By Elliot Worsell
It wasn’t aimed at UFC star Forrest Griffin, but Oscar Wilde once said: "Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not, and a sense of humor was provided to console him for what he is."
Now a successful author in his own right, Griffin also happens to be a very funny, switched on and incredibly self-deprecating kind of character. As a former UFC light heavyweight champion, he can fight a bit, too.
Gearing up to face Anderson Silva on August 8 at UFC 101, Griffin revels in his position as one of mixed martial arts’ elite and most prominent faces. Recognisable as a result of his 2005 Ultimate Fighter triumph, as well as the many Octagon wins that followed, Griffin is now firmly established as the go-to guy of the light-heavyweight division.
If you want an exciting fight, go to Forrest Griffin. If you want someone to test your fighter, go to Forrest Griffin. If you want to witness a stunning upset, go to – or avoid, as the case may be – Forrest Griffin. As a 205-pound contender, Griffin is an open book – stylistically, at least. He fights with his heart on his sleeve, refuses to take a backwards step and won’t feel satisfied until there’s blood dripping from his eye, nose or cheek.
He’s a fighter who loves to fight. You don’t have to decipher how he’s going to fight and you don’t have to worry about whether go-to Griffin will deliver the goods. Whether in victory or defeat, rest assured, the goods will be delivered.
Perhaps twice as talented, yet twice as erratic, Brazilian Rubic’s cube Silva plays the unorthodox ying to Griffin’s orthodox, meat-and-potatoes yang. A wild striker possessing every move in the book, Silva’s only apparent weakness is his own thirst for competition – his desire to be tested.
The reigning UFC middleweight champion has looked nothing less than bored against both Patrick Cote and Thales Leites in recent outings, and appears in danger of losing just to present himself with some kind of predicament – some kind of challenge.
Before such drastic measures are taken, Silva has been told to go-to Griffin and discover whether the Las Vegas resident can get his juices flowing again. On paper, it’s clearly a significant test for the Curitiba-born striker. Dominant to the point of boredom as a 185-pounder, Silva will now once again venture north to the 205-pound division in pursuit of kicks and a significant challenge.
Only on August 8, Silva won’t be meeting just any old light heavyweight. In Griffin, ‘The Spider’ will be staring up at one of the biggest and best light heavyweights in the world, a man who walks around at 6-feet-3-inches and 240-pounds.
Physical attributes aside, Silva will also be facing the most complex and hard-to-read personality of his career to date. Reading Griffin is like trying to break The Da Vinci Code by working backwards from page 359.
Silva will be only too aware that Griffin, a grinning glutton for punishment, won’t be mentally beaten. He won’t be intimated like Leites was back in April. He also won’t be gung-ho and headstrong like Chris Leben was with Silva in his UFC debut.
Griffin will tell the world he’s scared of Silva. He’ll assure everyone that he’s liable to get his head kicked off his neck. Whereas some fighters feel the need to preach how they will do this and do that to an opponent – often not believing the words themselves - Griffin is content with reality. He is able to deal with his strengths and weaknesses and doesn’t feel insecure enough to bleat about things he can’t do.
While some will fall for the pre-fight boasts of anxious fighters, Griffin’s laidback, unassuming style is far more soothing and impressive. It shows a man in complete control of reality, his abilities and destiny. He’s been here before, remember. In a career spanning eight-years, Griffin has touched gloves with Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Rashad Evans, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, Tito Ortiz, Keith Jardine and Stephan Bonnar. By now, the driver knows what speeds his car can attain.
That sense of reality, as well as his incredible fighting spirit, is what makes Griffin a live underdog against Silva on August 8. Any nervous energy or pre-fight trauma will be a million miles from Griffin’s head, despite the obvious threat of Silva’s vast arsenal. Forrest will remain relaxed, safe in the knowledge that whatever will be will be.
At 30 years of age, Griffin is at a point in his career now where he’s almost given up trying to read his own book. A world-beater at his best and a flailing mess at his worst, Griffin utilises his history of ups-and-downs to help lower expectancy and anticipation on fight night. He’ll talk down his chances, lower the pressure and then pull a leg-kicking rabbit out of his hat.
As predictable as his fighting style may be, Griffin’s unpredictability comes in the form it produces. That’s why, when listening to Griffin speak, you wonder which half of this complex individual you’re truly dealing with. One half is good enough to dominate former PRIDE heroes like Jackson and Rua, while the other half can just as easily crumble at the fists of Jardine and Evans.
Ultimately, like any great writer and fighter, Griffin is a world-class fibber. If he tells you he sucks, don’t believe him. If he tells you he’s on a hiding to nothing, don’t believe him. If he exaggerates the dangers of his opponent, don’t question his own confidence.
Deep down, maybe Forrest Griffin doesn’t even know what’s going to happen. That’s one of many things that make him a danger to Silva on August 8.
If you needed proof, here are some examples of Griffin at his unpredictable best and worst.
Opponent: Keith Jardine
Date: December 2006, UFC 66
Set-up: Griffin was licking the wounds of a controversial decision loss to Tito Ortiz and had rebounded with a rematch victory over former TUF foe Stephan Bonnar at UFC 62.
Jardine, a man renowned for his unorthodox striking, had previously dropped a decision to Bonnar four months before Griffin got back together with ‘The American Psycho’.
Expected outcome: One thing was guaranteed: this one would be entertaining. Both Griffin and Jardine enjoyed standing and trading and fireworks were a given with these two.
Most, however, figured Griffin’s superior technique and form would see him come through, whether by stoppage or on a decision.
Actual outcome: Perhaps just as unpredictable as his opponent, Jardine stunned everyone by knocking Griffin out within the very first round. Prepared to mix it up with a dangerous puncher, Griffin learned his lesson the hard way and was visibly distraught at the bout’s conclusion.
Opponent: Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua
Date: September 2007, UFC 76
Set-up: ‘Rua is finally here’ said commentator Mike Goldberg as Griffin and Rua, the new acquisition from PRIDE, squared off ahead of their three-rounder.
‘Shogun’s arrival in the UFC was highly anticipated and the Brazilian was on a run of four straight PRIDE wins, including a first-round stoppage of Alistair Overeem. In fact, Rua’s only defeat in his previous 13 bouts came via injury to Mark Coleman. Known for his dangerous Muay Thai, Rua was the in-form fighter in the world’s 205-pound division.
Meanwhile, Griffin, content to play second fiddle, was coming off a modest decision win over Hector Ramirez in Belfast. Before that, Griffin was wiped out in a round by Keith Jardine.
Expected outcome: Widely considered the best 205-pounder on the planet, the hot-streaking Rua was expected to maul Forrest en route to titles in the UFC. Griffin, the face of The Ultimate Fighter, was a recognisable sacrificial lamb for the Muay Thai massacre. Most would have been surprised if it had gone the distance.
Actual outcome: Griffin shocked the world by submitting Rua in the third round. Fending off the early onslaught, Griffin took over, won each of the first two rounds and then finished Rua with a rear-naked choke in the final session. Griffin dictated where the fight took place, displayed his superiority and eventually outlasted his more celebrated foe. Rua’s UFC debut wound up being a baptism of fire. A Forrest fire, if you will.
Opponent: Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson
Date: July 2008, UFC 86
Set-up: Ultimate Fighter series seven coaches Griffin and Jackson contested ‘Rampage’s UFC light-heavyweight title at UFC 86, a fight which highlighted how Griffin had come full-circle from first winning series one in 2005.
While the fight displayed how much Forrest had progressed as a fighter, it was still deemed a foregone conclusion by most heading into the bout. Jackson, the destroyer of Chuck Liddell, was coming off a UFC/PRIDE unification win over Dan Henderson and was enjoying the form of his career.
Griffin had been out of action for 10 months since the Rua victory.
Expected outcome: Possessing some of the heaviest hands in the business, Jackson is liable to wipe out most of the world’s light heavyweights. With the knockout win of Liddell still ringing in the public’s ears, ‘Rampage’ was tipped to clean out whoever he was to fight.
When that man is Griffin, a fighter blitzed by Keith Jardine 18 months before, the odds become even more stacked in Jackson’s favour. Most figured, naturally, that Jackson would, at some point, knock out a brave and determined Griffin within the scheduled distance.
Actual outcome: In an example of brains over brawn, Griffin kicked and manoeuvred his way to a five-round unanimous decision victory over champion Jackson. He grabbed ‘Rampage’s UFC light heavyweight belt and the respect of the mixed martial arts world in the process. Constructing a game plan and sticking to it, Griffin never allowed Jackson to land his Hail Mary right hand and, in turn, got through with enough leg kicks of his own to diffuse the former champion’s arsenal.
Opponent: Rashad Evans
Date: December 2008, UFC 92
Set-up: Just settling into his new reign as UFC light heavyweight champion, Griffin prepared for a first defence against Rashad Evans, a man fresh off a one-punch demolition of Chuck Liddell. Evans, a wrestler with TNT in his fists, was unbeaten as a pro and improving from fight to fight.
The same, however, could be said of Griffin, clearly enjoying the purple patch of his career to date. With wins over Rua and Jackson, Griffin was one of the most in-form fighters in the 205-pound division.
Expected outcome: Although a close fight on paper, the smart money was headed Griffin’s way, simply because of his edge in experience and his ability to execute a game plan. Anyone that saw his dissections of Rua and Jackson could not fail to be impressed.
Evans, though clearly buoyed by the quick-fire win over Liddell, still had plenty to prove and questions to answer over the longer distance.
Actual outcome: After bossing the first two rounds by using his range, Griffin got his distances wrong in the third and fell into a big Evans right hand. The follow-up assault left Griffin prone on the mat, his title now in the hands of the man nicknamed ‘Suga’.
The Unpredictable Forrest Griffin
Elliot Worsell, UFC - It wasn’t aimed at UFC star Forrest Griffin, but Oscar Wilde once said: "Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not, and a sense of humor was provided to console him for what he is."