Monday, July 7, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Sun Special Coverage
Fighting in mixed martial arts competitions, as opposed to scoring them, remains the true metier of Forrest Griffin and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Both men acknowledged as much after Griffin became the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champ by winning the belt that had belonged to Jackson in a five-round unanimous decision at UFC 86.
“I don’t know what’s going on out there when I’m fighting,” Jackson said. “I’m just trying to knock his head off. I’ve got to watch it again. I’m not a judge.”
It was a taut and closely contested main event Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, the fighters’ contrasting styles creating a 25-minute affair that was as riveting as it was challenging to score.
The sellout crowd of 11,172, largely in favor of Griffin, roared with thunderous approval when the decision was announced, yet even the newly minted champion didn’t seem entirely convinced.
“I’m not ever sure until I watch the fight,” Griffin said. “Even now I couldn’t tell you what really happened. I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, you know?”
Only two of the rounds yielded a clear winner, with Griffin dominating the second and Jackson getting the best of his taller, more gangly opponent in the fourth. The rest ostensibly were up for grabs — including the third, which all three judges, surprisingly, awarded to Griffin.
Jackson, then, could have made a coherent case he did enough to win four of the five rounds, even though the judges’ scorecards had him losing 48-46 twice and 49-46. Of course, Griffin could have made a similar argument.
Instead of whining or taunting, however, to their credit, both fighters chose to celebrate the spectacle of the memorable bout even as they began to lay the groundwork for an inevitable rematch.
“I respect Forrest,” Jackson said. “I couldn’t get him. I thought I had him one time, but he recovered real good. If we ever fight again, I’m gonna respect the hell out of him with my right hand.”
From the start, it was an intriguing, thinking person’s matchup. Jackson continually tried to find an opening to unleash his strength and force, while the more tactical Griffin relied on a grab bag of fighting techniques to hold off Jackson and exert his own will.
“I would have tried to hit Quinton a little more, but the thing is, he’s just got too much power,” Griffin said. “With me I try to ‘tink, tink, tink’ him away. I have to move instead of standing in front of him and maybe taking that big shot.”
After jarring Griffin with a couple of combination punches in the first round, Jackson — perhaps in a bid to bring Schlitz aboard as a UFC sponsor — said he had planned to “go for the gusto” in Round 2.
Griffin thwarted the strategy, scoring with a series of vicious low kicks to take out Jackson’s legs and keep him on the canvas for much of the round. Griffin was impressive enough to win the round 10-8 on two of the judges’ cards.
Jackson, consistently aiming for Griffin’s head, landed several more shots in Round 3 as the fighters returned to their feet. By Round 4 the area above Griffin’s right eye, which had been bruised, was bleeding as Jackson continued to attack it. The fifth round was another close one, with Griffin winning it on two official cards.
Jackson, a minus-240 betting favorite, was almost philosophical about the loss, although he did begin to lobby for another shot at Griffin and a chance to reclaim his belt.
“I like to fight and I like to make money fighting,” he said. “It’s not always about being the champion. I didn’t underestimate Forrest. I tried to knock him the hell out and he just wouldn’t go.”
Moments after the fight, Griffin, cognizant of the brutality of the bout and the buzz sure to accompany a second go-round, said he knew a rematch was in order.
“I’m not the super-submission guy,” he said. “I’m not a super-knockout guy. I’m not a feared guy, but the thing is, I’m going to fight you for 25 minutes, whoever you are, anybody at 205 (pounds). I’m not going to break.”