Fading into the Limelight
Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin are two of the most popular and polarizing figures in the UFC. With Ortiz making his MMA exit and Griffin looking to get back into the win column, the duo have agreed to match wits and skills for a final 15-minute showdown to decide their trilogy.
After his TKO loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 140 in December, Tito Ortiz said that he wanted just one more fi ght in the Octagon. “The People’s Champ” had his wish granted, and with adversaries Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture happily enjoying retirement, only one opponent made sense for the 37-year-old Ortiz—a rubber match with Forrest Griffin.
These two former UFC Light Heavyweight Champions have already shared 30 minutes inside the Octagon, battling to the final bell in a pair of fights at UFC 59 in April 2006 and UFC 106 in November 2009. Halving a pair of split decisions, the upcoming third act in their rivalry will both end Ortiz’s career and settle the six-year grudge between the charismatic scrappers.
The Ultimate Fighter 1
The first season of The Ultimate Fighter was a house filled with future UFC stars, but it was the insightful and often self-deprecating Griffin who stood out as the big-eared, big-grinned fan favorite. From accidentally head-butting Stephan Bonnar while sparring on the very first episode to almost being forced out of the competition because of his own forehead cut, Griffin was one of the central figures in the breakthrough fi rst season of the long-running reality TV hit. After dispatching Alex Schoenauer in the quarterfinals, Griffin stopped Sam Hoger in the semis, setting up what would become one of the most influential fights in UFC history.
TUF 1 Finale vs. Stephan Bonnar
After successfully navigating their respective sides of the bracket, Griffin and Bonnar met in the finals of the light heavyweight division. It was a wildly entertaining scrap. For three rounds, they covered every inch of the Octagon, trading brutal toe-to-toe haymakers in their battle to be crowned “The Ultimate Fighter” and earn a six-figure contract with the UFC. Griffin won a unanimous
decision, and the victory catapulted him to UFC stardom.
Although Diego Sanchez won the middleweight competition in impressive fashion that same night, Griffin’s unforgettable battle with Bonnar remains the lasting memory from the first TUF Finale.
As subsequent seasons ended and more fighters entered the fraternity of TUF winners, Griffi n would come to be identified as “The Original Ultimate Fighter,” a title that shows just how memorable his first battle with Bonnar was.
UFC 59 vs. Tito Ortiz
Before this fight, no one could say with certainty whether or not Griffin had what it took to be a title contender in what had been the UFC’s deepest division. Fresh off a pair of fi rst-round wins over veterans Bill Mahood and Elvis Sinosic, a bout with Ortiz was to be the litmus test for the Georgia native. Although he came out on the wrong end of a split decision, Griffin showed in his first meeting with “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” that he was capable of competing with the best that the light heavyweight division had to offer.
UFC 76 vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
One of these men was considered the top light heavyweight fighter in the world and had a cozy little place in the Top 10 of most pound-for-pound lists. The other was Forrest Griffin. Just one win removed from being stopped in the fi rst round by Keith Jardine, this was a fight that few pundits expected Griffin to win. He was viewed as a well-known welcome wagon for the former Pride Middleweight Grand Prix Champion—a tough out who would give Rua a warmup fight before a title shot.
As it turned out, Griffin didn’t get the memo about being outclassed, and he outworked the Brazilian star for two rounds before submitting him late in the third.
UFC 86 vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
As opposing coaches on TUF 7, Griffin got the better of Rampage Jackson as he guided Amir Sadollah to victory over C.B. Dollaway. Griffin even beat Jackson in a game of H-O-R-S-E when the two went head-to-head in the coach’s challenge. The real victory over Jackson, however, was at UFC 86, when he earned a hard-fought five-round decision to secure the UFC Light Heavyweight
It was a gutsy effort from Griffin, who survived an early knock down before chopping the champion down with leg kicks over their 25-minute encounter. Griffin’s hands-to-the-sky, “I guess I’m the champion” reaction as UFC President Dana White cinched the belt around his waist is a perfect visual representation of what made the perpetual underdog one of the most beloved fighters in UFC history.
Ken Shamrock and The Lion’s Den
Tito Ortiz’s rivalry with Ken Shamrock and the members of his team, The Lion’s Den, spanned almost a decade, starting with his second fight in the UFC. After losing to Guy Metzger at UFC 13, Ortiz defeated Jerry Bohlander at UFC 18 before avenging his loss to Metzger two months later at UFC 19. Then came his trilogy with Shamrock, a three-pack of bouts that stand amongst the most anticipated and influential bouts in UFC history.
Their first encounter at UFC 40 was dubbed “The Biggest Fight in UFC History,” and it is still worthy of that title today, as the event was the first commercial success under Zuffa ownership, garnering attention from the mainstream media as Ortiz won via third-round TKO. Four years later and following a heated season coaching opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter 3, their second meeting at UFC 61 generated 775,000 pay-per-view buys. Ortiz scored a firstround TKO, but Shamrock protested the stoppage, resulting in a third bout three months later. To put the feud to rest, Ortiz earned a first-round TKO to complete the rare UFC-triple-sweep.
UFC 22 vs. Frank Shamrock
Ortiz’s first memorable fight against a member of the Shamrock family came more than three years prior to his meeting with Ken. On September 24, 1999, Ortiz’s squared off with Frank Shamrock, Ken’s foster-brother, for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title at UFC 22.
Although Ortiz found success early, he tired as the fight wore on, and Shamrock’s superior conditioning helped him earn a fourth-round stoppage victory. The loss was not without its positives for Ortiz, however, as he would follow Shamrock’s example and become known for his tremendous conditioning throughout the remainder of his career. Shamrock announced his UFC retirement following the bout, vacating the title in the process, and setting the stage for the next major moment in Ortiz’s MMA career.
UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
On April 12, 2000, Ortiz defeated Wanderlei Silva by unanimous decision at UFC 25 to become the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Over the next three years, Ortiz successfully defended the belt five times against Yuki Kondo, Evan Tanner, Elvis Sinosic, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Ken Shamrock. While current champion Jon Jones is only two wins away from matching Ortiz’s streak of five consecutive defenses of the UFC Light Heavyweight Title, he’s far from matching Ortiz’s record of 1260 days atop the division, which stands as the third longest title reign in UFC history.
Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell
While his rivalry with Ken Shamrock may have been the longest, Ortiz’s feud with Chuck Liddell stands as arguably the biggest in UFC history. One of the knocks on Ortiz during his run atop the light heavyweight division was that he never faced Liddell, who had emerged as one of the top contenders in the 205-pound division at the time. Ortiz claimed—Liddell refuted—that they agreed to never fight each other after having trained together at The Pit in California.
The two fighters eventually met at UFC 47, with Liddell earning a secondround stoppage victory—a win that served as the starting point of The Iceman’s dominant run in the light heavyweight division. More than two years after their first encounter, the pair locked horns again at UFC 66 where Liddell earned his second victory over Ortiz in what would be his final defense of his UFC Light Heavyweight Title.
Both men struggled to replicate their earlier success in the cage following their second meeting. Despite no longer being considered title contenders, they remained two of the most popular fighters in the UFC, leading them to be tabbed to coach The Ultimate Fighter 11, with a third bout scheduled to headline UFC 115.
However, the third meeting between the bitter rivals never materialized, as Ortiz was forced to withdraw from the fight with due to injury. Subsequently, Ortiz’s replacement, Rich Franklin, knocked Liddell into retirement.
UFC 132 vs. Ryan Bader
Ortiz hadn’t won a fight since Ryan Bader was a senior at the Arizona State University. In the time since, the hulking collegiate wrestler had won the light heavyweight competition on The Ultimate Fighter 8, emerging as one of the top prospects in the 205-pound division.
After losing the first fight of his career to Jon Jones in February 2011, everyone expected Bader to return to the win column with a dominant victory over the fading former champion. Everyone was wrong. Ortiz floored Bader less than two minutes into the opening round and sunk in a guillotine choke. The arena erupted with cheers as Bader tapped just before the two-minute mark, giving Ortiz his first win in almost five years.