A little more than a decade ago, Forrest Griffin was living in Georgia, serving the public good as a cop by day and serving his primal instincts as a recreational mixed-martial arts fighter by night. When word of his impressive?and fearless?combat skills reached the headquarters of the then-struggling Ultimate Fighting Championship, Griffin was offered a spot in the inaugural Ultimate Fighter reality show. Although controlled violence was in his blood, Griffin initially was reluctant to turn in his gun, his badge and his financial security for a shot in the dark. “For me, fighting was that girl who always treats you bad, but you just keep going back to her,” Griffin says. “One of the [Ultimate Fighter] producers convinced me to do it, and I just decided better to regret the choices you make then the ones you don’t, or something like that. It sounded cooler in my head at the time.”
Much like many of his opponents, Griffin quickly pummeled regret into submission, becoming the first Ultimate Fighter in April 2005 before going on to become one of the most prolific and popular fighters in UFC history, including winning the light heavyweight championship. For his efforts in and out of the octagon, the 34-year-old Las Vegas resident, who retired in May, will be immortalized when he?s inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. The July 6 ceremony is part of UFC Fight Week, which includes the UFC Fan Expo on July 5-6 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center and culminates with UFC 162 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
What goes through your head when you hear that?
That’s a great question. I have no idea yet. Obviously, it’s a good thing. It’s [strange] that it happened so immediately. You’re done [fighting]? OK, you’re in the Hall of Fame. In other sports, these unbelievable [athletes], like Jerry Rice, they have to wait a couple of years to get into their Hall of Fame.
So are you officially retired? What are the odds of a comeback?
I’m officially retired. Right now, the odds are zero. It would take a miracle, some sort of magical time machine so I could go back and unhurt my shoulder.
Two of your most memorable fights were against Stephan Bonnar, the first coming in the Ultimate Fighter finale, which helped launch the UFC. Now you?re entering the Hall of Fame together. Is that fitting?
For sure. We’ve had very similar careers, kind of started the same way, ended around the same time, got beat up by the same people. We’re friendly now, but we at the time we weren’t.
I remember a bunch of stuff about that first fight, including being real tired. Then people started stomping their feet, and I could feel it in the cage a bit. It was a pretty cool feeling, and I can say I’ve only felt that a couple of times in my career.
You finished with a record of 19-7, going 10-5 in UFC. What was the most aggravating defeat?
For me, it was the Shogun [Rua] fight in Brazil [in 2011], because I didn?t really feel like I ever got going. That was one of the fights where you’re like, I’m actually prepared for this; camp’s been good for a change, I’m healthy. That was a pretty good version of me. So that kind of deflated my hopes of ever getting back to the top.
Who’s the one up-and-coming fighter that will have you saying to yourself two years from now, “Damn, I wish I could get into the octagon with him!”
That’s a crazy question. I don’t want to get in the octagon with those guys–they’re animals! I want to fight other old people. Guys like Chris Weidman, he’s 25 or 26 [actually 29]–that’s an advantage. A little bit of naivete is a good thing in this game, you know.
You’ve left the octagon, but you still work for the UFC, doing charity and community outreach work. You even called it your “dream job.” How so?
Think about it: You get to get paid to do good work. Everybody wants to do good stuff and help people, but they never make the time for it. I know I never did. There was always something–a fight camp, an opportunity I had to take. But now, that is your job, so you don’t have a lot of other obligations.
Here’s the way I look at it: I would see Bill Gates and all these famous rich people, and they’d always be doing stuff in some [foreign] country, helping some people open a school in South Africa or whatever. And I always thought, “Man, they’re just trying to buy public opinion. But then as I became successful at fighting, my needs were met–for the first time in my life, I was comfortable. Then I started to worry about other people. Who can I help? What should I be doing? It’s a natural instinct to want to help other people. So I came to realize that these movie stars [doing charity work], they’re not trying to buy favor; they genuinely want to help. Most people never really get to experience what it’s like to not have a lot of worries financially, to have their needs met.
Even though UFC has built an enormous following over the past decade, there’s still a segment of society that struggles to embrace the sport. What are those people missing out on?
It’s not for everybody, man. It’s fighting, and there’s a saturation point. That’s why I think the UFC is looking internationally more. But it is violence. It’s like stress–there’s good stress, and there’s bad stress. Well, there’s bad violence, and there’s good violence. Not everybody enjoys seeing people fight, so there’s no reason to try to bring everybody into it.
I can’t watch baseball to save my life, and I’ve been friends with a couple of pro baseball players, but five minutes in, I’m ready to leave.?