Griffin vs. Evans According to Their Trainers

By Mike Harris Dec 23, 2008
Preparing for their main event light heavyweight title fight at UFC 92 “The Ultimate 2008” this Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, champion Forrest Griffin and undefeated challenger Rashad Evans are a study in contrasts.

Griffin (16-4), training to defend his belt for the first time, still hits the gym with that same sobering sense of purpose he first displayed some six months ago as he readied for his first title shot against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. A unanimous decision victory made him champion at UFC 86. Griffin’s trademark sense of self-deprecating humor is still checked at the door, according to Shawn Tompkins, Griffin’s mixed martial arts coach at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.

“There’s a new Forrest,” Tompkins said. “He’s hungry … just the fact that he’s got that belt and he has to prove something. And Forrest loves to have to prove something to people.”

A hundred eighty degrees away, metaphorically speaking, Evans (12-0-1), preparing for his first title shot, views Saturday’s bout as just another day at the office, to hear his camp tell it.

“It’s just another fight to us,” said Evans’ trainer, Greg Jackson, who runs Jackson’s Submission Fighting in Albuquerque, N.M. “If we were fighting Forrest and there was no belt involved, it would all be exactly the same. That’s how we come at it to deal with those pressure situations.

“We never look at it in that Rocky Balboa way, you know, ‘It’s my one shot at the title,’” Jackson added with a decent Stallone impression. “That’s for the movies.”

Griffin, 29, is a durable, hard-hitting boxer and Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner. Evans, also 29, comes from a wrestling background -- he amassed a 48-34 record while wrestling for Michigan State University -- but has developed into a well-rounded MMA fighter with explosive strikes. Both fighters are winners of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, Griffin in season one and Evans in season two. Oddsmakers favor Griffin at UFC 92.

Another contrast between the two fighters is that Griffin’s camp is considerably more willing to discuss its game plan for Evans, while Evans’ coaches prefer not to tip their hand quite so much.

Dave Mandel/

Trainer Shawn Tompkins says
Forrest is a new man.
Tompkins said Griffin plans on utilizing a good boxing guard and hopes he will not chase Evans around the Octagon like Chuck Liddell did in Evans’ last fight on Sept. 6. In a definite “Knockout of the Year” contender, Evans crumpled Liddell with a devastating overhand right at 1:51 of the second round at UFC 88.

“Obviously, we have to make sure Forrest’s hands are up nice and high and not get caught into a game where we chase Rashad around,” Tompkins said. “I think that’s really where Chuck went wrong. And so we have to be smart with that ’cause Forest has a bit of a habit of just wanting to fight so badly that he’ll fall into that. Make Rashad come to us and really just do what Forrest does, and that’s really make the fight as tough as possible, because he’s such a durable guy.”

Because Griffin is known for his monster cardio, the longer the fight goes, the greater advantage he has, Tompkins said. At 6-foot-3, Griffin also has a considerable height and reach advantage over the 5-foot-11 Evans, Tompkins noted.

“What I think makes Forrest so durable is that thickness, that muscle density that he has,” he said. “So I think that’s what we really have going for us. When it comes to Rashad in those fourth and fifth rounds, that weight and that thickness is really going to weigh on him. Forrest is a mountain to deal with.”

When asked to elaborate on Evans’ gameplan, Jackson laughed.

“We want to win,” he said. “Seriously, I can’t go too much into specifics, but we’re expecting a really, really tough fight from Forrest. He’s an amazing fighter, a super tough guy. We expect him to try to wear us down and use a lot of kicks and body shots, so we’re trying to be ready for that.”

Evans’ striking and kickboxing coach, Mike Winkeljohn -- a former ISKA champion -- was equally reserved.

“Our gameplan would be to avoid anything that can tear Rashad down and put Rashad in position to take Forrest out of his gameplan,” he said.

Winkeljohn said that since he and Jackson believe Griffin will try to take Evans deep into the fight in an attempt to make fatigue a factor, Evans’ cardio training has been a priority. Evans also has been working on adding new weapons to his MMA arsenal, according to Winkeljohn.

“He’s not all about overhand rights, that’s for sure,” he said. “I mean, I hope that’s what people think.”

When pressed about Evans’ new weapons, Winkeljohn pointed to his brutal head kick knockout of Sean Salmon at UFC Fight Night 8 in 2007.

“Rashad can kick,” Winkeljohn said. “We’ve seen that with Sean Salmon. Rashad has become much more comfortable when he’s out there standing up. That’s about all I can tell you as far as the new stuff goes. You guys have seen each fight he gets better.”

Griffin and Evans are not completely about contrasts in priming for their title clash. Both are healthy and injury-free, the result being strong training camps for each.

While keeping intact his reputation for a second-to-none work ethic in the gym, Griffin has matured as a fighter and thus has learned to train more intelligently, said Ron Frazier, one of his Xtreme Couture boxing coaches.

“From the day he started to the day he ends, he’ll always be that guy who works harder in the gym than anybody,” Frazier said. “But one thing he’s a little bit smarter about now is that if his body tells him he needs to take a day off or a session off, he will do that. And now that he’s champion, he knows that some of the things he got away with earlier in his career, he just can’t do anymore ’cause it weakens him as a fighter.”

Besides Tompkins and Frazier, Griffin’s other main coach is muay Thai specialist Mark Beecher, based at Warrior Training Center in Las Vegas. One of Griffin’s primary sparring partners has been fellow light heavyweight Wanderlei Silva -- who will fight Jackson for the third time at UFC 92.

“It’s been perfect,” Tompkins said. “The two of them are very intense guys, and to have both of them be able to help the other get ready for the exact same night is great.”

Evans’ training is going well, too, Jackson said.

“He’s on point, and he hopefully should peak at the right time, so everything is going well,” Jackson said, noting that Evans’ close friend, Keith Jardine -- a light heavyweight who holds a TKO win over Griffin -- is his main sparring partner, as well as “a great strategist with a lot of good insights.”

“And Rashad is very healthy, other than being mentally insane,” Jackson said with a laugh. “Actually, he’s one of the sanest people I know.”

Winkeljohn, meanwhile, said Evans plans to make the most of his first crack at the light heavyweight crown.

“He’s gonna make his dreams come true and become the biggest thing out there,” he said.
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