Griffin and Bonnar Steal Spotlight, Sanchez Claims TUF Crown and Franklin Downs Shamrock

By Josh Gross Apr 10, 2005
LAS VEGAS, April 9 — What Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar did tonight — when two men stand toe-to-toe, throwing punches and kicks and knees, trying to decapitate the other; when what happens in the ring trumps anything outside it; when two men lift a crowd to its feet in anticipation of something great … and then have that faith fulfilled — this is the way it’s supposed to be.

Some call it barbaric. I call it beautiful.

In the best mixed martial arts fight in recent memory, Griffin and Bonnar, competing in the finals of the inaugural “Ultimate Fighter” reality show, each eying a UFC contract, fought with the pace and speed of lightweights in front of a packed Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus.

For the novices, the MMA neophytes who were introduced to the sport through Spike TV’s “The Ultimate Fighter,” they should now understand what these brave men are about. Even if they never watch another fight again, they’ll think of this one at some point in their lives and a chill of the spine or a smile will result.

After Griffin (10-2-0) was named the winner following a brutal 15 minutes, everyone stood and cheered. Had it been Bonnar (9-2-0) — and without much argument it could have been — they would have done the same.

The first round, I wrote in my notes, was the best of the card, possibly the year. The second was “incredible, as good as the first.” And though physically it seemed impossible for the final period to live up to the other two, Griffin and Bonnar shared several moments, enough to have the crowd on its feet the entire last minute.

“It was a great fight,” Griffin said. “Thanks Stephan.”

The early pace was frenetic. No punch went unanswered. If the two clinched, knees followed. “I worked on my footwork a lot, my feints,” Bonnar said. “And sure enough after a few minutes I bagged all that and were just swinging.”

“I didn’t expect this,” Griffin said. “I thought he would shoot and take me down but he’s a Golden Glove boxer. He stayed up. That’s what he wanted to do so I did it too.”

Though they spent large portions of the fight on the feet, there was skillful groundwork in spots. The only thing that could separate them was the bell, and it came while Griffin seemed ready to apply an armbar.

Before the fight, Griffin talked about his love of fighting bloody. Bonnar made that happen, popping the 26 year old in the face in the second round, causing a stream of crimson to run from the bridge of his nose.

“A couple of times I caught him I was ‘oh, this is it. He’s going. I’m going to finish him,’” Bonnar said. “But the tough son of a bitch wouldn’t drop!”

After a timeout to have the cut checked, the two were back at it.

“I love a fight like that,” Griffin said. “I like to swing for the fences and see what happens.”

The fighters’ energy was met by the crowd’s, which stomped the arena floor in unison when it wasn’t standing and cheering.

As the fight headed into the final period, UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta carried a huge smile on his bearded face. It’s believed that millions of people tonight watched Diego Sanchez’s middleweight TUF victory, Bonnar and Griffin’s war and the arrival of Rich Franklin.

Long gone are memories of Zuffa’s biggest failure, UFC 33 — their first foray into Las Vegas that fell flat in the face of expectations. Jens Pulver and Dennis Hallman, you are forgiven. Tito Ortiz and Vladdy Matyushenko, you too.

Goodbye ghosts of UFC 33. You’ve been exorcised.

From the day he entered the fighter’s house to tonight’s season finale, there was never a doubt in Diego Sanchez knew he would be the Ultimate Fighter. Two-minutes forty-nine seconds after the opening bell, there was no longer a need for conjecture.

Sanchez (15-0-0) stopped Kenny Florian (4-2-0), an upstart from Boston who made the finals on the strength of his razor-sharp elbows, to win the middleweight bracket of The Ultimate Fighter.

As he’d done during the course of the 12-week show, Sanchez imposed his will, refusing to move backwards when what he wanted was right there in front of him.

Despite being out-sized and out-gunned, 28-year-old Florian was hardly out-hearted. But against Sanchez, a man resolute by the belief that destiny brought him to this place on this night, he had few options.

The bout opened slowly, neither man willing to commit to the other. Appearing at times to request that the 23-year-old Albuquerque, New Mexico-native come to him, Florian circled while Sanchez stood his ground in the center of the Octagon.

Soon, Sanchez had Florian on his back, swarming the smallish middleweight with punches. Florian tried to move his hips and create space, but Sanchez’ non-stop aggression was too much.

From the mount position, Sanchez pounded away, opening a sizeable gash on the bridge of Florian’s nose. It was more of the same until referee Steve Mazzagatti jumped in to prevent further damage.

“My coach (Greg Jackson) really got me mentally strong for this fight,” Sanchez said. “I felt it was my destiny to win. I know I caught him with one really good shot and broke his nose. Whether I fight at 170 or 185, this is my life.”

And in the end that was the real difference. Fighting is everything to Sanchez. He pours his heart and soul into every fight-related thing he does. Now, as the winner of the middleweight side of the TUF bracket, he’s firmly entrenched in the UFC for the next three years.

The night’s main event was really an afterthought. Yes, it featured one of the legends of the UFC against an up and comer who seemed ready for the next step. But after the Bonnar-Griffin contest, Ken Shamrock’s bout with Rich Franklin hardly had the same appeal.

Franklin dominated the action with his speed and striking until the referee had to save Shamrock, 41, from further punishment, losing for the second time in two fights at 205 pounds.

Shamrock’s only moment of the fight, which lasted 2:44, came during an exchange of leg locks. For a moment if appeared like he had Franklin in some jeopardy, but the 30 year old from Cincinnati, Ohio remained calm.

Following a slip off a high kick, Franklin pounced on a downed Shamrock, peppering him with several heavy shots from the half guard. Referee John McCarthy gave Shamrock as much rope as he could, but simply covering and absorbing blows wasn’t the “intelligent defense” he requires of fighters.

“It was an honor to fight [Shamrock],” Franklin said afterwards.

In effect, the showcase in front of millions of fans was a coming out party for Franklin, who’s heading back to 185 pounds and a fight with middleweight champion Evan Tanner.
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