From reality TV star to UFC champion,
The goofy-eared 29-year-old, who gave up a career in law enforcement to throw himself headfirst into MMA, reached the pinnacle of his serendipitous career by capturing the Ultimate Fighting Championship's light heavyweight title, on points, downing top-ranked
Having won the light heavyweight bracket on the debut season of "The Ultimate Fighter" -- the SpikeTV reality series that drove the UFC and the sport into the mainstream -- Griffin was already a star heading into his challenge at the Mandalay Bay. But now, he is perhaps the biggest star in the UFC's deepest division.
Though Saturday's judges scored the bout unanimously in favor of Griffin, victory didn't come easy for the underdog.
The opening round belonged to Jackson, the man known for handing
As he entered the Octagon this past weekend, Jackson's entourage carried both belts high. The champion's camp didn't consider Griffin much of a threat. Rampage's power, as said in pre-fight interviews, would eventually get to Griffin's previously exposed chin.
In the first five minutes, their predictions appeared accurate.
Jackson hurt Griffin -- twice -- with punches to the head. The first, a glancing hook to the temple, was followed with an uppercut later in the round that took the challenger down. But, as Griffin has done throughout his career, most notably in a fight in Brazil that he won with a broken arm, he survived.
The course of the fight changed in the second round when Griffin planted buckling low kicks on Jackson's lead leg. Planting hard each time he threw heavy lumber, Jackson was exposed to Thai kicks. And Griffin, one of the most cerebral mixed martial artists, made the proper adjustment.
"He jacked my leg up," Jackson said. "I tried to pretend. I'm not really good at acting. But he really hurt my leg."
Griffin pressured Jackson to the canvas, where he moved from guard, to side-control, to full mount. Rampage, whose rewards after stopping Liddell included a key to his childhood hometown of Memphis, held on until the bell sounded to close the second.
Rounds three and four were less dramatic, but equally competitive.
With Griffin backing off the leg-kicking attack, Jackson began again to step in and throw lead hooks and uppercuts.
In the fourth, an ugly gash underneath Griffin's right eyebrow opened after a wild exchange. Both fighters went to the canvas, where Griffin worked on the closest submission attempt of the fight. Jackson defended the triangle choke by powering the 6-foot-3 Griffin off the canvas before slamming him back down. Well aware of the defense Jackson offered in the same scenario against
With Jackson landing power shots and Griffin upping the pace, the five-round title fight was tight all the way to the end. Between rounds four and five Rampage's trainer,
Jackson, the words of his close trainer and advisor ringing in his ears, stepped off the gas and cruised until 90 seconds remained. Despite being busier, Griffin (16-4) didn't land an effective shot in the last period.
SI.com scored the bout even at 47-47 -- rounds 1, 3 and 4 to Jackson; round 2 (10-8) and 5 to Griffin.
Jackson had no problem with the scoring, going so far as to say Griffin "whooped my ass." But, added the fighter whose record fell to 28-7, "I ain't no stranger to getting my ass whooped."
Said the new champion, who earned the title shot by choking
With Almeida (9-3) struggling to put Cote (13-4) on the canvas, just one judge saw it for the
On a night when T.U.F winners ruled the world,
The welterweights fought cautiously in the first, but Koscheck opened up in the middle period. Straddling Lytle from the half-guard, Koscheck (11-2) delivered cutting shots that started a torrent of blood. Covered in red, Lytle (25-16-5) continued with the consent of referee
The plan for Griffin, a strong 24-year-old lightweight training out of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, was simple: avoid Aurelio's submission game. He did that and more over the course of the 15-minute fight.
During three medium-paced rounds Griffin (12-1) worked straight rights and left hooks to the 34-year-old Aurelio's body. When the bout hit the floor, Griffin delivered heavy punches while smartly avoiding submission setups from Aurelio's guard. With the loss, which came by 30-27 scores three times, Aurelio dropped his fourth fight in his last six contests, falling to 16-6 overall.