UFC 76: Knockout PPV 9/22/07 Anaheim, CA Honda Center
Thiago Tavares vs. Tyson Griffin 3R. We rarely see a fight with such pace, action and varying skill in the UFC. Both fighters consistently pushed the action and seemed to have a counter for everything, resulting in numerous scrambles. What started off good only got better as they repeatedly thwarted each other with switches, sweeps, and reversals. Griffin became the poster boy of quality UFC matches in 2007, as his previous two bouts against Frank Edgar on UFC 67 & Clay Guida at UFC 72 were also considered among the best UFC fights of the year, but to me Tavares made the fight with his consistent efforts to actually finish it. Tavares fights a style the judges should reward, but rarely do. He’s not at all about positioning, which in and of itself is meaningless. He’s all about winning the fight from the position he’s in, which doesn’t mean he’s indifferent toward improving position as that can obviously increase his percentages, but rather his first priority is trying to end the fight. Whether he’s on top or on the bottom, he’ll pounce on any opening for the submission or power strike that presents itself, almost regardless of how “dangerous” it may be, and if that means he loses mount or guard, gets taken down or rolled onto his back, so be it. He might wind up in a spot he has less of a chance to finish from, but he’s one of the rare fighters who is open enough with his guard to keep attempting submissions while being active enough with it to not get pulverized in the process. Griffin does little to finish the fight in my opinion, but he’s a relentless wrestler who always keeps the pressure on his opponent. Every round was close, the first going to Griffin as he kept Tavares on the defensive with his wrestling and easily countered Tavares submission attempts from the bottom. Tavares hit a flying knee at the start of round 2 when Griffin was looking to shoot to open up his own takedown, getting back mount when Griffin’s buck failed and trying to choke him out, but Griffin stood up and eventually turned Tavares enough he could return to the mat in top control. However, Tavares quickly locked the exposed arm, but there was no chance for the submission as the cage keeping him from extending it. Griffin marked Tavares’ face up with some ground and pound, but quickly lost control on an ill advised guillotine attempt, ultimately resulting in Tavares again using a tight body triangle to hang on the back of a standing Griffin. Griffin quickly turned Tavares’ head and slammed him similar to the pro wrestling Death Valley bomb. Tavares was cut on the right eyebrow and had a nasty mouse under his left eye, but while a close round it’s hard for me to see a justification not to give it to Tavares. He had the big strike and spent half the round hanging on Griffin’s back trying to choke him out, and neither of those were arguably even his best submission attempt. Griffin tried to start round 3 with a takedown, but Tavares leveraged him down, mounted, and went right into omoplata only to have Griffin spin out. Griffin spent most of his energy pinning Tavares against the fence looking for the takedown. Though he did crack Tavares with a nice elbow, it was Tavares who had two takedowns. So yes, Tavares actually had more takedowns than Griffin, in addition to attempting several submissions to Griffin’s 1. Again, I see little justification for giving Griffin this round, as all he did was wrestle and Tavares stuffed his takedown attempts. Though none of Tavares submission attempts had Griffin in any real trouble as his defense is excellent, the primary factor in Griffin’s favor is Tavares face looked pretty bad. Granted every round was close, but one has to wonder if the judge who actually gave every round to Griffin wasn’t spending too much time practicing the Thai Stick with Diego Sanchez before the show. Griffin won a unanimous decision. Excellent match that’s clearly a candidate for UFC match of the year.
Lyoto Machida vs. Kazuhiro Nakamura 3R. Machida is what I think of as a martial artist, someone who uses his opponent’s attacks against them. He takes very little damage, not simply eluding his opponent’s strikes, but also showing excellent timing in firing back and making them pay for them. This style makes it difficult for Machida to put enough together to finish a fight, as his success is predicated on his opponent’s aggressions. Machida fought more aggressively and clearly won each round, though Nakamura was really only in trouble early in round 2 when Machida countered Nakamura’s right jab by knocking him down with a right cross then followed up with a ground and pound flurry. Nakamura had a couple takedowns, but wasn’t able to control much less mount an offensive. Machida won a unanimous decision. Pretty good match.
Jon Fitch vs. Diego Sanchez 3R. The typical boring UFC fight, wrestling to impress the judges for what will invariably be yet another decision. When these guys actually have a legitimate opponent, it’s quickly obvious they don’t have good enough ground and pound to get a stoppage and lack both the skill and the initiative to try much beyond that. Thus, while on one hand the primary quality of this contest is they were evenly matched, the fact both are excellent wrestlers and nothing more rendered the fight a stalemate. There was no standup, so they either traded control on the ground or the fight ground to a halt as one stopped the other’s takedown. They did try a handful of submissions, but I don’t respect their submission ability enough to get excited about the potential. Sanchez, who was far more active in this department, did appear to have a credible guillotine and triangle in round 3 though Fitch never reacted to either as if he were in any type of trouble. Neither had extended periods of ground and pound, as the fighter on the bottom defended well and tended to succeed in initiating a scramble before taking much damage. Fitch busted Sanchez open near the end of round 2, but while some of the shots on the ground undoubtedly hurt, none of them made you think the fight was about to end anytime soon. Fitch won a split decision. Average match.
Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio Rua R3 4:45. All action fight that bettered a main event that exceeded expectations. Griffin really stepped up his game here, fighting far more intelligently, and actually relying on a game plan to win the fight. He has been training with Randy Couture, and his cardio was awesome! He basically willed himself to victory over a superior fighter by running him into the ground. What makes this all the more impressive, is Rua normally wins every fight through relentless pacing. This time though, Rua was his own worst enemy in a sense because he just kept going forward, pressing the action no matter what. This was such a sprint that he was uncharacteristically the one who was blown up mid 2nd round. Shogun won round 1 having Griffin on the defense most of the time, though Griffin did get a leg trip takedown and wasn’t taking too much punishment. Rua cut Griffin on the nose in round 2, but Forrest’s confidence never wavered. Despite Rua’s fatigue, Griffin didn’t really take over until a reversal midway through round 3. Rua fought the hooks off, but Griffin was able to do some damage with his strikes. This helped Griffin finally get the rear naked choke in the final 30 seconds, but his dramatic submission victory was more a product of completely gassing Rua than any punishment Rua may have sustained. I thought Griffin won the 2nd and 3rd round, but round 2 was very close and Rua may well have gotten the decision if he could have held out for another 15 seconds. Very good match that may be the turning point in Griffin's career.
Chuck Liddell vs. Keith Jardine. Excluding the early loss to Jeremy Horn, Chuck Liddell’s losses have come to fighters who aren’t overly intimidated by the feared striker’s standup. Randy Couture and Quinton Jackson are capable of taking him down, but realized it wasn’t necessarily a necessity. Keith Jardine had no interest whatsoever in the ground, so there wasn’t a takedown attempt in this entire quasi-kickboxing match. Jardine was the far superior technical striker, throwing crisp blows with both hands and feet, and regularly using head punch combinations to open up a low or body kick and vice versa. Liddell looked more like a wrestler or submission fighter who has trained enough to become proficient in boxing. He threw nothing but his looping overhand right, and his looping right hook, sprinkling in some left jabs to try to keep Jardine honest. His idea of a combination was a looping right followed by a looping right, and you aren’t going to win a lot of standup wars against top notch strikers with that type of reliance. Jardine got off quicker than Liddell, regularly hitting Chuck when he tried to set or stood still, which forced Liddell into the pattern of the lunging rights in order to be aggressive and get some offense in. As Liddell is a better counter striker, that kept him out of his game, but even when Liddell wasn’t chasing he was never particularly successful countering Jardine. There were some good exchanges because they were willing to stand toe to toe, but Jardine tended to win these by ducking Liddell’s predictable punch and throwing his own at the same time. Liddell actually started walking to the wrong corner after the second round. Jardine was quite tired in the 3rd, having a hard time holding his hands above even his waist, but he never slowed down. Liddell’s leg and body were reddened from Jardine’s repeated precise kicks, but Jardine looked more like he’d been beaten up. The Dean of Mean had a few head cuts, including a decent amount of blood from one on the left side, which I figured would be the judges excuse for typically giving the close enough fight to one of Dana White’s favorites. Luckily Jardine managed to garner a split decision. Good match.