The professional underdog is no more after winning at UFC 86
By Zach Arnold
On a card full of fights featuring high-profile underdogs, it was the professional underdog Forrest Griffin who beat down, kicked, and punched his way towards winning the UFC Light Heavyweight title over heavy favorite Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Griffin, who was never below +200 on any of the major brick-and-mortar or online sportsbooks, took the fight to Rampage Jackson for a full five rounds. He gave Jackson all that he could handle and it was clear that Griffin’s training with Wanderlei Silva paid off. Silva, who was Jackson’s arch nemesis in the PRIDE organization, saw training partner Forrest Griffin take it to Rampage in the stand-up game. When it was all said and done, Griffin won a unanimous decision on the score cards (48-46 twice, 49-46 once).
For a professional underdog like Griffin, he can no longer be called an underdog. You can simply call him ‘champ.’
A bad setback for Jackson’s UFC career
After being built up as the next big thing in UFC, Quinton Jackson has seen — at best — moderate success in MMA’s largest promotion. You would have thought that after his win against Chuck Liddell in May 2007 that he would have become a household name due to the torch being allegedly passed.
It didn’t happen.
Liddell retained his popularity (with some help from former agent and UFC President Dana White) while Jackson found himself struggling to be accepted by UFC’s mainstream audience as being on the same level as Liddell. Jackson won an intense fight against Dan Henderson last September, but that fight was in London and not in the States. It went to a decision, too.
With a master plan in hand, UFC thought that Jackson and Griffin both being coaches on The Ultimate Fighter would have helped heat-up what was expected to be a blockbuster match in the Summer. Instead, your casual MMA fan reacted with little or no emotion towards the Jackson/Griffin fight because there wasn’t the type of drama between the two men as we’ve seen in past UFC feuds (Serra/Hughes, Ken Shamrock/Tito Ortiz).
For some reason, something has not clicked between Jackson and UFC’s audience in general. There doesn’t seem to be that type of emotional connection that you see on display between the fans and Chuck Liddell. Jackson is about 50 times the personality, yet Liddell remains more popular in the States.
Going into his fight against fan-favorite Forrest Griffin, Rampage was largely booed or not cheered at all. At UFC 86, he was booed while Griffin received big cheers. The great irony about the UFC 86 fight between Griffin & Jackson is that casual fans thought the professional underdog was a favorite to win the fight (Griffin 53%, Jackson 47%).
Your average UFC-loving couch potato clearly understood something that everyone who is an MMA insider doesn’t.
Griffin’s win shuffles up 205-pound division
It seemed inevitable that a third encounter between Rampage Jackson and Chuck Liddell would happen for December 27th. Instead, Rampage’s loss has completely shuffled up the 205-pound division for good.
Let’s start out by stating the obvious. It seems that UFC’s audience is much more willing to back Forrest Griffin enthusiastically than they are Rampage Jackson. For Dana White, this is a great thing. There are a ton of matches now on the table that were not possible had Rampage won (as everything on the planet thought would happen).
Griffin (champion): He can have a re-match with Rampage on NYE. He could fight the winner of Chuck Liddell/Rashad Evans (which is happening this September in Atlanta). He could fight Wanderlei Silva, the man he trained with to help beat Jackson. There are now at least four big-money fights on the table for Griffin to take, and each of them are very tough. However, each of them will sell big.
Rampage: Does he accept a third match against Chuck Liddell? Been there, done that. Does he take a third match against Wanderlei Silva? Been there, done that. Does he take an immediate re-match with Forrest Griffin? It’s probably his best option at this point, and he doesn’t have the negotiation leverage to make it happen.
Liddell: Suddenly, it looks like the path to getting back his UFC Light Heavyweight title just got a little clearer. An obvious match against Griffin would be an extremely crowd-pleasing bout featuring some heavy hitting from both men. If this falls through, he has a chance to fight Rampage for the third time and exact his revenge on someone who has forever haunted his career.
Evans: Think that match with Chuck Liddell just became a lot more important? If it wasn’t enough for Evans to be facing one of UFC’s toughest fighters ever, there’s now a possible title match on the line if he wins. Not bad for a guy who went to a draw with Tito Ortiz last year in Sacramento.
Machida: If there’s one opponent that UFC could be confident in pitting against Lyoto Machida that could actually produce a crowd-pleasing bout, it’s Forrest Griffin. With that stated, no one seemingly wants to fight the man and a title win over Forrest Griffin could really, really complicate matters long-term for UFC booking. The fans just aren’t accepting of Machida’s counter-attacking style.
One underdog prevails, while the rest get splattered on the undercard
On a card featuring tons of underdogs that were so tempting to possible put some action on at the sportsbooks, only one real underdog made a dent — and that was in the main event.
Patrick Cote, who was a slight slight underdog to Ricardo Almeida, went the distance and eeked out a split decision win in a mild upset (29-28 twice, 28-29). Cote was +115 on a couple of sportsbooks, but his win over Almeida shocked more hardcore fans and insiders than it did casual fans. For the most part, casual fans were not interested about this fight whatsoever. Almeida was a great superstar several years ago in Japan, but looked winded by the third round against a man in Cote who is primarily a striker. It was surprising to see this bout as the semi-main event, given the complete lack of heat for the contest. Nonetheless, Cote’s career in UFC continues and he could see a fight in the future against 185-pound champion and all-around beast, Anderson Silva.
Gleison Tibau, who was a +170 ~ +180 underdog on many sportsbooks, took the fight to Joe “Big Daddy” Stevenson but ultimate lost in round two by submission. Stevenson was coming off of a bad loss to BJ Penn, easily considered one of the world’s best pound-for-pound fighters. Stevenson had his hands full with Tibau (a big fighter at 155 pounds) and looked to be losing the fight until he pulled off a beautiful guillotine choke. On paper, Stevenson looked like he would win the fight. He did, but maybe in more dramatic fashion than most people (not the hardcores) expected.
Chris Lytle, who came into his fight as an underdog in the +220 ~ +260 range, got hammered by Josh Koscheck (who UFC fans really, really hate). A week after watching training partner Josh Thomson maul Gilbert Melendez at the Strikeforce show in San Jose, Koscheck mauled Lytle and bloodied him up badly. It was simply a matter of Koscheck imposing his will and laying some heavy leather on Lytle, who made a flurry towards the end of round three but it was too little, too late. Koscheck won via unanimous decision (30-26, 29-27, and 30-28).
Marcus Aurelio, a former PRIDE fighter and well-liked Brazilian fighter by hardcore fans, was anywhere from a +250 ~ +280 underdog on all the major sportsbooks against the 11-1 Tyson Griffin. Griffin has been on a winning streak, but most of those results were via decision wins. If someone was going to give Griffin a run for his money, surely it would be Aurelio. Instead, Griffin cruised his way onto a unanimous decision win (30-27 three times). Griffin’s wrestling proved to be too much for Aurelio to handle and, as Jordan Breen of Sherdog.com predicted, Griffin did not have much trouble in winning the fight.
Justin McCully won this card’s award for ‘best sucker bet’ on the sportsbooks. At +400 or higher, McCully looked to be the ultimer sucker bet against Gabriel Gonzaga (coming off of two losses). On our odds report for MMA Online, I recommended that you stay away from this line at all costs. Gonzaga proved why you shouldn’t have laid any action on this fight, as he trounced McCully and submitted him in under two minutes. The long-term question is this: what do you do with Gonzaga? How will UFC book him in the future?
Cole Miller, who was around a -130 favorite on a lot of sportsbooks, gave a lot of bettors a scare by having such a competitive fight against the always-game Jorge Gurgel. However, Miller pulled off a triangle in round three to eek out the submission win. While the lines on both fighters were not outrageous, this fight was a lot closer than many people expected going in.
Other fights: Melvin Guillard defeated Dennis Siver in under a minute by KO and Justin Buchholz defeated Corey Hill in round two with a choke sleeper hold.
What are your thoughts?