Griffin, Evans help validate TUF credentials

The boxing reality show "The Contender" produced reality show winners Sergio Mora, Grady Brewer and Sakio Bika -- decent fighters with solid records, but no one a casual fan would remember.

The UFC's reality show "The Ultimate Fighter" has churned out a number of marquee fighters capable of winning titles, packing arenas and generating huge excitement in MMA. In its first three seasons, the show produced Forrest Griffin, the current light heavyweight champion; Rashad Evans, who recently knocked out megastar Chuck Liddell; and Michael Bisping, who routinely sells out venues in the UK.

The show can often look somewhat contrived, but the bouts are real and the fighters are serious about their careers. It boasts an impressive list of alumni, and unlike its boxing rival, it continues to be a serious launchpad for the best fighters in MMA.

On Saturday, Griffin will defend his title against Evans on a card that promises to be one of the most competitive bouts in recent memory. Both fighters are coming off career-defining victories (Griffin over Quinton Jackson, Evans over Liddell) and both are keen on building on the momentum they've generated in a breakout '08.

For Evans and Griffin, the title fight is a culmination of hard work ethic and continual improvement inside the cage. It's also proof that they are more than reality show stars cashing in on their five minutes of fame.

"I think it's a great compliment for Forrest and myself," Evans said on a recent conference call. "Ever since I came on the show [in the second season], I've been trying to keep up with Forrest; he set the tone coming off the [first] show; he did excellent."

For Evans, "The Ultimate Fighter" is more than just must-see television. It's a chance for promising young stars to make a name for themselves while honing their craft at the same time.

"It wasn't just a reality show," Evans said. "These fighters [who appear on 'The Ultimate Fighter'] are going to be the future. We're going to be the Chuck Liddells and the Randy Coutures, because we are going to have those followings, because the fans are going to follow us from the ground up."

The first-ever champion of the show, Griffin sees Saturday's fight as a vindication of his hard work and dedication to the sport.

"Obviously [the title fight] offers some validity to it," he told ESPN.com. "Some big-name guys have fought on that show and done well."

The fight itself promises to deliver -- Griffin, by nature, likes to mix it up while Evans is fast becoming more than just a wrestler.

On the face of it, Evans would appear to have the advantage in terms of athleticism and power, but Griffin's unpredictability and toughness makes it a difficult pick.

The champion is acutely aware of the danger of Evans' improved striking ability.

"I definitely took note when I saw that," Griffin said, referring to Evans' one-punch knockout of Liddell. "I figured it was probably time I start training."

When asked whether his title-winning fight with Jackson gave him confidence, Griffin was quick to point out that Evans presents a completely new set of problems.

"You see, it turns out they are two different people, so fighting one doesn't mean s--- for fighting the other," Griffin said.

While Griffin likes to underplay his chances of success, those who have fought and trained with him testify that he is a very dangerous fighter.

"I'm thinking Forrest is going to win," said Wanderlei Silva, who fights Jackson on the undercard. "He has good boxing, good defense of the takedowns, he is [taller], and he has the best sparring here in Vegas. He's going to win by knockout in the second round."

For Evans, wrestling has given him the foundation to develop into a complete fighter, and he thinks this could be his key to victory.

Ben Cohen covers boxing for Boxing Monthly.