Even with two other exciting bouts slated for this Saturday’s UFC 86: Jackson vs. Griffin, all eyes were on the current light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson [click here for Jackson interview] and Forrest Griffin.

With the build up to this potentially explosive bout months in the making with both men participating as coaches in this season’s The Ultimate Fighter. However, few people know that this bout—along with Griffin’s historic rise in the UFC—almost didn’t happen.

“When we did the first season of the Ultimate Fighter, we went after Forrest and he made the show,” Dana White said of Griffin. “The first day that everybody’s supposed to arrive, no Forrest Griffin. We called him up and he decided that he didn’t want to do the show. He had it set in his mind that he was going to be a police officer in Georgia, with the white picket fence and all that good stuff. We terrorized him, begged him, pleaded with him and he came out to do the show.”

For all the praise White heaps on the man he deems “The American Dream,” Forrest remains humble when discussing his ascent to the UFC.

“They didn’t really try that hard to convince me. It was kind of an inconvenience for them. I just kinda thought about it. You’d rather fail trying than not trying,” Griffin says of his final decision to appear on The Ultimate Fighter.

Also known as a fighter that can take—and withstand—high levels of punishment in the Octagon, Griffin also reveals that he’s been training smarter this time around.

“I’ve worked specifically on not taking shots.”

Another ace in Griffin’s hole may be training partner Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva, a former Pride FC standout who owns two victories over Jackson.

“I’ve gotten very used to getting hit in the head—a lot,” he says of training with Silva. “So I’ve got that going for me.”

While Griffin comes into the biggest fight of his career to date, it’s another day at the office for Quentin Jackson.

“What matters to me is that the guy shows up to fight. I like to fight guys that like to fight; I don’t like to fight guys that like to run. I train to win, I trained my hardest and Forrest is a hard worker. So I had to work hard. You all are in for a battle and I do plan on finishing this fight. I’m going to be your champion for a long time, that’s a promise,” Jackson says.

With a new training camp in tow, Jackson dismisses any advantage Griffin will have through training with Silva.

“When I was training for Wanderlei Silva, I was training with jiu-jitsu guys,” he said of his old training camps. “Now, I have sparring partners. I have Cheick Kongo. I’m telling you, that guy hits hard. He’s crazy. He’ll kick your ass and kiss you after the round is over. I’m ready.”

The night’s other featured bouts include a middleweight showdown with Patrick Cote squaring off against Ricardo Almeida and fellow TUF alums Josh Koscheck and Chris “Lights Out” Lytle.

UFC 86: Jackson vs. Griffin kicks off live on pay-per-view this Saturday at 10 p.m. EST.

Tale of the Tape:

Quentin “Rampage” Jackson

Height: 6’1

Weight: 205 lbs.

Record: 27-6

Strengths: Wrestling, strength, striking

Notable Victories:

Chuck Liddell (twice), Dan Henderson, and Kevin Randleman

Forrest Griffin

Height: 6’3

Weight: 205 lbs.

Record: 15-4

Strengths: Grappling, big heart

Notable Victories:

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Stephan Bonnar (twice), Elvis Sinosic

Analysis:

On paper, the reigning champion wins this fight in convincing fashion. Jackson holds advantages over Griffin in wrestling—which may nullify Griffin’s ground game—striking and strength. But as always with mixed martial arts, anything can happen.

To win this fight, Griffin needs to—or rather, has to—follow the same model that allowed Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva to score two decisive victories over Jackson in the now defunct Pride FC. The challenger must be aggressive, and keep the pressure on Jackson for the duration of the fight. If Griffin can weather the storm of Jackson’s striking (more on this later), he may be able to keep the fight in close quarters—and sink in a Muay Thai clinch, similar to the way Silva did.

Unfortunately for the original Ultimate Fighter, the champion is a much different—and far better— fighter than he was in the early Pride FC days. The odds of Griffin weathering the storm of Jackson’s heavy hands (the same hands that put Chuck Liddell on Dream Street) is highly unlikely, as Griffin was knocked out by “The Dean of Mean” Keith Jardine. With Jackson owning all the advantages and cardio good enough to go the distance (as seen in his victory over Dan Henderson), Griffin is in for one long night if this fight goes five rounds. Despite an extra-large frame during season seven of The Ultimate Fighter, Rampage is also back in top condition, courtesy of trainer Juanito Ibarra. Look for this one to end “by ass whooping” with Jackson delivering a highlight reel worthy knockout.

DX prediction: Jackson via 2nd round knockout.