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UFC 92:

Unassuming champ ready for challenge

Ultimate Fighter’ alums to prove who the show’s best is tonight

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Justin M. Bowen

Forrest Griffin, left, and Rashad Evans pose Tuesday afternoon at a press conference promoting UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008. The two will fight for Griffin’s light heavyweight championship on Saturday night at the MGM Grand.

Preview: Griffin vs. Evans

As the biggest card of the year, UFC 92 is headlined by Forrest Griffin vs. Rashad Evans for the light heavyweight title.

UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008

UFC president Dana White introduces the main event fighters for UFC 92 at a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the MGM Grand, site of Saturday's stacked card featuring a light heavyweight title bout between Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans, as well as an interim title match with Antonio Launch slideshow »

UFC 92 Preview

Alex Adeyanju and Andy Samuelson preview the three big main events of UFC 92.

If You Go

  • What: UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008
  • When: Dec. 27 (Doors open at 4:30 p.m., first bout begins at 5:15 p.m. PDT)
  • Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena
  • Tickets: $75-$800, www.mgmgrand.com or MGM Grand box office.
  • TV: Pay per view, $44.95
  • Title fight: Rashad Evans (17-0-1 mixed martial arts) vs. Forrest Griffin (16-4), UFC light heavyweight championship
  • Featured fights: Frank Mir (11-3) vs. Antonio Nogueira (31-4-1), heavyweights; Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (28-7) vs. Wanderlei Silva (32-8-1), light heavyweights
  • Other fights: C.B. Dollaway (8-2) vs. Mike Massenzio (11-2), middleweights; Cheick Kongo (22-4-1) vs. Mostapha Al Turk (6-3), heavyweights; Yushin Okami (23-4) vs. Dean Lister (11-5), middleweights; Antoni Hardonk (7-4) vs. Mike Wessel (8-1), heavyweights; Matt Hamill (6-2) vs. Reese Andy (7-2), light heavyweights; Ryo Chonan (15-8) vs. Brad Blackburn (13-9-1), welterweights; Dan Evensen (10-3) vs. Pat Barry (3-0), heavyweights

If Tuesday’s dress rehearsal offers any indication of how tonight’s Ultimate Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight title fight at UFC 92 will go, then the champ, Forrest Griffin, already finds himself a round behind on the scorecards.

Griffin showed up to the prefight press conference rocking a stocking cap and hoody, his challenger Rashad Evans was dressed to the nines, donning a black pinstripe suit with a bright orange tie.

No worries though, said Griffin, who was running late “because of traffic” and even forgot his gold title belt.

“There’s nothing wrong with looking good. You look good, you feel good,” Griffin said, with a big smile. “Then again, there’s nothing wrong with looking like a bum.

“It doesn’t matter to me, I got to sleep in an extra half hour. He didn’t.”

It’s that kind of quirkiness that makes UFC president Dana White shake his head and laugh.

“If you haven’t spent enough time around him, you probably wonder: ‘Is he just doing this?’ White said. “No, he’s like that all the time.”

But it’s Griffin’s simplistic behavior and straight-shooting answers that have made him a hit with mixed martial arts fans.

The modern day Rocky, who lacks only a catch phrase, also saved the sport of MMA back in 2006, according to White.

“If it wasn’t for that fight (a three-round decision over Stephan Bonnar after the first season of the “Ultimate Fighter”), I probably wouldn’t be standing here right now,” White said, of Griffin (16-4).

“What he and Stephan did that night took this sport to a whole another level and got us our deal with SPIKE TV.

“Since then he’s propelled himself into a huge superstar and people love him. … He literally is the American dream.”

Evans must not be too far behind.

The former Michigan State wrestler has also defied the odds to get to tonight’s title bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

“Everybody doubted Rashad, including myself,” White said, of the winner from “Ultimate Fighter” Season 2.

“He’s been impressive. He was just a wrestler on Season 2 of the Ultimate Fighter, he’s become an amazing well-rounded fighter.”

If White, or the world needed proof, Evans provided plenty in September in Atlanta when he destroyed UFC legend Chuck Liddell.

“Damn. There might have been some more expletives too, but mostly it was damn,” Griffin said of the devastating knockout that left “The Iceman” out cold.

While Evans (17-0-1) considers himself primarily a wrestler, he’s finished three of his last five fights with KOs.

“Wrestling is a good foundation for me because I think in every fight there is a point where you’re going to lock up with somebody,” Evans said. Having that advantage with a wrestling background gave me a big edge over a lot of competition early on.

“But now I think it’s at a point where the fighters are more well-rounded and I’m going to need more than just wrestling to bring me to the next level. I think one area that I’d still like to improve on is my striking, where it's just simply outstanding and nobody can really deal with it."

Griffin — who captured the title in a close win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in July — obviously would rather Evans’ striking skills be showcased sometime down the road, has another factor to figure in from his challenger's camp.

Evans’ good friend and training partner, Keith Jardine, is the last fighter to beat Griffin two years ago.

“They (Greg Jackson’s camp) always come up with a real good strategy,” Griffin said. “Keith fought me before and knocked me out, so it will help them with a game plan. I think me and Keith are stylistically pretty similar. So he’s a good guy to have around if you’re fighting me I figure.”

The winner of tonight's bout will also get dubbed the best fighter to ever come off of the UFC's reality TV show, the "Ultimate Fighter," a tag that Evans says carries significant weight.

"I think it’s a great accomplishment for Forrest and myself," Evans said. "Ever since I came off the show I’ve been trying to keep up with Forrest because he set the tone coming off the show.

"He did excellent and I was like I’ve got to show everybody I can do my thing as well. And it just wasn’t a reality show and I’ve actually got skills. So for us to be in the position that we are right now, it really shows that the show works."

For Griffin, the most daunting task since winning the title has been dealing with the newfound fame associated with being at the top spot.

“No, not really,” Griffin said, when asked recently if he likes being the hunted opposed to the hunter. “It’s like wearing a target around.

“I really hate losing. Winning is OK, but losing is the worst. I train fearing that I will lose."

No matter what role he finds himself in tonight, Griffin promises he’ll get to the MGM a little earlier this time around.

“I’ll try to show up for the fight on time,” he said, with another laugh.

Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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