Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009 | midnight
- Listen to the full interview in which Forrest Griffin discusses just about everything, including Tito Ortiz, receiving mouth herpes from his mother and plans for a second book. OCCASIONAL STRONG LANGUAGE, LISTENER DISCRETION ADVISED
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Here’s the thing about talking to Forrest Griffin.
In even the shortest of conversations, it’s a safe bet that Griffin will stray completely off topic, make fun of himself and others, and crack at least one joke that no one knows is a joke and, therefore, doesn’t laugh at.
A recent 20-minute talk with the former light heavyweight champ was no different, however, nothing Griffin said seemed as important as his first words.
“Life’s good,” he said. “I’m very happy with life in general.”
That’s good news, considering life wasn’t so good for Griffin the last time many saw him.
On Aug. 8 in Philadelphia, an emotional Griffin made a frustrated charge at Anderson Silva in the first round, had his night ended by one punch and ran from the Octagon as Silva’s hand was still being raised.
Although he mostly refuses to answer questions about that night, Griffin has admitted he was mentally broken by what happened at the time.
“I was definitely broken that day, no doubt about it,” Griffin said. “I was so stressed about that fight and I was really disappointed because I thought I was mentally stronger than that. I thought I could handle whatever happened.”
In the weeks leading up to his fight with Tito Ortiz at UFC 106 in the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday, Griffin’s mental recovery from that loss has been in question by everyone, including his opponent.
However when it comes to understanding the mentality of Griffin, it’s important to remember things tend to have the opposite effect one would think.
After becoming the UFC light heavyweight champ in July 2008, Griffin seemed more angry than proud, bullying through a moody camp before losing his first title defense to Rashad Evans.
Now, following arguably the worst loss of his career, he says he’s on his way to becoming more comfortable than ever.
“In the beginning, fighting was fun — I wasn’t concerned with the outcome,” Griffin said. “At some point, I started training out of fear and anger. I wasn’t really happy. Right now, it’s about staying positive and enjoying the moment.
“When you step in, in that moment when that (expletive) shuts, it’s a surreal moment. You can kind of decide how you’re going to let your body process it. You can be terrified or you can embrace that experience. Everybody wants to get their say and have their 15 minutes — that’s my 15 minutes. I think I can change direction, enjoy the sport and find my happiness again.”
For an emotional fighter like Griffin, the pressure that comes with defending a championship belt or taking on the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world can be a challenge in itself.
Because for all of his success, Griffin is at his absolute, competitive best when a fight is just a fight — something he can enjoy, with no expectations or responsibilities to live up to other than to simply compete.
“When he won the UFC title against Rampage, he showed the belt to a few people then threw it in the closet,” said Griffin’s trainer, Jimmy Gifford. “You, me — we hang that on the mantle and show it to family and friends. He threw the UFC light heavyweight belt in his closet.
“That next camp he was pissed at the world because he was the champ. It’s a bit unusual, but it’s Forrest. With the Anderson fight, there was this pressure because everybody was expecting us to make Anderson fight. He felt he had to make something happen.”
Both Griffin and his trainer say the focus on turning fighting back into the enjoyable occupation it used to be has had an immediate effect on his training for Ortiz.
Instead of worrying about creating a fight that lives up to its promotions, Griffin’s focus has been only on how to defeat his opponent.
“With Forrest you’re always talking about different things. He’s well-rounded so you talk about everything,” Gifford said. “This camp we’ve been talking about Tito a bit more than normal. With all fights we have our strategy, but this one we talk about everything Tito’s been doing.
“He’s focused this time. He’s not saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got to make Anderson fight.’ He’s focused on what we do.”
Given his unwillingness to talk about it, it seems accurate that whatever prompted Griffin to run from the cage that night in August still bothers him.
But to assume that memory will be a weakness for Griffin come Saturday night, might be a mistake.
“We’ve never talked about the fight, I won’t bring it up,” Gifford said. “It’s going to get talked about someday, but it’s on his terms. But I’ll tell you what: Him saying he doesn’t want to talk about it has nothing to do with this next fight.
“It’s actually the opposite. People are so worried about his mental state — he’s so focused on beating up Tito Ortiz right now, I can’t even tell you.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.