Jardine, Griffin Shock the World at UFC 76

The year of the upset continues…

Keith Jardine proved that those who participated in The Ultimate Fighter reality series can hang among the best in the world when he beat former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell at his own game and earned a close split decision in front of the estimated 16,000 in attendance at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA.

Liddell looked to win the first round by sending Jardine scrambling away from flurries of punches. Jardine began to score with his first few of numerous leg and body kicks but it wasn’t enough to prevent the judges from scoring the round in Liddell’s favor.

The second and third rounds were a different story however. Jardine continued to press the action while his opponent looked to land one of his patented counter-punches. Jardine (13-3-1) even knocked Liddell (20-5) down with a right hand midway through the second round, a shot that Liddell was able to absorb as he sprang back up to his feet and right back into the fight.

A number of leg and body kicks bruised and battered Liddell’s body and Jardine’s unorthodox style continued to stifle any opportunities the former champ had to get into a rhythm on the feet. When the 15 minutes was up, it was known that the judges had to make a close decision but it was also obvious that Jardine had won the fight, based on the reaction the crowd gave when Liddell raised his hands in possible victory.

Marcos Rosales was the lone judge that scored the fight for Liddell, giving him the edge by a 29-28 margin. Cecil Peoples and Richard Bertrand scored it the same but gave the victory to Jardine and ruined any chances we had of seeing a Liddell-Wanderlei Silva showdown in December.

After the fight, Jardine tried to put his win into perspective.

“The win feels great,” Jardine said. “Chuck is the greatest fighter in the history of the UFC as far as I’m concerned.”

Forrest Griffin, another TUF alumnus, pulled off what possibly might be an even bigger upset when he dominated former PRIDE superstar Mauricio “Shogun” Rua before submitting him with a rear naked choke late in the third round of their bout.

Rua, who before the fight was widely regarded the best fighter at 205 lbs in the world, looked like a shell of his former self. With the exception of crisp punches and elbows in the first round, Rua offered up nothing but failed takedown attempts for the remainder of the fight.

Griffin (15-4) let go with his hands early and often but it would be his ground skills that would win him the fight. He was able to hold Rua down on the ground after a missed attempt to take Griffin (16-3) down and then punish the Brazilian with strikes. At the end of the second round, it was obvious that Rua had nothing left in the tank as he barely made it back to his corner after the horn sounded.

The third round saw Griffin once again take Rua down to the ground. After a session of ground and pound, Griffin was able to take Rua’s back and sink in the rear naked choke that would make “Shogun” a loser in his UFC debut.

During the post-fight interview with UFC color commentator Joe Rogan, Griffin discussed his emotions and the choke that put Rua away.

“I haven’t done many drugs, but I think this is what Ecstasy feels like,” Griffin exclaimed. “I’m sure that’s not the way he wanted to start off his career in the UFC. It wasn’t even a good choke really, but fatigue is a son of a bitch.”

The loss ruined what could have been a possible title shot against current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Griffin now finds himself right in the middle of the division’s title hunt.

Other Undercard Action:

An American Kickboxing Academy product handed Diego Sanchez a loss for the second straight time when upstart Jon Fitch used his superior wrestling to squeak out a split decision win earlier in the night.

Fitch (15-2-0-1) worked his way out of multiple submission attempts and was able to control Sanchez (17-2) from top position for most of the fight en route to the victory. The closest Fitch came to possibly losing the fight was when Sanchez locked in a tight guillotine choke at the start of the second round. Fitch held on for about 30 seconds before eventually finding his way out of the hold.

After the fight, Sanchez admitted that Fitch was the better fighter among a chorus of boos from the crowd.

“Let me tell you something, there’s no need to boo,” stated Sanchez. “Fitch won the fight. I went for the submissions and he was able to get out. He beat me fair and square. There’s nothing else to say. I’m going to take it like a man and get back to work. I have to get back to work.”

Ryoto Machida racked up his third straight UFC win when he outlasted the eccentric Kazuhiro Nakamura in winning a unanimous decision.

Machida (11-0) easily controlled the first two rounds both on the feet and on the ground while Nakamura (11-7) offered little to no offense at all. Nakamura picked up the pace in the third round, landing quick counter-punches and even scoring a takedown. However the shots did nothing to faze Machida and the Brazilian controlled Nakamura enough to win the final round.

Machida reported before the fight that he took criticism of his conservative style to heart and despite his best efforts to put on an exciting performance; he was yet again the recipient of the crowd’s displeasure.

Lightweight standouts Tyson Griffin and Thiago Tavares went to war in a battle that provided non-stop action from beginning to finish. When everything was said and done, it was Griffin that did enough in the judges’ eyes to come away with a decision in his favor.

Griffin avoided many close submission attempts and gave up his back on more than one occasion in order to get in a better position and use his unreal wrestling skills to his advantage. Tavares (13-1) rocked Griffin (10-1) with a flying knee in the second round but it wasn’t enough to put one of UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture’s top students away.

In fact, Griffin didn’t even remember getting hit with the knee.

“Apparently he caught me with a flying knee,” said Griffin. “I didn’t know what it was so I asked my corner what put me down in between rounds. I didn’t know what it was but I didn’t feel too out of it at any point.”

Preliminary Bouts:

Despite weighing-in 8 lbs less than his opponent, Rich Clementi was able to control Anthony Johnson on the ground and sink in a rear naked choke that finished Johnson off in the second round. Johnson (4-1) knocked Clementi (26-12-2) down with a right cross in the first round but Clementi was able to regain his composure and continue fighting.

Jeremy Stephens literally slammed his way out of a Diego Saraiva triangle attempt and controlled the remainder of the fight to earn a unanimous decision. Stephens (10-2) used his superior wrestling talent to hold Saraiva (9-6-1) down on his back in the second and third rounds. The loss keeps Saraiva winless in the UFC.

Last minute injury replacement Scott Junk was forced to succumb to a heel hook locked on by Christian Wellisch in the first round of their preliminary bout. Junk (6-2) picked Wellisch (8-3) apart on the feet early but found himself in trouble once the fight hit the ground. After the fight, Junk was fitted with a knee brace before being allowed to walk out of the Octagon.

Matt Wiman and Michihiro Omigawa battled all throughout the cage en route to a unanimous decision victory for Wiman. Wiman (8-3) controlled Omigawa (4-5) on the ground in the third round to cement the win.

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