In a rematch between two of the most popular fighters in the history of mixed martial arts, Forrest Griffin defeated Tito Ortiz by split decision in a hard-fought battle Saturday night at UFC 106.

Just over a minute into the first round, Ortiz landed a takedown and got on top of Griffin, landing punches from inside his guard just as he did early in their epic battle at UFC 59 in 2006, which Ortiz won in a controversial split decision. But Griffin showed that he's improved as a fighter since then, breaking free and getting back to his feet, and landing more effective strikes than Ortiz on his feet.

In the second round, Ortiz again took Griffin down in the early going and landed punches and elbows from inside Griffin's guard. But Griffin, again, got back to his feet, where he used kicks effectively, including kicking Ortiz's mouthpiece right out of his mouth midway through the round. It was late in the second round when Ortiz took Griffin down and landed several elbows to Griffin's face, bloodying him badly. They had a back-and-forth battle on the ground that continued until the bell.

The third round opened with Griffin coming out charging hard, throwing kicks and punches that backed Ortiz up against the cage, and Griffin's striking was much more effective than Ortiz's. At the three-minute mark of the third round, Ortiz shot for a takedown, but Griffin stuffed it. After that it was clear that Griffin was going to control the round, and that's what he did, landing punches and kicks that Ortiz simply had no answer for.

The judges scored the fight 29-28 for Ortiz, 30-27 for Griffin and 29-28 for Griffin. The split decision was a surprise; it's hard to see how any judge would score the fight for Ortiz.

"It feels great, man," Griffin said afterward. "Tito was a great fight for me to come back. I think we're going to have to do a third. It's one and one now. ... We'll do it again."

It was Ortiz's first fight since May of 2008, when he lost to Lyoto Machida. Since then Ortiz has gone through back surgery and a contract dispute with UFC President Dana White, but now Ortiz is back in the Octagon. Ortiz appeared to be in good shape, but any athlete is going to have trouble after such a long layoff, and Ortiz was slower than the Tito of old. Ortiz, whose record falls to 15-7-1, is still a big draw for the UFC, but he's not an elite MMA fighter.

Ortiz said afterward that he was suffering from a back injury and from a cracked skull, and the fans booed what sounded like Ortiz making excuses. That led Griffin to admonish the crowd to show respect to Ortiz, and when Ortiz asked the fans, "Were you guys satisfied with the show?" they cheered.

But it was Griffin who got most of the cheers as he rebounded from his back-to-back losses to Rashad Evans and Anderson Silva. Griffin is a Top 10 light heavyweight and might get a light heavyweight title shot in 2010. He improved his record to 17-6, and he earned his place near the top of the light heavyweight division on Saturday night. He put on a good show.

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