The co-main event of Saturday's UFC 148 pay-per-view is the rubber match between the original TUFer Forrest Griffin and the official retirement bout for MMA legend Tito Ortiz. The main event features another rematch in the Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen fight for the UFC middleweight championship.
Before I relate my personal spin on the influential career of Tito Ortiz (16-10-1), let's review a few historical accolades from his UFC.com profile:
- Currently holds six UFC light heavyweight title records (most successful LHW defenses (5), most successful consecutive LHW defenses (5), most LHW championship fights (9), most LHW championship fights won (6), most LHW championship fights lost (3), most LHW championship rounds fought (28))
- 11 of 26 (42%) pro fights have been against nine UFC or PRIDE champions (Machida, Evans, Liddell, Griffin, Belfort, Couture, Tanner, W.Silva, F.Shamrock).
There are also quite a few honors that don't show up in the stats: Ortiz carried the UFC through the "dark years" when MMA's heightening popularity was stunted by the "human cock-fighting" image and subsequently banished from major pay-per-view providers. Though Mark Coleman and Fedor Emelianenko are often mentioned first in the Pioneers of Ground and Pound category, Ortiz deserves mention for his vicious body-lock takedowns and willingness to filet opponents with scorching elbows from inside the guard. Finally, Ortiz was the first to remain steadfast in contract negotiations with the UFC, insisting way back in 2003 that premiere mixed martial artists deserved the "boxing-type money" that they're closer to achieving today.
More UFC 148 Dissections
Forrest Griffin (18-7) shares credit with Stephan Bonnar for launching the sport to mainstream status after their monumental slobber-knocker at the TUF 1 Finale. The self-deprecating goofball retained his humility through earth-shattering upsets of Mauricio Rua and Quinton Jackson, the latter of which secured him the the UFC light-heavyweight championship in 2008.
Griffin's title run was ephemeral, as Rashad Evans buried him under a hail of ground strikes to assume the throne and Griffin's gone a measly 2-4 in his last 6, though his level of competition has been consistently remarkable.
Continued in the full entry.
Their first two encounters provide a good expectation of the dynamics in the third: Forrest was successful when staying light on his toes and using his striking speed and footwork to pester Ortiz with crisp kickboxing while shucking off takedowns. Really, I think the constant factor is that Forrest will threaten to control the pace with that strategy or an improved version of it, and the onus is on Ortiz to prevent it. The money round for Ortiz was the ground-and-pound clinic he authored in the opening 5 minutes of their original encounter but he was forced to deal with Griffin's stand up in most of the following rounds and, needless to say, was entirely less imposing.
Forrest excels with his strong balance, circling and angles while uncorking strikes; his takedown defense, ability to react with counters and his kickboxing prowess overall. Ortiz, on the other hand, has always struggled to harmonize his striking and wrestling, even in his prime, and is prone to telegraphing his shots from a mile away with no set up.
Throughout his career, my consistent critique of Ortiz is that he's locked in either wrestling or boxing mode and never used one to complement the other and he almost refuses to pass guard in the top position. Back in the day, Tito's elbows from the top were so devastating that he'd either finish from inside the full guard or opportunities blossomed when his opponent squirmed away to avoid the barrage and gave up a better position in the process. Unfortunately, the fight-changing wallop of his takedowns and elbows has seriously dwindled, with much of Ortiz' mobility following suit.
Ortiz has, however, advanced his stand-up technique by leaps and bounds. His average striking was inconsequential when he could rag-doll everyone to the canvas, but noticeable advancements were shown during the era of his feud with Ken Shamrock -- first with the addition of Muay Thai knees and elbows to complement his rugged clinch game and later with boxing fluidity in open space. He competed well with Griffin in their past meetings, and Forrest owns some top-shelf striking performances over the likes of "Shogun" and "Rampage."
Ortiz' submission upset of Ryan Bader was a simple and subtle example of evolution. It was more than a random lucky punch, as Ortiz distinctly dropped levels to mimic a takedown attempt but transitioned into a sweeping left hook and a monster right hand, and one that Bader couldn't evade because his hands were down in anticipation of digging underhooks to defend the takedown. Twas a thing of beauty.
Whether or not Ortiz can replicate that type of ploy again or show off any more new tricks should dictate his fate. If he doesn't, he'll be relegated to winning a kickboxing match where Griffin has the edge. Shooting double legs from far outside the perimeter with no set up -- be that with footwork, feints or striking -- will simply not work. Instead of single bursts consisting of either a takedown or short combination, Ortiz will benefit most from a gradual pressure of both elements combined. That way he can methodically steer Griffin into a corner before launching a double or increase the hit-rate of his striking by faking level drops.
For any new readers or the uninitiated in general, my analysis of the match up and breakdown of the key factors are intended to be as unbiased and subjective as humanly possible. Those emotionless qualities are nowhere to be found in my final prediction, as picking a winner based on the cold, hard facts precludes me from the aspects of excitement and passion, which is what makes MMA the best sport on earth. With that disclaimer out of the way, I'm taking Tito Ortiz here for no other reason than corny nostalgia and the fact that he played a large role in my crack-like addiction to the sport.
Thanks for the memories Tito.
My Prediction: Tito Ortiz by TKO.