Ben Fowlkes
Friday October 9th, 2009

Tito Ortiz thought he was getting tune-up fight against an aging legend for his first trip back into the Octagon in more than a year. But after a torn MCL forced Mark Coleman out of their planned UFC 106 bout, Ortiz will now face a tough rematch against fellow former light heavyweight champ: Forrest Griffin. Suddenly, things just got a lot more competitive, and it's Ortiz who's the senior party in the proceedings.

The last time the two met was in April of 2006, when Ortiz edged out a narrow split-decision, thanks largely to takedowns and ground control. It was Griffin's first real test since winning the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter, and even though he took a loss on his record that night, his gritty performance was still considered a success. Griffin took a beating in the first round, but he hung in there against a top 10-ranked light heavyweight and a former UFC champ, and that proved he was more than just a reality TV star.

But the victory over Griffin is the last significant win for Ortiz. He's since beaten a hapless Ken Shamrock (twice), been TKO'd by Chuck Liddell (again), fought Rashad Evans to a draw and dropped a decision to current champ Lyoto Machida. Ortiz hung around in the doorway of the 205-pound top 10 for the past couple of years, but "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" always seemed to have a bigger mouth than game; his trash-talking rarely worked in his favor.

That's why Griffin makes perfect sense as a replacement opponent on Nov. 21. While Ortiz-Coleman would have only proved which man was further from his athletic glory days, Ortiz-Griffin offers a shot at redemption. And boy, they could both use it right now.

Griffin is still smarting from the one-sided thrashing he received from Anderson Silva at UFC 101 in August. His typically self-deprecating sense of humor might be useful in playing it off as a minor speed bump in his career, but make no mistake, you don't sprint out of the Octagon and then spend the next few months avoiding the media if you were happy with your performance. Griffin would love to remind the MMA world that his workmanlike style can still win fights, at least when he isn't facing a pugilistic genius like Silva.

In Ortiz, he gets an opponent with a similarly plodding approach, as well as one who isn't known as a knockout artist on the feet. Ortiz claims his recent back surgery and time off from the sport have rejuvenated him and, even in his mid-30s, he insists he's still a title threat. He may genuinely believe that, but it may just be his typical pre-fight chatter. The distinction between the two is a tough one to make.

The only sure bet with Ortiz is that he needs this win just as badly as Griffin. The winner may not jump to the front of the light heavyweight contender line, but the loser will likely find himself staring at an increasingly bleak future. If Griffin has his mind together and his focus fully restored, he'll have the perfect opportunity to show how far he's come in the last few years. But as Ortiz's career longevity has proved, he doesn't go away easily.

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