LAS VEGAS – Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin seemed like he was executing a sound game plan early in his title defense Saturday night against Rashad Evans.
But the main event of UFC 92 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night turned another example how mixed martial arts is a sport that can have many different types of sudden endings.
In the third round, Evans got Griffin to the ground for the first time in the fight. He broke through Griffin's guard with elbows and punches from the top, with Griffin's head bouncing on the mat before ref Steve Mazzagatti stopped it at 2:46.
Evans, 29, became the third fighter in the past two years to come from winning "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series and capture a UFC championship. Evans, the heavyweight division winner of the show's second season, followed in the footsteps of Griffin and former welterweight champion Matt Serra, both of whom dropped the title in their first defense.
Griffin, who suffered a broken hand in the fight, said he must have been hurt when he was taken down.
"I had to have been hurt, as I had such a pathetic lazy guard," said the former champion, whose record fell to 16-5. "But you have to hand it to Rashad."
Griffin had won the first two rounds on all three judges' scorecards, mixing up his punches with numerous kicks to Evans' right thigh. Griffin set a fast pace, but was unable to tire Evans.
Evans started finding his range in the second round, which was a closer round, that Griffin likely won on the final punch as time ran out, which busted Evans' left eye.
"My corner told me to let my hands go more," said Evans, whose record increased to 13-0-1 with the win.
"I knew I was behind when my corner told me that I lost the first two rounds," he said. "I thought that I needed to start fighting."
Evans noted that when he got Griffin down, he started throwing punches and Griffin started smiling, so he didn't know if he hurt him or not. He said he kept trying to hit him in his smile and Griffin wasn't doing much to defend.
Griffin looked like he was tapping the ground as Mazzagatti stepped in, but Griffin claimed it was an involuntary body movement that looked like a tap.
UFC president Dana White was upset after the match at Mazzagatti, saying he thought the stoppage was late, but was more upset over an earlier stoppage in which Cheick Kongo was bludgeoning Mostapha Al-Turk.
"He's a nice guy, but he's not a referee," said White.
White was non-committal over what would be next on Evans' agenda. One natural matchup people were talking about was Evans facing Quinton Jackson, the former champion who scored a first-round one-punch knockout of Wanderlei Silva earlier in the show.
Jackson said he first wanted to avenge his July 5 title-losing defeat to Griffin, before getting a title shot. If not Jackson, the most likely first challenger would be the winner of the Jan. 17 match in Dublin, Ireland between undefeated fighters Thiago Silva and Lyoto Machida.
Griffin was the clear favorite to the crowd of 14,103 (which paid a $3.47 million gate) in his first title defense after coming off back-to-back wins over No. 1 ranked light heavyweights Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Jackson. The crowd loudly chanted his name during the first round, and exploded as his strategy seemed to be paying dividends in the second.
While Griffin weighed in at the maximum 205 pounds, and Evans weighed 203, the defending champion looked a solid weight class bigger, as he was probably closer to 225 pounds after rehydrating. He also had a four-inch height advantage and a significant reach advantage.
It was the most competitive fight of the company's final show of the year, which featured eight knockout or TKO finishes in 10 matches.
Evans' base pay and winning bonus was $130,000, while Griffin's base pay was $100,000. Both fighters also received a $60,000 bonus for having the best match, and UFC routinely pays headliners undisclosed bonuses after pay-per-view numbers come in.
- Rashad Evans
- Forrest Griffin