The retirement of a UFC pioneer happened this weekend as Forrest Griffin, the original winner of "The Ultimate Fighter," announced his retirement at UFC 160. His career with the UFC had an effect on the sport, but also an effect on me.
I watched the UFC at different wrestling parties in high school. A dear friend in college would watch fights with me when we didn't feel like hitting the bar scene. I heard about the career of Matt Hughes, this wrestling coach I once knew, but that's it. I followed wrestling like a hawk, but I didn't know the names and stories of the MMA competitors.
"The Ultimate Fighter" changed that. Josh Koscheck, the friend of a wrestling friend, had been chosen to be on a reality show. If he won it, he'd be in the UFC. Since Josh -- as we knew him before he was Kos -- was on the show, my friends and I wanted it to succeed. We tuned in every week and discussed the episodes by email. It was liveblogging before we knew what liveblogging was.
Though Koscheck took center stage for his antics, it was the wisecracking Griffin who stood out to me. He was funny and smart, and despite his love of being punched in the face, refreshingly normal. He showed that fighters weren't meatheads who could talk about nothing but fighting. Griffin became the fighter I wanted to see succeed.
He did, making it to the finale in a bout against Stephan Bonnar. I watched the first "Ultimate Fighter" finale on a 16-inch television in my grandmother's kitchen. I couldn't believe what was happening on that tiny screen. Neither Griffin nor Bonnar would give an inch. They threw together an unbelievable bout.
Was it technically perfect? Nah. Both fighters had plenty to learn about how to throw an efficient punch or how to get a takedown. It didn't matter. Though they were both bloodied, they fought through until the final bell.
This was before Twitter and Facebook were everywhere. I had no idea if other people were watching, but I was, and I was hooked. Griffin and Bonnar and Koscheck and Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez made me care about them. Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell made me want to find the closest bar to watch them fight. I started following MMA more closely, until I wanted an outlet to write about the sport. I started my own site, which led me to covering the Olympics and MMA here on Yahoo! Sports.
Now, with Forrest Griffin walking away from the sport, I have to take a second to say thank you. He may not have realized the effect he had on MMA when he was swinging at Stephan Bonnar, but it was profound.