The first time Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin met in the center of the Octagon, Ortiz was a fierce wrestler with some of the best ground and pound the sport had ever witnessed, while Griffin was a Reality TV star with a penchant for standing in front of his opponents and slugging it out.
More than three years later, the two walked into the center of the Octagon to face each other for a second time and the results illustrated the progression of the sport and the importance of evolving as a fighter.
The days of a one dimensional fighter being able to excel in Mixed Martial Arts are gone; being a superior striker or grappler or boxer isn’t enough to carry you to the top any more. While having a core skill to rely on and build around is as important as ever, bringing a second set of weapons into the cage is the only way to rise to the top.
If last night’s main event was a gunfight, Tito Ortiz pulled out his trusty, old revolver. The only problem for “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” was that while Forrest Griffin also pulled out a revolver, he followed it up with a second pistol and a handful of ninja stars as well.
Ortiz showed that his still has a solid shot and great ground and pound, taking Griffin down on a couple occasions and working him over with fists and elbows from inside his guard like the Tito Ortiz of old.
The problem was standing. On the feet, the Tito Ortiz of old also returned; a guy who can certainly take a punch, but isn’t going to knock anyone out with his mechanical, rigid boxing. Opponents can still sit on a shot, waiting for that moment when Ortiz is going to go for his patented double leg and not be overly concerned with anything else.
On the other hand, the Griffin who earned a place in the hearts of many by trading punches with Stephan Bonnar could still be seen last night, but it wasn’t just Griffin the Brawler standing opposite Tito Ortiz last night.
It was the evolved Forrest Griffin, the guy who began to emerge following his upset loss to Keith Jardine back at UFC 66. Since that time, Griffin the Brawler tightened up his boxing, made leg kicks an integral part of his attack and developed an extremely underrated jiu jitsu game under the watchful eye of Robert Drysdale.
While the Griffin of old would have been content to throw punches and try to defend the takedown, this evolved Forrest still threw hands, but mixed in kicks that kept Ortiz off balance and ate elbows on the ground until he could execute a surprising sweep to reverse Ortiz and get back to his feet in the second round.
From that point forward, it was all Griffin, as the first light heavyweight winner of The Ultimate Fighter repeatedly landed precision punches to a tired Ortiz on way to what was a 10-8 round on this scribe’s scorecard. The difference was evolution.
For all the talk Ortiz did heading into this fight about his improved boxing and the work he had done with famed trainer Freddie Roach, when the cage door closed, the Tito Ortiz of old was still standing inside the Octagon, old school, Team Punishment flaming fight shorts and all. He had a great wrestling base, a strong double leg takedown and some good ground and pound. That trusty revolver was still on his hip and the one weapon he brought with him into battle. The problem was that while the Forrest Griffin standing across the cage from him looked just like the big-eared, smirking slugger who he met three years earlier, this Griffin was different.
He realized a long time ago that one trusty revolver wasn’t enough, so he went out and got a couple more weapons, and he brought them to the cage last night. Forrest Griffin earned the victory last night because he has evolved as a fighter. It’s time for Tito Ortiz to do the same, or else he’ll continue to fall victim to any guy with a second gun and a handful of ninja stars.
Just so we’re clear: we’re talking about metaphorical ninja stars… not the real ones.