On Saturday, July 7, the final fight of Tito Ortiz’ mixed martial arts career will also be the third he has engaged in with Forrest Griffin. The two former light heavyweight champs have split their previous two bouts, and this UFC 148 co-main event matchup will determine who wins one of the sport’s great trilogies. Here’s a look back at the first two fights…
UFC 59 – April 15, 2006 – Ortiz WSD3 Griffin
ORTIZ - “Can he handle the tempo, can he handle the pressure I put on him? I felt the same pressure when I fought Randy Couture; he really put the pressure on me. When I fought Chuck Liddell and Ken Shamrock, those were huge fights also. Every one of these fights that I fought, it seems like they’ve been bigger and bigger and bigger, and this fight’s even bigger, but the competitor’s not on the same level, I don’t think. But it’s a huge fight for me and I gotta make sure I fight at the tempo I know I’m capable of fighting at, and I gotta make sure I push the fight to him, no matter what. He has pretty fast hands and he can let them go. He’s also very careless – he doesn’t care if he gets hit, he doesn’t care to drill his punches, he just lets them go. His takedown defense is all right, his jiu-jitsu skills are really good, but he has a huge heart; the kid just keeps coming and coming. We’ll see if he has the same type of cardio I do and see if he can handle the same tempo that I fight at.”
GRIFFIN - “Everybody’s got a plan, right? It’s good to have a plan, good for him. I don’t really have a plan – my plan is to fight Tito on the 15th. That’s why I like this sport. I only gotta figure s**t out for the 15th. After that, I get a new plan.”
Despite dropping a split decision to former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ season one winner Forrest Griffin won over a partisan crowd and gained even more fans with a courageous performance and comeback that marked him as truly one of the best 205-pounders in the game.
“I feel so good right now, I could go another two,” said Griffin. “Let’s make it five.”
It was Ortiz’ night on the scorecards though, as ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ earned the close verdict via scores of 30-27, 28-29, and 29-27, as a huge first round and a few big moments in the final frame proved to be the difference, despite the fact that he entered the Octagon for the first time since February of 2005 with a laundry list of injuries.
“I hurt my ACL before this fight,” said Ortiz. “I didn’t want to disappoint the fans so I knew I had to fight. Injuries are one of those things you have to fight through. I need to heal my injuries and relax for the next few weeks. I’m a competitor and I’ll be back. You only saw 70 percent of me. Forrest fought a great fight and you have to respect that.”
Oddly enough, this instant classic was almost over in the first round.
With the crowd erupting as John McCarthy waved the fighters into action, both fighters began trading, with Ortiz quickly securing a takedown and then opening up on Griffin, who had no answers for Ortiz’ brutal ground and pound. Within moments, Ortiz’ forearms opened up a cut over Griffin’s left eye, and though the gutsy Georgian refused to give in, Ortiz looked to be at his best as he opened up with any limb at his disposal. Finally, with a little over a minute to go, Griffin escaped and opened up with both hands, briefly jarring Ortiz, who fired back and put his foe on the mat again as he pounded his way through the remainder of the round.
Ortiz’ jab was on target to begin round two, with Griffin’s punches landing, but lacking pop. Ortiz tried for a takedown, but Griffin stuffed it, and soon a chant of ‘Forrest, Forrest’ went up from the pro-Ortiz crowd, which started its own chant moments later. Seconds after, Griffin stuffed two more Ortiz takedown attempts and seemed to have regained his confidence as he tagged Ortiz with a series of roundhouse punches that may not have been hurting Ortiz, but they were scoring points, and suddenly it was a brand new fight entering the final round.
“I never said I was the best,” said Griffin. “I’m just a dog. I fight.”
Looking to regain control, Ortiz tried the takedown twice more early in the third, only to be rebuffed each time. All the while Griffin kept jabbing and kicking, looking to score as Ortiz appeared befuddled by the fight’s turn. At the three minute mark Ortiz landed his best punch of the fight, an overhand right, but Griffin took it and then avoided yet another takedown, yet soon he was bleeding from under his right eye as well. Finally, with under two minutes to go, Ortiz got his first takedown since the first round, and the crowd’s roar was deafening. This time it was Griffin though doing much of the work from the bottom, and when the Georgian stood up and started trading with Ortiz it was a moment fans won’t forget anytime soon.
“At the end of the third round I looked at the clock and thought ‘if I land a few big punches, I could steal the fight,’” said Griffin. “Unfortunately, I was unable to do that. I have to take some time to heal and get back and start training. This is my job.”
It was a job well done.
ORTIZ – “The first round, I think I was just fighting on emotions, how I always do. When you’re fighting with emotion and aggression, the pain kinda gets put out a bit. I had kinda thrown everything at him. I wasn’t in the greatest shape so that’s why I was trying to finish him so fast. And when the round was over, my energy got sucked down a little bit, I had the bulging discs in my back and a partial tear in my MCL and ACL, so I was pretty bad off.I survived the fight. I was in survival mode and I ended up pulling off the split decision.”
GRIFFIN - “I just kinda froze at a very inopportune time. I didn’t think it would happen, I never got nervous leading up to the fight, and then all of a sudden, once I was in there, he had a long entrance and I just sat there mulling it over and it kinda caught me a little bit. I was not doing anything. I knew about that fight for months and I had been preparing for it. I had the best guy in the world if you were gonna fight Tito Ortiz (Randy Couture) around the gym every day, and I drilled exactly what I wasn’t doing a thousand times. I was brain dead; I could do it in my sleep and the moment came and nothing happened. I didn’t move, I just survived. I just tried to get a little space to get some air. There was this immense sense of disappointment and anger at myself for letting it happen. I knew I was better than what I was showing and I knew I was falling apart in front of a lot of people – my family and friends – and I was letting my team down. I was disgusted with myself for it. It’s like when a bully pushes you at school and you don’t do anything about it – you let it sink in and you just get angry and then do something about it hopefully. If you’ve watched any fight I’ve ever been in, you fight. I just couldn’t live with myself if I quit. A loss is a loss and you never want that to happen again, but the important thing in this sport for me, mentally, is never to quit on myself. You get sloppy, you do stupid things in a fight, and the techniques you’ve been working on for months fall by the wayside, but you never mentally break. The next time I don’t really care for the respect – though I’m sure that’d be nice – I’d much rather win the fight.”
UFC 106 – November 21, 2009 – Griffin WSD3 Ortiz
ORTIZ - “I really think the losses that he’s had will take effect. I know what I want to do in the future – I want to be a world champion again. Forrest doesn’t want that, he just wants to fight. I know he just got married, he wants to start a family, and maybe fighting is the second thing he wants to do. I want to be a world champion again, so for me to walk through Forrest Griffin is something I have to do to get there.”
GRIFFIN - “I assume that he’s fine and one hundred percent ready to go, and that’s what you’ve gotta think,” he said. “You can’t count on injuries serving you well. That’s kinda like saying ‘well, if he hits me enough, he’ll break his hands and then I’ll be all right.’ And on a more technical level, you can’t prepare for one thing with Tito because he’s a crafty guy. He’s gonna mix it up, he’s gonna set up his takedowns with hands, he’s gonna shoot and then throw punches. He’s a veteran fighter, he fights smart, and I saw somewhere that he said he’s not a guy who’s taken a lot of damage, and he really hasn’t. You take out the Chuck Liddell fights and the fight with Randy (Couture), he really doesn’t even get hit.”
After Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz’ two fights together, one thing has been made crystal clear – it’s an almost impossible task to separate the two former light heavyweight champions. Their rematch at the Mandalay Bay Events Center was the latest example, as Griffin avenged his split decision loss to Ortiz in 2006 with a split decision win of his own over ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ in the main event of UFC 106.
Scores were 30-27, 29-28, and 28-29 for Griffin, 17-6, who rebounded from an August loss to Anderson Silva. Ortiz, 16-7-1, was competing for the first time in 18 months thanks to spinal fusion surgery he underwent late last year. He is winless in four fights with three losses and one draw since his October 2006 stoppage of Ken Shamrock.
“Tito was a great fight for me, I think we’re gonna have to do a third – it’s 1-1,” said Griffin.
“Forrest came with a lot of heart and he put on a great show tonight,” said Ortiz. “He’s the better man tonight.”
With the crowd alternating cheers for each fighter, Ortiz opened the bout with some wide strikes that showed the effects of being out of action since May of 2008. As the round progressed though, Ortiz started to find his range, and once he did, he shot in for – and got – a takedown. While there, Ortiz fired away, but Griffin took his time and got back to his feet before he took too much damage. The two then locked up against the fence, with Griffin able to push off and get out of trouble. The combatants proceeded to trade punches, with Griffin starting to land with more frequency, and the Las Vegan also eluded Ortiz’ next takedown attempt with ease before finishing the round strong with strikes.
Ortiz and Griffin began round two with haymakers that missed the mark, but Ortiz was on with his next offensive move as he put Griffin on his back with a quick takedown. Griffin did a good job of keeping Ortiz close, and as the two neared the fence, Griffin was able to get to his feet. While standing, Griffin was starting to get sharper, even knocking Ortiz’ mouthpiece out with a kick, and Ortiz was beginning to look winded. Suddenly though, Ortiz sprung into action with a lightning quick takedown, and he began to find room for his punches and elbows, cutting Griffin over the right eye in the process. In the final 30 seconds, Griffin sprung back into action, reversing position as he ended the round with a ground and pound assault of his own.
Griffin came out fast in round three, scoring with punches and a kick to the head as the crowd chanted his name. Ortiz fired back sporadically, but did little damage as Griffin was seemingly getting stronger as the fight progressed. With three minutes left, Ortiz tried to turn the tide with a takedown, but Griffin easily tossed him back and resumed his increasingly effective standup attack, one that carried him through the last round of the fight and sealed his victory.