After the UFC’s decision to have Chael Sonnen fight Jon Jones in April, Forrest Griffin was left without an opponent for UFC 155 in December. To replace Sonnen, the UFC chose Phil Davis, who overwhelmed Wagner Prado en route to a second-round submission victory at UFC 153. In my opinion, this fight will be the end of Forrest Griffin as an upper-tier light-heavyweight in the UFC.
ELO: Forrest Griffin 2735 Phil Davis 2731
After making the switch to ELO, I sometimes get the (probably wrong) feeling that I’ve stumbled on what the UFC uses for matchmaking. One example: their insistence on having Rory MacDonald take on B.J. Penn. I currently have MacDonald ranked #10 at welterweight with a 2854 rating, while Penn is ranked #11 at welterweight with a 2840 rating. Forrest Griffin vs. Phil Davis represents another case of two fighters having similar ELO ratings.
But I don’t think the fight between Davis and Griffin is really that close. In fact, I think it’s going to be a long night for Forrest Griffin.
One area Griffin has a clear, distinct advantage in is the striking game. Davis has consistently shown a disdain for striking in his fights – not once has Davis won a fight because of what he did as a striker. Instead, Davis wins fights by taking his opponents down and dominating them with superior grappling. If this fight is inexplicably a striking match, Griffin should have a clear edge. Griffin isn’t a super-talented striker, and doesn’t have serious knockout power, but what he does bring to the table is aggression and conditioning. Griffin often wins by simply putting pressure on his opponents and wearing them out. Case in point: his upset victory over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 76.
Unfortunately for Griffin, it’s extremely difficult to see him keeping this fight standing. While Griffin manages to defend takedowns against some fighters by virtue of being a huge light-heavyweight with decent takedown defense, that won’t be enough against the prototypical athlete in Phil Davis. As Davis has shown in fights against Prado, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Tim Boetsch, and Brian Stann, he will relentlessly pursue takedowns. To date, the only man to out-wrestle Davis was Rashad Evans, an elite light-heavyweight fighter with excellent wrestling himself, to go along with dangerous striking.
Phil Davis is going to look to take Forrest Griffin down early and often, and he’s going to succeed at it. To make matters worse for Griffin, Davis is an excellent grappler, who won’t be in any danger of falling into the trap of a triangle choke, armbar, or any other submission attempt Griffin might try from bottom position. Griffin at least had the submission threat as a path to victory against Sonnen. Against Davis, it’s just not going to work.
For Griffin, that leaves conditioning, and that’s not going to work either. Griffin may be a cardio machine, but so is Davis, a man who fought five hard, grueling rounds against Rashad Evans. And unlike the Evans fight, I feel Davis will succeed in imposing his game on Griffin – taking the fight to the floor, and engaging in ground and pound and submission threats.
I don’t see Davis stopping Griffin in this fight. Griffin is a mentally tough fighter, and Davis isn’t punishing enough with his strikes to win by knockout or TKO. Griffin also has very good jiu-jitsu, and has never been submitted in his career. I don’t think Davis will be the first. But I do see Davis getting this fight to the ground, and forcing Griffin to effectively win the fight off his back.
Davis doesn’t have good striking, and against a fighter with good striking and excellent takedown defense – at light-heavyweight, this pretty much narrows it down to Jon Jones and Rashad Evans – he will struggle. Griffin has the striking, but doesn’t have the takedown defense. I see Davis winning by decision and placing himself into serious title contention. For Griffin, a fighter whose motivation has been questioned in recent years, I see a demoralizing loss which will send him out of top ten lists and into possible talk of retirement.