With former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin set to take on one of his toughest challenges to date in current Middleweight Champion and world-renowned Anderson Silva this Saturday, it marks an important milestone in what has been a memorable career that is still developing and emerging—even at 30 years of age.
Here are seven standout moments from Griffin’s near eight-year career, one he hopes will have another seminal victory attached to it following UFC 101.
Losing to a Legend
It is not often you fight an MMA legend in your first appearance and even more rare when you offer to fight that person for free. However, that is exactly what Griffin did when he took on UFC Hall-of-Famer Dan “The Beast” Severn in his professional debut in October 2001 in Augusta, GA.
For Severn, years removed from his glory days at the time, it was just another fight. For Griffin, it was just the beginning.
Talking about the fight, Griffin explained, “I was a hometown kid and they wanted to use the angle of the local kid fighting Dan Severn. The promoter said he'd give me $250 and I said. ‘What the hell… I'd do it for free.” It was a win-win situation. No matter what happened, it was Dan Severn."
Forrest would drop a three-round unanimous decision to the former UFC legend in a less-than-exciting affair. But losing in lackluster fashion was of little consequence as it kicked off this Georgia cop’s true calling, that of a professional fighter.
Bad to the (Broken) Bone
Two years after the Severn loss, Griffin took his fight game far away from Georgia in a battle with Edson Paredao in Natal, Brazil, as part of Heat FC 2. In his first round KO win, Griffin would learn that even victories come with a price, thanks to a kick he blocked with his left arm.
“I felt a burst of pain in my forearm, but I forgot about it as he pummeled me repeatedly in the face. A few minutes later, I knocked him out with a hard right hand. After the fight, the pain in my arm set in. Adrenaline, piss, and vinegar can numb an injury in the heat of a fight, but that numbness doesn’t last for long,” Forrest recalls in his New York Times best selling book Got Fight?
The arm was broken and Griffin needed surgery to implant a steel plate. However, without medical insurance or a regular income, that wasn’t an option and life in law enforcement seemed to be a near certainty and inevitability. But after hearing about an MMA-tinged reality TV show in the works, Griffin tempted fate and sent in an application. The rest is history.
The UFC’s Ultimate Fight
Nearly every MMA fan is familiar with what UFC President Dana White credits as the "most important fight in UFC history,” the same one that helped bring MMA back into the mainstream consciousness and the same one recently voted No. 1 in the Spike TV 100 top UFC fights of all time series.
For 15 furious minutes, Griffin and Stephan Bonnar battled back and forth with neither willing to break. Their collective performance earned both six-figure professional contracts with the UFC and had them celebrating the night in style—a hospital emergency room.
“Stephan’s girlfriend picked up some McDonald’s and Rory (Forrest’s trainer) purchased some beers. When they walked in, Stephan and me were sitting next to each other. It was quite fun," quipped Forrest.
Rising from the ashes
Following his abrupt T(KO) loss to Keith Jardine at UFC 66, a demoralized Griffin sat in his corner crying. Moments later, he walked away from Joe Rogan in the post-fight interview, saying "I don't ev...Keith came in, and he did exactly what I wanted to do and he knocked me the (expletive) out. Let's go home."
Griffin walked off camera and left Rogan by himself, but returned moments later to simply say, “I'll be back" as he headed out of the Octagon. He would win his next three fights, obviously learning something from what could have been a career-ending defeat.
The loss was a make or break moment in his career and he chose to break through and become a better fighter.
Lamb to the Slaughter
Griffin’s September 2007 fight against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 76 was expected to be the coming out party for Rua in front of the American mainstream audience. The former PRIDE Grand Prix Champion was widely considered the best 205-pound fighter in the world at the time and most thought he would walk right through the Forrest.
But Forrest defied the odds, dominating most of the action on his way to an amazing third-round rear naked choke submission victory. Despite Rua injuring his knee, it was a no-doubt victory that would catapult Griffin into a situation that would have never happened if he stayed out of MMA: a world title shot in Las Vegas, NV.
From TUF to Title Holder
Going into his Light Heavyweight title match with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 86, Griffin’s toughness and desire was never in question, trademarks forged through his war with Bonnar, the loss to Jardine, his split decision loss to Tito Ortiz and his surprising win over Rua. Griffin was legit, but was he world title material?
The answer was yes.
“By watching footage of Quinton Jackson, I picked up on a number of his patterns. Armed with this knowledge, my coaches and I worked on a game plan.”
Griffin noticed Jackson liked to throw combinations, connecting with a left hook followed by a right uppercut or a left hook followed by a right hook. To combat this, he threw left head kicks at Jackson all night long as he “wanted to damage his right arm as much as possible to take power away from it.”
Griffin survived a five-round, 25-minute war with Jackson to become the Light Heavyweight Champion via unanimous decision, putting himself among elite company as just the seventh man in company history to wear the title.
Grin and Bear it
Six months later, Griffin would hand his title over to Rashad Evans at UFC 92 with a smile on his bloody face.
Griffin controlled the first two rounds with effective striking, but Evans was able to get inside his guard in the third round and ground and pound his way to a TKO victory for the gold. As Evans rained down blows, you could see Griffin smiling, a man happy inside the middle of the Octagon even while getting pummeled.
This Saturday will be the first time Griffin has got back into the cage since that Dec. 27 night (he suffered a broken hand that he’s recovered from) and for the former Light Heavyweight champion, there is no ‘tomato can’ or easy opponent standing across from him.
On Saturday, in the middle of a screaming throng of Philadelphia fans, the 16-5 Griffin will battle 24-4 Anderson Silva, he of the 10-fight win streak and battering of names like Rich Franklin, Nate Marquardt, James Irvin, and Dan Henderson. Heavily criticized over his past two fights for giving lackluster performances, it will be interesting to see what Silva comes out swinging and how his second foray in the UFC’s 205-division will end up.
No matter what, he’ll have a smiling face there to receive and deliver the pain.
The majority of quotes were taken from Forrest Griffin's New York Times best selling book Got Fight?