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MIXED MARTIAL ARTS

UFC in need of a compelling fight

The organization has been plagued by injury, illness and suspect judging decisions. Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin will headline Saturday's event in Las Vegas.

November 21, 2009|By Lance Pugmire
  • Light-heavyweights Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin strike the nose-to-nose pose during a news conference Thursday in Las Vegas.
Light-heavyweights Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin strike the nose-to-nose… (Neil Davidson / Associated…)

Since its last visit to Las Vegas, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has lost three of its champions to illness or injury, suffered through two highly suspect judging decisions in main events and seen another future main-event fighter cancel because of an injury.

"We've never seen anything like this," UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta said. "It's bizarre."

Adding salt in the wound, boxing produced its most compelling action of the year last weekend when Manny Pacquiao defeated Miguel Cotto by 12th-round technical knockout in Las Vegas.

What the UFC needs tonight at Mandalay Bay Events Center is a good fight.

The main event is the rematch of a classic three years ago when light-heavyweight Tito Ortiz defeated Forrest Griffin by split decision in Anaheim.

This time, Ortiz-Griffin is the replacement main event for what was supposed to be a heavyweight bout between champion Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin. But Lesnar fell ill and this week underwent intestinal surgery for a bacterial infection. Fertitta said it's too early to know whether Lesnar will ever fight again.

Welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre and middleweight champ Anderson Silva also need extra time off to recover from injuries.

So, the challenge for Ortiz and Griffin is to bring some excitement back to mixed martial arts. "Everything's on my shoulders, I believe," Ortiz said this week. "Everything happens for a reason. I'm right back where I need to be."

Ortiz, 34, hasn't won an MMA fight since 2006 and is making his UFC comeback fight 18 months after his contract expired following a loss to current light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.

Ortiz underwent back surgery in the interim and pronounced himself healthy. Ortiz has also done some intense boxing training under the direction of Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach.

"I'm ready for what I think will be a good war. The Tito of old is coming back -- my heart, my determination, my ferocity," former light-heavyweight champ Ortiz said. "I promise I'm going out on my shield, or on a pedestal."

Griffin, who lost his first light-heavyweight title defense and then was knocked out in the first round by Silva in his most recent fight, has experienced a watershed moment like this before.

That was when he engaged in an epic "Ultimate Fighter" TV finale bout with Stephan Bonnar that helped the UFC win sponsorship to keep that popular reality television series on the air.

Fertitta agreed it's important for the UFC to produce compelling action tonight. The card also added an intriguing welterweight battle between rising star Anthony Johnson and Josh Koscheck.

"Tito-Forrest will be a nontechnical fight. These guys will just brawl for three rounds," Fertitta said. "You have a rivalry here, and what I've seen from guys who are rivals is that they come out and let it go. It doesn't matter what they did in their last fight."

Griffin, 30, said he's ready to take entertaining chances.

"Tito talks about the mistakes I make and sure, I make a lot of mistakes," Griffin said. "Sometimes I go for stuff that's not there . . . I don't care how it comes, in what fashion, a win would be great."

Ortiz said he won't concede that boxing is surpassing his sport in popularity.

"Boxing's checkers and UFC is chess," he said. "We have real fights. Kicks, punches, elbows, knees and takedowns, and the guys who watch us Saturday night will see all of that."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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