The Ultimate Fighter was a show that took young competitors and produced UFC fighters, but was it a show that could produce UFC champions? That question was to be answered at UFC 86 when Ultimate Fighter 1 winner Forrest Griffin was given the chance to fight former Pride star and then UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Griffin should have had little to prove as he was coming off of a stunning upset over another Pride legend in Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Yet it had been Rua's first fight in the octagon and excuses could be made. There could be no excuses from Jackson, who had just beaten once invincible UFC champion Chuck Liddell and defended the title against Pride Middleweight champion Dan Henderson.
The two fighters came out and unsurprisingly began a striking battle in the first round. Griffin seemed to have a smart gameplan as he landed several leg kicks, but eventually he was caught with one of Jackson's powerful punches and went down. Griffin managed to get back up at the close of the round, but not after taking some serious punishment.
After his epic battle with Stephan Bonnar at the Ultimate Fighter 1 finale, Griffin had a reputation for becoming even better after taking a beating. He lived up to that characterization when he came out in the second round and went to war. Battering Jackson again with hard leg kicks, he got a takedown and advanced to side control, and then mount. Griffin pounded on Jackson with elbows but the round ended without a finish.
The stand-up battle continued in the third. Griffin continued working leg kicks, and while Jackson again staggered Griffin with a right hand, he was now unable to follow through quickly enough. Griffin kept moving, and despite taking several hard shots from a combo at the end of the round, he survived to enter the fourth.
If this was to be a fight to prove that an Ultimate Fighter competitor could be a champion, it was fitting that the match would go into the so-called "championship rounds." Griffin would not get an easy quick victory; it would be a five-round war. He ended up on bottom in the fourth as Jackson took him down, but he caught the veteran fighter in a triangle. Jackson showed his experience however by fending off the hold and landing a shot that opened up Griffin's face with a cut.
In the final round, both fighters were swinging for the fences. They both landed solid punches, but Griffin was the more versatile fighter as he continued to use his effective leg kicks. It likely won the fight for him, as after the final bell the score cards read 48-46, 48-46, and 49-46, all in favor of the young warrior.
Griffin vindicated every young competitor to ever appear on the reality show, showing that they weren't just tv stars but fighters with the potential to one day be the best in the world. Ironically, Griffin would lose his title to Rashad Evans, winner of season two of the Ultimate Fighter.