After all, this is the 3rd meeting of two legitimate Mixed Martial Arts legends; the longest-reigning UFC Light-Heavyweight champion of all time against the original “Ultimate Fighter” winner. Plus their first two fights were both exciting and razor close - AND this will be Tito Ortiz’s last UFC fight. Those factors combine to make Ortiz/Griffin III one of the most anticipated trilogies in MMA history.
If you’re reading this and something’s not adding up, well, you got me: I’m full of it. Everything I said above is God’s honest truth – except the part where fan reaction was “off the page” and Ortiz/Griffin III was one of “the most anticipated trilogies” in MMA history.
The truth is that for most fans, the Ortiz/Griffin series is the redheaded stepchild of MMA trilogies. These guys are like bad in-laws: they’re old, rich, have a laundry list of injuries, and show up once every few years to make your life miserable.
This lukewarm fan reaction is utterly mystifying to me, pretty much for the reasons I mentioned above. It’s another strange MMA phenomenon I don’t understand, like the compulsion to chant “USA! USA!” at any foreigner, or insisting on excitement>winning when it comes to liking fighters while at the same time claiming that anyone with consecutive losses is over the hill and should retire.
Individually, these guys are two of the most popular fighters in the UFC today. Despite both guys being outside the title picture, they still get strong reactions from fans whenever they fight. There’s really no scenario where fans wouldn’t be excited to watch these two guys fight – unless it’s with each other.
The two men first met at UFC 59 in April of 2006, with Ortiz as the former champ looking to get back to the title and Griffin the young, up-and-coming prospect looking to break through. Ortiz took a narrow split decision that night in a fight that elevated the careers of both men. This fight was named the 2006 Fight of the Year – a fact most fans have seemingly forgot.
They met again at UFC 106 in November of 2009, and once again the career circumstances of either man had completely changed. Griffin had won the title and then lost it, and was looking to rebuild his image after the Anderson Silva debacle. And Tito was also coming off two straight losses, and looking to remain relevant in the LHW division.
This fight was a last-minute replacement fight, with both guys coming off losses, on a card that lacked a whole lot of buzz. Griffin took the split decision that night, but this combination of factors began the tradition of fan apathy when it came to the Griffin/Ortiz trilogy. The series now stood at 1-1, both split decisions, featuring two of the top guys in MMA, with one fight a “Fight of the Year” and the other a PPV main event.
Again, in any other circumstance this would be the surefire recipe for a blockbuster trilogy. For some reason, fans seem to have passed judgment on Ortiz vs. Griffin, and the verdict is “Meh”.
Any fanbase that can make Ortiz vs. Shamrock – a trilogy featuring 3 straight blowout victories for the same fighter – one of the biggest trilogies in all MMA history, yet farts on Ortiz/Griffin III is beyond my ability to comprehend.
Look, I get the criticism. Despite the years that went by between the first two fights, they both ended up looking remarkably similar stylistically.
We have Ortiz, the sport’s consummate ground and pounder, with a vicious double-leg, a 5 minute gas tank, and the longest post-fight excuse list in the sport. Then there’s Griffin, who brings a fun striking game (that doesn’t KO people), an awesome ground game (we rarely ever see), and a waning interest in this whole MMA gig.
In both fights, Ortiz came storming out the gate, usually found a way to wrestle Griffin to the mat, and put it on him – for a round. Then Griffin would take over, using his BJJ to nullify Ortiz on the mat and pecking away at him with his striking. Both fights ended with Griffin beaten up but in control standing, and Ortiz looking like he wanted to take a nap.
Yeah, I get why this 3rd fight isn’t blowing the wind up everybody’s skirt.
But forget everything I just said. Maybe the fights were predictable stylistically, but the drama in watching them was always the shifts in momentum.
These fights have a tendency to swing wildly from one man’s favor to the others, depending on who’s implementing their game plan at the moment. It was for this reason – more then overt brutality or technical mastery – that their first fight was named FOTY, and their second was still a damn entertaining fight (to me, anyways).
This rubber match will be the final match of Tito Ortiz’s career. It will also tell us a lot about how much time Forrest Griffin’s got left in the sport. It’s the culmination of 6 years of build-up, featuring two of the biggest names in the game. Over the course of the series, both men have risen, fallen, and risen again. They’ve been champion and headlined PPV’s, they’ve suffered humiliating defeats and debilitating injuries, they’ve been on top of the MMA world and they’ve faced retirement.
That’s quite a spectrum for two guys who have no beef with each other, don’t match-up to well stylistically, and who fans apparently don’t want to see fight.
By Elton Hobson