Last night’s display in Las Vegas leaves sense of nostalgia in its wake. Forrest Griffin, the “original” Ultimate Fighter, announced his retirement and the new generation of fighters showed all the familiar signs of evolution within the sport. It was the great circle of life wrapped neatly into a single night.
Griffin, who took the first TUF title against Stephan Bonnar at the season finale of the show’s first season in April 2005, took the podium at the post-fight press conference with his signature unreadable stare and said, “It’s been a good eight years, I guess. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that when [UFC president] Dana White says retire, you should retire. Otherwise you will blow your knee out before your next fight. Thank you guys.” And with that, he left the stage and the fighting career with the same simplicity he’s shown since his first day on TUF.
Griffin will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame this July—poetically alongside his TUF finale challenger Bonnar—and is assumed to be taking the path of current HOF inductees Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes, who remain under the UFC umbrella as company executives. Griffin’s farewell was fitting, not only to his own style, but his exit strategy rings true to others who’ve walked the path before him.
This was a poetic climax of sorts to end an evening of fighter evolution. Cain Velasquez, who failed to protect his title in 2011, came back to successfully defend the belt against Antonio Silva. His rise, fall and subsequent comeback and growth showed true UFC character in a crushing right punch. In another highlight of the evening, Junior dos Santos tested a new weapon in his arsenal, a spinning heel kick. It landed and ended the fight. Fans are not used to seeing Santos’ competitor Mark Hunt flattened and they showed it with a roar as Santos won the KO.
The night certainly has implications as to the future of the UFC, both in and out of the Octagon. Will UFC 161 have the same look? Headliners Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson are both well into their careers as fighters, but they have yet to have their respective breakthrough moment. UFC 160 left that up for grabs.