by: Jack Bratcher

Who would’ve thought the young Opie Taylor lookalike with the trademark smirk would grow up one day to fight for the UFC Lightweight Championship of the World? Who would’ve thought a little reality show about guys who want to get a contract with an MMA organization would produce a winner whose Finale performance has been dubbed “the most important fight in MMA history?”

Forrest Griffin has come a long ways since 2001 when he first stepped in that ring with Dan Severn to start his professional Mixed Martial Arts career. Even way back then, the tenacious Griffin proved he was no mere stepping stone as he took the legend to a decision. Losing your pro MMA debut has to be tough for anyone; but then again not just anyone would be facing a 2001’s Dan Severn for a first fight. But then Forrest bounced right back the next month with a win and then piled seven more wins on top of that one for good measure. He fought eight times over the next two years and took down Jeff Monson and Chael Sonnen among others.

Then in 2003, two years after his pro debut loss to Severn, he meets another legend named Jeremy Horn. Griffin suffers a KO by kick loss in the second round from Horn. Two losses from two legends; nothing to be ashamed of. Once again, Griffin bounces right back three months later with a first round knockout punch win over Edson Paredao. Then Griffin takes a year hiatus from professional competition.

Forrest Griffin then resurfaces on this new little reality show called The Ultimate Fighter in 2005. He ends up in the finals of the show’s light heavyweight tournament and faces Stephan Bonnar in the Octagon for a six-figure contract with the UFC. And as they like to say, “…the rest is history.” That season’s Ultimate Fighter and the Griffin/Bonnar fight, in particular, seems to be the turning point for mixed martial arts in the United States. That show paved the way for all that was to come for mixed martial arts on television over the next few years. One might even go so far as to say, if there was no Forrest Griffin, there would be no Kimbo.

Forrest Griffin was on his way to becoming a superstar. He’s definitely a star but I’m not going to put the “super” on the monicker just yet. He has one more fight to win before that. We’ll talk about that in just a minute. But not only did Griffin win this reality show but now he was a full-fledged member of the Big Boy’s Club, the UFC. His whole professional career had been spent in small fledgling organizations; but this was it. This was the big leagues. And little did he know, the big leagues were about to get a whole lot bigger. With the UFC’s new reality show ending each season with a live TV special, in addition to their monthly Pay-Per-View, on top of that UFC Fight Nights and promo shows, the whole nation was now seeing more MMA than ever before. After Griffin’s historic TUF Finale brawl with Bonnar he reeled off two more victories in 2005.

Fast-forward to April 2006 and once again it’s time for Forrest to meet another legend, Tito Ortiz. He loses a controversial split decision with Tito that many people thought should have actually gone to Forrest. Four months later he beats Bonnar in a rematch and then ends 2006 with another loss, this time against the “Dean of Mean,” Keith Jardine. 2006 was a hard year for Forrest Griffin with two losses. However, one of the true characteristics of a champion is how many times they can get back up, dust themselves off and give it another shot. That’s exactly what Forrest did in 2007 by defeating the “Sick Dog,” Hector Ramirez and the fighter many people had ranked as the number one Light Heavyweight in the world, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

Forrest’s fight against Shogun was such a special fight. Not only was Forrest a huge underdog in the fight but Shogun also holds a first round knockout win against the current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson when they were in the PRIDE Organization in Japan. The Shogun/Forrest fight was also a special fight because the winner was pretty much gauranteed a Light Heavyweight Title shot. The tough-as-nails Forrest Griffin fought a three round war with Shogun at UFC 76 in September of last year. Shogun was considered another legend that Griffin was going up against and his track record against legends up to this point had been nil. What could this young Southern boy from Georgia do to the legend from Brazil; the legend whose mere name brought fear to his opponents in PRIDE. Forrest Griffin made the legend tap out. He fought a war of attrition. Blood, sweat, adrenaline, and guts and at the end of the match it wasn’t the legend, it was Forrest Griffin who was now considered the number one Light Heavyweight Contender in the UFC.

This Saturday, July 5th, Forrest Griffin will be in the biggest fight of his life. He will be facing, in his first ever five-round fight, the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion of the world, Quinon “Rampage” Jackson. The champ has already cleaned out Chuck Liddell and Dan Henderson. Neither Forrest nor Rampage have been in the cage since September of last year. Since then, they did film the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show; the very show that gave birth to Forrest Griffin’s UFC career three years ago. However, this time Forrest wasn’t fighting on the show, instead, he was a coach. And not only a coach, but the winning coach.

Mr. Forrest Griffin has come full circle as the young upstart MMA student winning a brand new reality show and then coming back three years later as a coach on that very same reality show and winning the show once again, this time as the dominant coach. There’s the old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach” It seems Mr. Griffin can do both; he won as fighter and he won as coach.

This Saturday night, July 5th, Mr. Griffin finds himself in the underdog position once again facing Quinton “Rampage” Jackson for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title. Quinton’s trainer, Juanito Ibarra, has stated, “If Forrest Griffin wins, I will retire.” That’s how confident he is in his fighter’s ability over Griffin’s. Many MMA fans agree with Ibarra’s assesment of the match-up. People seem to forget what happened last time Forrest was in that cage and how much he’s improved. People seem to forget Forrest has become the protoge’ of one Randy Couture and the similarities in their styles has become overwhelmingly apparant. Do not underestimate this man. If anyone is capable of beating Rampage (and they are), Forrest Griffin can do it. Not only has he just beat someone who beat Rampage but he is also at a training camp with Wanderlei Silva who bested Rampage twice.

July 1st is Forrest Griffin’s Birthday. He turns twenty-nine years old today. What a great birthday present it is to be fighting for the Light Heavyweight Title of the World this Saturday. Forrest is on the brink of Super-Stardom. A win would cement his Super-Stardom and it would also start laying the foundation for Forrest Griffin to be called a legend one day himself. Happy Birthday Forrest Griffin! You’ve come a long way!