You have the light heavyweight winner from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter defending his title against the heavyweight winner from the second season of TUF. That’s quite a storyline in a fight that is almost too close to call. Both fighters are mentally tough and will come in well-prepared with Evans being a member of Greg Jackson’s and Griffin spending much of his time at Xtreme Couture. This fight is as even as they come.
Trying to picture how this fight will go down will not be easy. Will it be a standup war or will it be contested on the ground? My guess is that the encounter will resemble a true mixed martial arts battle with the fight being contested on the feet and on the floor.
I also believe that this fight will start out slow. Evans will likely begin the fight utilizing his foot work and elusive standup style to feel Griffin out. I don’t expect Griffin to try to force the action early, as I look for him to feel Evans out as well.
The anticipated slow start could illicit some boos from the crowd because I just don’t see either fighter being able to finish the fight early. While Evans has recorded highlight reel finishes over Sean Salmon and Chuck Liddell, I don’t consider him to be a true finisher. Against the old Forrest Griffin, perhaps there would be the potential for a big KO at some point. But Griffin has refined his game over the years and has become better defensively. He’s not the brawler he was when he entered in he UFC and it’s unlikely he is going to serve his chin up on a silver platter for Evans much like Liddell did in September.
And while Evans isn’t much of a finisher, neither is Griffin. He certainly has some pop in his punches but Griffin has never been a one-punch knockout threat. He’ll leave some bruises and possibly some cuts on Evans’ face, but unless Evans commits a major mental error, I don’t see a quick knockout.
Evans, a former wrestler at Michigan State, will probably resort to his wrestling at some point. But when he takes Griffin down, he will have to be careful. Griffin’s jiu-jitsu is very underrated and he will have a decisive advantage in the submission game over Evans. The motive for Evans taking Griffin down will be to earn some points with the judges and to also catch a breather.
Evans may also need to rely on his wrestling in order to neutralize a sizable reach advantage that Griffin will have. While I do not know the exact reach of either fighter, Griffin measures at 6’3” in comparison to Evans’ measured height of 5’11”.
Following Evans’ lackluster split decision victory over Michael Bisping at UFC 78, there were some published reports that UFC Vice President of Talent Relations Joe Silva approached Evans about a potential move to middleweight. It’s definitely a move Evans could make but the decision to remain at 205 was proven to be the correct one following the KO heard around the world against Liddell at UFC 88.
While staying at light heavyweight was the right call for Evans, the fact remains that he will be facing a much larger opponent in Griffin on Saturday. In such a closely contested contest, the outcome of the fight could come down to a game of inches.
Every time I visualize this fight, I see it going the distance. And if Evans can ground Griffin and keep him on his back for extended durations, then he’s going to steal rounds and be sitting pretty when it comes time for the scores to be read. However, if Griffin can limit the amount of time he spends on his back and can utilize his reach advantage in the standup to land multiple combinations, then he’ll be the one sitting pretty.
In a fight that could go either way, I am going to pick Griffin earning a split-decision victory simply by outworking Evans and utilizing his reach advantage to inflict more damage.