Should We Care About Jackson-Griffin?

By: Jake Rossen
Jun 30, 2008
Cheetos-imbibing, socially stunted television viewers are going to have some tough choices come Saturday night -- and Domino's over Pizza Hut isn't one of them.

On Animal Planet, a cable station that succeeds in its meticulous editing to make creatures maximally cute without seemingly ever having to defecate, we have "Animal Cops: Houston," wherein one presumes the debate over rabbits being pets or meat will continue.

American Movie Classics, meanwhile, will resume living down its reputation by offering an 8 p.m. screening of "My Cousin Vinny"; Univision will be airing something called "Sabado Gigante," which listings summarize as featuring "concurso de baile de ninos"; A&E has the requisite repeat of "Die Hard," complete with basic cable's dubbing of Bruce Willis' signature line to "Yippee kai yay, melon farmer."

Sports fan? There's the first stage of the Tour de France on Versus, where French officials will demand American cyclists pee in a cup every half-mile. NBC has the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials; ESPN has poker, possibly the only spectator sport more boring than a staring contest.

Oh, and there's the Ultimate Fighting Championship, headlined by Forrest Griffin (Pictures) and Quinton Jackson (Pictures).

Almost forgot.

Not an indefensible slight, though. Despite 13 weeks of basic cable preamble -- with champion Jackson and challenger Griffin acting as coaches on the umpteenth season of "The Ultimate Fighter" -- there's been little palpable anticipation for Jackson's first title defense in nearly a year.

Maybe the former has a lot to do with the latter. Despite his thunder-stealing performance against Chuck Liddell (Pictures) in May 2007, Jackson has yet to resonate with UFC audiences the way most expected. It's surprising, given that Jackson's style is aggressive and he's got enough charisma to sustain a career in pro wrestling. Plenty of fighters can boast of one or the other, but few can claim both.

In the box office arena, Jackson is a true mixed-style attraction. Problem is, he's producing only mixed results.

Part of the issue might be the lack of continuity. In a sport where top-tier athletes can comfortably fight three times in a calendar year, Jackson was shelved for 10 months following his decision win over Dan Henderson (Pictures) in September so he and Griffin could construct a tenuous rivalry on Spike. (Genial as both men are, the tension consisted primarily of who was going to win a water-gun fight.)

The series did one thing right: Jackson's persona came across, and his faux-street hustler style probably endeared him to viewers looking for more in their fight athletes than tribal tattoos and monosyllabic interviews. Pairing him with Griffin -- so beloved by fans he's essentially MMA's version of a Border Collie -- seemed like a slam-dunk proposition.

Instead, it's looking more like an air ball.

Devoid of any emotional fireworks, fights with mass appeal have to be seen as competitive. Griffin, while a dogged and almost incomprehensibly tough human being, may be perceived as outclassed against Jackson, a more obscure talent casual fans can still meter thanks to his KO over Liddell.

At 2-2 coming into the fight with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Griffin seemed on the precipice of high-profile mediocrity. Then he pummeled Rua in an outstanding performance, the Brazilian's advantages on paper getting shredded in the cage. It was a warm-fuzzies moment for Griffin's fans, who had long wanted to marry his likeability with a substantial win.

But Griffin's victory came the same month as Jackson's first title defense, meaning that both men have sat out the majority of the last year. Any impressions made that September, any stories built, have been dulled by the proceeding 10 months.

There's merit to the concept of delayed gratification, but this is a little much.

Stranger still is an auspicious lack of promotion for Jackson, who has easily earned an hour's worth of highlights in his Pride career. Why not package a propaganda piece prior to the show that elaborates on his impressive history? Wasn't that more or less the point of acquiring that video library?

I like both Jackson and Griffin. It certainly won't be a boring fight, and it's not overly offensive from a purist's rankings-first perspective. But the meeting doesn't get my blood boiling in the same way a Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) rematch would, or even Griffin's hardnosed style standing opposite a waning Liddell.

That might be a lineup worthy of a 10-month wait. As it is -- especially paired with a moribund undercard -- you might be tempted to spare yourself the $44.95 and settle in for "Chain Gang Girls" on the Oxygen network instead.

Check your local listings.

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