by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Keith Jardine and Forrest Griffin turned the UFC light heavyweight division on its head Saturday night as they both pulled off impressive upset victories at UFC 76 in Anaheim, CA.
Jardine stepped into his fight with Chuck Liddell as a huge underdog, but after a gameplan that picked the former light heavyweight champion apart for the better part of their 3 round bout, the “Dean of Mean” pulled out a split decision victory.
With both fighters coming off losses, this fight was pivotal and Jardine looked like the crisper pugilist as he worked Liddell over with an unbelievable barrage of leg and body kicks that left the California native bruised and beaten after 15 minutes of war.
Jardine also managed the biggest knock down of the fight as he clipped Liddell in the 2nd session, but didn’t have the opportunity to follow up as shortly after the “Iceman” was back on his feet.
As Jardine peppered his opponent with kicks, Liddell struggled to ever mount any offense, lacking any real combos and consistently looking for the one knockout punch that he never got in the fight.
Although the scores came back giving Jardine the split decision win, most felt that the Greg Jackson disciple won both the 2nd and 3rd rounds decisively giving him the win and putting back to back losses on Chuck Liddell’s record for the first time in his career.
Forrest Griffin also stepped up to stiff competition as he faced former Pride Grand Prix champion, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and submitted him late in the 3rd round of their fight at UFC 76 by rear naked choke.
Griffin specifically asked for the bout against Shogun and he brought the fight to the man widely seen as the #1 light heavyweight in the world prior to this match-up.
The first round was the only time fans really saw an effective performance out of Rua as he pressed the action and worked a solid overall ground and standing attack, but Griffin was never put in any real danger.
The 2nd and 3rd rounds both saw Shogun look absolutely gassed as Griffin stayed aggressive, working Rua over with his stand-up and dominating him on the ground with punches from inside of Shogun’s guard.
Late in the final round, Griffin started to simply overwhelm Shogun looking for the finish at every turn and finally with less than a minute remaining he slipped in a rear naked choke and Rua tapped with only :15 seconds left in the fight.
The win gives Forrest Griffin the biggest victory of his career and Shogun is left with a million questions and no answers after his disappointing debut.
Jon Fitch took a huge step forward in his quest to become the best welterweight in the world as he won a split decision over Diego Sanchez in a very exciting contest.
Fitch and Sanchez traded takedowns and ground fighting throughout all three rounds in their fight. Fitch looked dominant with his tremendous wrestling pedigree as he reversed and took control on the ground over his opponent.
Sanchez probably came the closest to finishing the fight as he looked for multiple submissions, but Fitch defended well and stayed out of trouble for the most part.
In a very close bout, Fitch pulled out the decision victory although Sanchez shouldn’t hang his head as he also put up a great fight in a battle of top ten welterweights.
Lyoto Machida dominated Kazuhiro Nakamura en route to a unanimous decision win between the two top light heavyweight prospects.
Machida stayed aggressive throughout the fight, something he’s been criticized for not doing in previous performances.
Nakamura had no answer for Machida’s stand-up and on the ground it was the Brazilian who looked like the stronger and more powerful fighter, reigning down punishment onto the former Pride stand-out.
After three rounds, Machida was handed the unanimous decision keeping his undefeated record in tact.
Tyson Griffin was once again involved in another Fight of the Night as voted on by the fans of MMAWeekly Radio as he won a unanimous decision over highly regarded lightweight Thiago Tavares at UFC 76.
The two 155lbers traded on the feet and had an unbelievable chess match on the ground as Taveres looked for submission after submission and Griffin worked to level his opponent with punches and elbows.
Words can’t quite do justice to just how good both of these lightweight performers really were in their bout, but a Fight of the Night nod is a solid start for two fighters who both deserve to be commended.
UFC 76 will go down as a night with two of the biggest upsets in history with Jardine and Griffin both pulling off wins in their fights. Forrest Griffin was the overwhelming favorite from MMAWeekly Radio listeners as Fighter of the Night after submitting Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
With Liddell losing, Wanderlei Silva now awaiting an opponent, and wins by Griffin and Jardine, the UFC has a long road ahead to figure out what exactly to do with the 205lb weight class but the next 6 months of match making should be very interesting to say the least.