by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
gets the nod for putting Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans in the cage together.
In 2005, the two were unknowns, fighting through the jungle of small promotions
with a dream of UFC glory. Three years later, both have found success beyond
their wildest dreams, using the fight show to propel their careers (and
incomes) into a professional life in the cage.
In July, Griffin
proved the reality show was a breeding ground for future champions, winning a
decision over light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 86
for the first “TUF”-borne UFC title.
In September, Evans
stepped out of the show’s shadow by knocking the organization’s biggest star,
five-time light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, into a heap on the canvas
of UFC 88. Liddell was widely expected to coast by Evans, setting up a
lucrative main event against Griffin. With the victory, Evans both silenced and
enraged critics who had little to judge him by, other than a single
jaw-rattling right hand in a fight he was, up until that point, losing on
Whoever wins on
Saturday at UFC 92 will likely have two options for his next title defense,
neither one attractive. Wanderlei Silva and former champion Quinton Jackson are
perhaps more hungry to face the winner of the bout than they are to face each
other. Whether Griffin retains the belt or Evans becomes its new owner, they’ll
have their hands full in 2009.
evidence to the contrary, Griffin retains a slight edge in the stand-up realm
of the fight. His overall technique, particularly his footwork, has improved
light years from his days on The Ultimate Fighter. He has a crisp, straight jab
and a good counter right hand for traditionally stanced
fighters like Evans. Leg kicks are also a strong point. With Evans’ wrestling
background, Griffin will try to take the spring out of his step. Though he is
not known for his knockout power, he is particularly good at putting together
combinations that score points.
Evans, on the other
hand, has proven his knockout power repeatedly, both with his hands and his
feet. Knockouts of Jason Lambert, Sean Salmon, and Liddell have proven his
ability to stop fights. He does, however, tend to load up his punches more, or
throw flurries en route to a takedown attempt. His challenge will be to
negotiate Griffin’s combinations in close and avoid getting picked apart at
Keith Jardine, proved there is a limit to the amount of punishment Griffin can
take, stopping him with punches at UFC 66. Afterwards, Griffin became a far
more measured fighter, declining the slugfests that made his early UFC career.
GRAPPLING AND SUBMISSIONS
A decided advantage
goes to Evans. A decorated collegiate wrestler, his ability to take a fight
down is one of his major strong suits. His ability to keep the fight there is a
point of contention, but he is relentless in his ground attack. Against Tito
Ortiz at UFC 73, Evans also showed his ability to avoid damage from the bottom.
Ortiz, renowned for his ground and pound prowess, could not unload on Evans, or
keep him from escaping dangerous positions. Evans’ jiu-jitsu is serviceable,
and is used more to set up scrambles than submit opponents. Under the tutelage
of Greg Jackson, his ground game has expanded beyond that of a pure wrestler,
but it may be a while before we see him submit anybody.
Griffin comes to the
ground game with a stronger base in jiu-jitsu, particularly in setting up
scrambles when the fight hits the mat. He is also very good at avoiding danger
from the bottom, unless of course, he is hurt, as in the Jardine fight. His
long, lanky limbs are good at controlling opponent’s movements; his hips are
active within guard. From top position, he is excellent at using his elbows to
grind his opponent out, as he did against Quinton Jackson. Again, he is not
known as a finisher from the mat, but he can frustrate opponents to his
Griffin is not the
all-out brawler he was when he first entered the Octagon, but continually
presses the action. More prudent in his attack, he tends to set up his
combinations better when given range to work. Expect him to be tentative at
first, then gradually ramp up his attack, especially if he is able to repel
takedown attempts. He shouldn’t come straight at Evans, but work angles to get
in and get out quick. If he is pressed in early rounds, expect a late fight
Evans needs to turn
up the pressure for the fight, never letting Griffin get set. A counter fighter
by nature, Evans will need to go against his natural inclination to take
control of the action. The clinch will be very important for the fight, with Evans
looking to for transitions to the mat and Griffin using it for knees and dirty
boxing, so you can expect Evans to close the distance quickly if he begins
taking leg kicks. He will likely use any aggression from Griffin to set up
takedowns. On his feet, he may decide to stand and trade if he is successful at
timing Griffin early on. A slugfest may be exact what he wants.
For a 25-minute
fight, this may be the biggest deciding factor of the fight, at least from a
historical perspective. Griffin has one of the best work ethics in the game,
and is mentored by a guru of cardio, Randy Couture. Against Jackson in July,
Griffin never slowed, and against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua last September, simply
wore the Brazilian out with his pace. He has one championship fight under his
belt already, and that’s something you can’t simulate.
especially in a 25-minute fight, is a question mark. He has repeatedly tired,
both at heavyweight and light heavyweight, in highly contested fights that go
the distance. He has not gassed completely, but seems to seesaw in energy level
as the fight goes past 10 minutes. If he is unable to stop Griffin early on, he
will undoubtedly be in a 25-minute fight, and it remains to be seen whether it’s
possible for him to truly adapt to its demands. Though Evans comes from a
stellar camp, if he wasn’t able to go hard for 15 minutes last year, is it reasonable
to expect he’ll be able to do so for 25 minutes this year? Will the added
pressure take from his gas tank?
THE “X” FACTOR
Evans is undefeated
in MMA competition, and that’s both good and bad. He’s never had to bounce back
from a loss. Regardless of what he says about having fun in a fight, a record’s
a record. It’s unblemished, and he’d like to keep it that way. His greatest
attribute is his ability to rise above the expectations placed on him, and for
this reason, can never be counted out as before. He has a common opponent with
Griffin in Ortiz, and would have lost the UFC 73 fight had Ortiz not been deducted
a point for fence grabbing. Griffin faced Ortiz at UFC 59 in an earlier stage
of his evolution than Evans, so it may not be fair to compare the two results.
Both have faced roughly the same caliber of competitors, with a slight
advantage going to Griffin in overall experience and international experience.
Griffin was anointed
an early poster child for the “TUF” movement, and now that he’s champ, it
remains to be seen how he fights with that pressure. His TKO loss to Jardine
changed him. Gone was the reckless abandon that fans initially gravitated towards. In its place was a more sober, professional
fighter, one who wasn’t going to waste an opportunity at climbing the title
ladder by fighting dumb. Against Evans, it may produce a stalemate if neither
fighter is willing to make the first move. And in the past, both have had
boring fights when that happened.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
Again, Griffin fights
at his best when he’s given space to do so. If he can pick apart Evans from the
outside, stuff takedowns, and use his long arms and legs to score points, he
will take the victory home. If he over commits at all, he will be taken down
and forced to work from his back.
Evans’ best option is
to be the aggressor; take Griffin down, pound him out,
stop him early. He cannot afford to wait for the right opportunity here.