The Ultimate Fighting Championship will hold arguably its biggest fight card in its nearly 15-year history Saturday night at UFC 92 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
UFC 92 will feature three huge headline bouts. Coaches from reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter , Frank Mir and Minotauro Nogueira, will fight to decide who will challenge 6-foot-5, 270-pound Brock Lesnar to unify the heavyweight title. In addition, Quentin "Rampage" Jackson will battle Wanderlei "The Ax Murderer" Silva for a third time.
The marquee matchup of the night? Evans native Forrest Griffin will defend his light heavyweight title against the red-hot "Sugar" Rashad Evans. Throw in seven preliminary bouts, and this will make for a pretty fun Saturday night.
The UFC has enjoyed a huge transformation during the past six or seven years. A sport that was deemed too brutal to even be allowed in many states is now the fastest-growing spectator sport in the country.
To give you an idea of how far the sport has come, my wife is looking forward to UFC 92 almost as much as I am. Some say it was just a matter of getting the sport to the masses and it was a can't-miss product.
HOWEVER, UFC President Dana White, the hands-on final word in everything to do with the UFC, is quick to point out that Griffin has been perhaps the single most important fighter in the UFC's huge success.
Griffin was a member of the lineup for The Ultimate Fighter in the show's first season years ago. Griffin already had made a name for himself in mixed martial arts circles, but his appearance on the show made him a household name.
Griffin was the star of the first season. His no-nonsense approach and never-give-up attitude made him an instant hit with millions of new fans who came to the sport via Spike TV.
In the show's championship finale, Griffin topped Stephan Bonnar in what White hails as the single most important fight in UFC history. The win gave Griffin a six-figure UFC contract and instant celebrity -- not bad for a guy who was a cop in Athens, Ga., only a few years before the show aired.
GRIFFIN CERTAINLY has not wasted his chance. He has ridden his wave of success all the way to the top of the sport. He holds the title in the sport's most-competitive division.
However, his trip did not come without a few speed bumps. In MMA, there is no such thing as a Rocky Marciano (being undefeated for your career). Even someone arguably considered the sport's best pound-for-pound fighter has four losses in his career.
Griffin lost by knockout to Keith Jardine, a loss that could have easily set him back years in his quest for a title. Instead, Griffin used the loss to fuel his hunger to succeed. He went on to stun most UFC experts by beating Maricio "Shogun" Hua. Then, he completed his upward climb by pulling off one of the UFC's biggest upsets when he defeated Jackson to win the light heavyweight title.
After that fight, Griffin's popularity grew even more with his post-fight press conference. When asked about the fact that his opponent did not fear him before the fight, Griffin responded by saying, "I don't blame him. I'm not a guy that is going to come in and knock you out. I am not a submission specialist. But what I will do is battle for 25 minutes (title fights are five 5-minute rounds). I will not give up, and I will stay after you like a bulldog."
It is that type of workman-like attitude that has made him one of the sport's more popular fighters.
Despite the popularity, Griffin will have his hands full against former Michigan State University wrestler Rashad Evans. Like Griffin, Evans is a former winner of The Ultimate Fighter . He took the heavyweight title in Season 2. After joining the UFC, Evans trimmed down to 205 pounds to fight at light heavyweight, a move that has paid off. Evans has yet to lose as a pro. His record stands at 16-0-1.
There is no doubt Griffin (16-4) will be the crowd favorite. Evans became the fighter some people loved to hate on The Ultimate Fighter. He was blasted by UFC legend Matt Hughes, a coach on the show, for his showboating style. Since then, Evans has tried to shed that image.
However, even in the biggest win of his life, the showboating reared its ugly head. At UFC 88 in Atlanta in early September, Evans was facing former UFC champ Chuck Liddell, arguably the sport's most popular fighter. I was there just to see how one-sided the crowd was in favor of Liddell, and they were not happy when Evans danced briefly after his devastating knockout.
It was certainly raw emotion, and most people give Evans the benefit of the doubt for the incident. But there are plenty of fans who will be pulling against Evans as much as they are pulling for Griffin.
The huge knockout of Liddell showcased the evolution of Evans as a fighter. Until his past few fights, he was considered a boring fighter who would use his wrestling to win decisions. He was not thought to have knockout ability. However, to his credit, he has become a solid stand-up fighter who obviously can take out an opponent at any time.
The crowd, however, will not win or lose the fight, and despite Griffin's rise to the top at light heavyweight, some have Evans as the favorite to take the belt away from Griffin. That might happen. You never know in this sport. But Evans will have to beat Griffin. The Evans High School alum will not give up. And if Evans does win, you can bet he will know he was in a tussle.
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