Whoa-Gun! Griffin Submits Rua on UFC 76 Main Card

Thomas Gerbasi - In the eyes of many, PRIDE veteran Mauricio Shogun' Rua was one of the best if not the best - light heavyweights in the world. But in his UFC debut tonight at the Honda Center, Forrest Griffin elevated his own status in the 205-pound weight class at the expense of the feared Brazilian, dominating him throughout their three rounder and then finishing the bout with a submission at the 4:45 mark of the final round.

By Thomas Gerbasi

ANAHEIM, CA, September 22 In the eyes of many, PRIDE veteran Mauricio Shogun' Rua was one of the best if not the best - light heavyweights in the world. But in his UFC debut tonight at the Honda Center, Forrest Griffin elevated his own status in the 205-pound weight class at the expense of the feared Brazilian, dominating him throughout their three rounder and then finishing the bout with a submission at the 4:45 mark of the final round.

From the outset, Griffin showed no fear of the Curitiba resident, landing with strikes and fighting off Rua's takedown attempts as the crowd chanted his name. With a little over a minute gone though, Rua got his takedown and started to open up with forearms in Griffin's guard. Griffin fought his way back to his feet with a little under half the round gone, and after some trading of punches, he scored his own takedown, followed by some ground strikes before the two combatants, both showing swelling on their faces, stood and traded again, with Rua getting Griffin to the mat with 30 seconds to go. By the end of the frame, Griffin had reversed position and was in control at the bell.

Again standing in the pocket with Rua, Griffin scored early with strikes in the second until Shogun' got the takedown and bloodied his foe's forehead with ground strikes. Incensed at seeing his own blood, Griffin fought back harder, reversing position on Rua and landing with his own strikes on the mat before the two stood again. With under two minutes left in the round, the two traded punches, with Rua looking to be the more fatigued. Griffin, tired himself, nonetheless worked Rua over when the bout hit the mat again, with referee Steve Mazzagatti watching the action closely until the bell.

Rua opened his final round offense with a takedown, and Griffin tried to pull a fast one with a submission that was turned away. While on the ground, Rua fired away with the occasional elbow while Griffin fired back and continued to outwork his more celebrated opponent from all angles, eventually getting into a dominant position where he locked in a rear naked choke and finished off Rua with just 15 seconds left.

With the win, Griffin improves to 15-4; Rua falls to 16-3. At the time of the stoppage, Griffin was leading 20-18 on all three scorecards.

Jon Fitch scored the biggest win of his mixed martial arts career, nabbing a three round split decision over Diego Sanchez in a bout that was as difficult to score as it was picking a pre-fight victor.

Scores for Fitch were 30-27, 29-28, and 28-29.

"I felt like I dominated the entire fight," said Fitch, who upped his record to 20-2 with 1 no contest.

Living up to his pre-fight declarations, Sanchez ran out of his corner at the opening bell and took the fight to Fitch, pinning him against the fence. After a brief clinch the two broke, only to again work on the fence, with Sanchez trying to secure the takedown but Fitch having nothing to do with it. With 2:30 left, Sanchez did get his foe to the mat, but Fitch quickly rose and returned the favor, landing in Sanchez' guard. Sanchez worked on Fitch's arm for a moment, but his time to score the submission quickly passed and Fitch resumed his attack on the mat to the bell.

The action went to the mat almost immediately in round two, with only a brief standup period interrupting another trip to the canvas for both men, who battled fiercely for position. With under three minutes left, Fitch moved into position to take Sanchez' back, but was unable to get his hooks in, allowing Sanchez to get into the San Jose resident's guard. Fitch kept busy, picking Sanchez up and dropping him on his back and then fighting his way into Sanchez' guard as the final minute approached. And though Sanchez tried for a submission, Fitch's punches to the head nullified any such intentions.

With the fight apparently up for grabs in the final round, the two stood and traded before Sanchez locked in a tight guillotine choke and took Fitch to the mat. Fitch gave the thumbs up sign twice to referee Herb Dean that he was all right, and after some dicey moments he broke free and started throwing punches at his opponent. Sanchez was not giving up on the thought of a submission win though, as he worked on Fitch's arm for a spell and briefly caught him in a triangle choke, but it was not enough in the judges' eyes to pull out the win.

"I went for the submissions, he escaped and he got position," said a gracious Sanchez, who has now lost two in a row after a 19-0 start to his career. "I give him the win. He beat me fair and square and now I've got to get back to work."

Light heavyweight contender Lyoto Machida improved to 11-0 with a shutout unanimous decision win over PRIDE veteran and UFC newcomer Kazuhiro Nakamura.

Scores for Machida were 30-27 across the board.

Showing more fire than in his previous two UFC performances, Machida took the fight to the Octagon newcomer and scored well with strikes from long and close range, as well as on the ground, in the opening round, and he also defended well against Nakamura's takedowns.

The second round mimicked the first, with Machida again pushing the pace. Early in the frame, he worked his way to Nakamura's back and briefly locked in a rear naked choke that the Tokyo resident battled his way out of. Machida kept working though, getting into the mount position and opening fire before Nakamura (11-7) got back to his feet. While standing, Machida was a step ahead speedwise, leaving few options for Nakamura, who was able to score a takedown but only with seconds left in the round.

Down two rounds, Nakamura pressed forward in the final stanza, still trying to score with one of his judo throws. Machida defended well, eventually getting the fight back to the mat, where he got the mount for a moment before Nakamura got back to his feet and landed with a couple of hard rights. At close range, Machida continued to hold the upper hand as he fired away with body punches and knees until the bell ended the bout.

Rising stars Tyson Griffin and Thiago Tavares lived up to all expectations in their lightweight showdown, with Griffin putting another Fight of The Year candidate in his pocket as he outpointed Tavares over three torrid rounds.

Scores were 29-28 twice and 30-27 for Griffin, who ups his record to 10-1. Tavares falls to 16-1.

After a tentative opening two minutes, the two lightweight standouts got down to business, with Griffin attempting to outpunch and overpower Tavares while the Brazilian worked his Jiu-Jitsu magic in an attempt to catch Griffin in a mistake. With under 1:30 to go, Tavares looked to have found his opening as he briefly got his foe's back, but Griffin escaped just as quickly and put Tavares on his back and then standing against the fence.

As the second round commenced, Tavares landed a flying knee on Griffin as the Californian faked a shoot and jarred him briefly, allowing him the opportunity to take control on the mat. Soon, Tavares got Griffin's back and tried for a rear naked choke, but Griffin stood in an effort to escape. After a few tense moments, the plan worked, but as Griffin got on top, Tavares went for the arm. Again Griffin escaped and worked his ground and pound, eventually sinking in a guillotine choke. This time it was Tavares' turn to escape, and again he got Griffin's back only to have the Sacramento pitbull work his way loose again and work from the top until the bell ended one of the best rounds of 2007.

Tavares sported a nasty bruise under his left eye to begin the final round, and Griffin got him against the fence almost immediately. It was Tavares scoring the takedown though and though he appeared to secure Griffin's arm, again the American reversed position and regained control, much to the delight of the crowd. Against the fence Griffin fired his strikes, and in response Tavares scored a takedown and went for the back again. Griffin got out of trouble without much difficulty and again controlled matters on the fence. But true to form, the two 155-pounders continued to trade the upper hand until the final bell, receiving a well-deserved ovation from the crowd.

Go to www.UFCOnDemand.com to watch the replay and to see the unaired prelims.