lot of things in his career, including capturing the title, but he’ll always go down in history for the war with Bonnar that changed the course of MMA and the UFC forever in The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale.

White said Griffin would remain part of the organization in some capacity, and rightfully so.  He had a major role in saving it.

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  • jim

    too bad he ruined Tito’s retirement by acting like a child after their last fight.

  • Dutch Martin

    Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar are responsible for putting the UFC and MMA on the American mainstream map. For that reason alone, they both deserve to be inducted in the UFC Hall of Fame. I’m so glad that this will happen this summer.

    • Baller31

      I, among many others, was already watching the UFC well before TUF 1…and the Bonnar/Griffin fight was sloppy…more like a toughman contest with its poor striking…entertaining nonetheless…and I’m glad it brought a lot of new fans to the UFC.

  • james j

    I will always remember for leaving the octagon quickly after the Anderson Silva and Tito fights.

  • barnettoo

    I am not a Forrest hater. But I think credit should be given only where its due.

    First, I don’t understand this whole obsession with Forrest vs Bonnar TUF fight bringing MMA to a different level. Those two were unknown fighters and yeah TUF may have made a lot of money for the UFC, but it would be an exaggeration to say that Forrest and Bonnar are responsible for where UFC is today. I just don’t get this exaggerated self-serving claims made by Dana and mindlessly repeated by his followers.

    Second, Forrest’s legacy = win over Shogun and Rampage, and staying relevant for 3 years after losing the title. Hall of Fame material, HELL NO! A great fighter at his prime, YES.

    Third, I don’t know what would have happened had Forrest fought Lil Nog, Mousasi, or other top 10 LHWs today in the UFC. Having seen him get knocked silly by Shogun in a rematch, I don’t think those matches would have gone well for Forrest.

    • BBQ TRI TIP SANDWICH

      Agreed. Griffin and Bonnar pulled off a spectacular “schoolyard” brawl. Nothing at all along the lines of technique. Their fight helped average joes tune in to see blood and knockouts(The UFC’s core demographic). That’s all. The savage meathead wanting to see elbows slice foreheads and dudes get starched…

      UFC HOF=JOKE BTW

  • Ron Wheeler

    Likeable but unremarkable mid-ranker.

  • http://www.CombatScienceMMA.com/ CombatScienceMMA

    Forrest put on some good fights. Wouldn’t mind seeing a rematch with him and Rampage though. That was a pretty sick fight.

    • Darin

      You thought Rampage vs. Griffin was “sick”? I thought it sucked, and the way both guys have fought lately a rematch would likely be an even slower version of their first match.

      • http://www.CombatScienceMMA.com/ CombatScienceMMA

        Yes IMO I enjoyed it. And the fact that it was controversial makes it a little more intriguing. They both like to bang and they mixed it up well. Just an opinion though.

  • Dave Stiles

    man this guy was gifted his last fights so glad to see him leave hes like the kids in High shool that always got a pass and every time he lost he would cry Silva made him run to daddy Dana white out the ring lol.