Forrest Griffin faces a stern test in his rematch with Mauricio Rua. | Photo: Dave Mandel
When Forrest Griffin toes the line against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the UFC 134 co-main event on Saturday at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he will attempt to pull off a feat no one else can match: beating the 2005 Pride Fighting Championships middleweight grand prix winner twice.
Griffin’s stunning submission victory over Rua at UFC 76 in 2007 remains one of the sport’s most-talked-about upsets, and it launched “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 winner into a new stratosphere in terms of MMA stardom. Less than a year later, he fought and defeated Quinton “Rampage” Jackson to capture the UFC light heavyweight championship. Griffin views the win over Rua as a turning point in his career.
“It’s below winning TUF, which is the biggest thing I’ve ever done, and winning the belt, which would be the second-biggest thing I’ve ever done,” he said during a pre-fight teleconference. “It’s up there. Obviously, it was pretty big for me at the time. It sort of got me a title shot.”
Rua sympathizers often point to the fact that he entered his first matchup with Griffin at far less than 100 percent. In fairness, he did not fight again for 16 months, the layoff the result of two reconstructive knee surgeries.
“I watched the fight again,” Griffin said. “He looked pretty good to me.”
Still, even Griffin admits Rua has become an entirely different animal in subsequent appearances, including first-round finishes against UFC hall of famer Chuck Liddell and then-UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. Ever dangerous, Rua appears to have adjusted and adapted to life in the Octagon.
“Guys maybe at their core don’t change, but he looks a lot different,” Griffin said. “[The first time we fought], that was his first fight in the UFC. That was his first fight in a cage. That was his first fight without kicks on the ground, so, it’s different [this time around].”
As in their first encounter, Griffin will enter the cage as the underdog. He likes how he matches up with the Brazilian, and he welcomed the rematch.
“I think it’s still a reasonably good fight for me,” Griffin said. “You look around at 205 [pounds]; find me an easy fight. There’s no easy fights at the top. The Top 10 guys at 205 are all pretty good, so it doesn’t really matter [who I’m fighting at this level].”
Griffin -- who last fought at UFC 126 in February, when he outpointed former middleweight champion Rich Franklin at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas -- will enter the cage backed by the modest momentum of a two-fight winning streak. He understands the enormous challenge he faces in Rua, who not only hungers to avenge his loss to Griffin but wants to erase the memories left over from his one-sided drubbing at the hands of Jon Jones in March.
“I think you just try and prepare,” Griffin said. “When you watch Shogun and see how good he fought against Chuck Liddell, you just try and be ready for that Shogun. Hopefully, that’s not the guy that will show up, but that’s the guy you want to be ready for.”