I have never been a Forrest Griffin admirer. I've always felt he was over-hyped, always thought he was a mediocre fighter relative to other talents in the UFC, and I still believe Quinton "Rampage" Jackson defeated him at UFC 86 when Forrest won the light heavyweight title in a unanimous decision.
To this day, one of my favorite UFC matches of all time is Keith Jardine vs Forrest Griffin from UFC 66. In that contest, Jardine knocked Griffin out via punches in the first round. Griffin was so distraught with the loss he was crying uncontrollably immediately after the bout and walked out of the octagon without doing the typical post-fight interview.
Jardine's victory, to me, had been poetic justice for the preening, camera-mugging Griffin and fellow reality TV show star Stephan Bonnar. Here were two guys who had achieved absolutely nothing in the sport yet were posing and acting as though they were saviors of Mixed Martial Arts.
While Griffin received widespread notoriety, more deserving and proven fighters toiled in relative anonymity.
On the other side of my rooting spectrum from Forrest Griffin was Rashad Evans. Since I have never been a big Chuck Liddell supporter, Evans' spectacular one-punch KO of Liddell at UFC 88 had instantly vaulted the Michigan State alum far up into the reaches of my most-appreciated mixed martial artists.
Coming into tonight's match-up between Evans and Griffin, I both expected and wanted Griffin to lose. And the more spectacular the loss, the better.
However, two things happened tonight during and immediately after the fight which have made me reevaluate my feelings towards both Griffin and Rashad.
The first occurrence came with 3:38 left in the second round. Griffin was effectively pressuring Evans along the edge of the octagon fence. As Griffin retreated to set up for another assault, a rattled Evans put his hand to his mouth and kissed it, then proceeded to grab his crotch disdainfully towards Griffin.
Is was a less classy version of shaking your head 'no' when a guy hits you so as to signal you are ok and were not hurt by your opponent's strikes.
It was a ridiculous move by Evans. The gesture disgraced Evans himself, the sport, UFC and the bout. The announcers didn't want to comment on Evans' action but as soon as I saw it, I could no longer root for a man whom I was thrilled to support when he had KO'd Liddell.
Though Griffin easily controlled the first two rounds of the match, Evans took his opponent down in the third round and executed an effective ground-and-pound offense to score the stoppage victory. Rashad Evans is the new UFC light heavyweight champion of the world.
Though I had soured on Evans for the moment, I was still not yet truly behind Griffin. Evans had proven victorious in the contest but I was yet feeling pretty happy that Forrest had been, once again, exposed by a fighter whom Griffin had decided height and reach (at least in the legs, anyways) advantages over. This is when Griffin proceeded to claim a new fan by how he chose to deal with dropping his belt.
Instead of being bitter, dejected, angry over Evans' crotch grab or otherwise petulant, Griffin celebrated Evans' win and gave full credit to Rashad for the stoppage.
Griffin joked at his own expense, never mentioned the kiss-and-groin-tug maneuver by Evans and repeatedly, and sincerely, went out of his way to congratulate and celebrate Rashad. It was as if the Griffin who fled the ring after being beaten by Jardine never existed.
Forrest, your class and maturity earned you a new backer tonight. I still feel you're a limited, glorified TUF guy who doesn't really have the full set of tools necessary to compete at the highest levels of the UFC, but in terms of demonstrating poise and grace in defeat, you're top-shelf. I can honestly say I'll be looking forward to watching the next Forrest Griffin fight.
As far as goes Evans, let me just say this:
I don't think Rashad's a jerk or anything along those lines. It's a fight, and things happen. An MMA bout is a competitive situation and, at that point in time, Evans was getting the worse of it and was trying to show Griffin that he wasn't going to give in to Forrest's aggression.
I still like Rashad, still think he's good for the sport, still respect him and I congratulate him on his victory this evening. The two men touched gloves sometime later in the bout after a low blow and clearly had maintained their respect for each other after Evans' action. That's good enough for me.
Solid showing by the UFC tonight. Quinton Jackson got his revenge over Wanderlai Silva, Evans won the belt from Griffin and Frank Mir did the unthinkable by knocking out Antonio Nogueira. As we wait for tomorrow's games from the final week of the NFL's regular season, you can't ask for much more than that.