Forrest Griffin is the original Ultimate Fighter winner, former UFC light heavyweight champion and now in his post-fighting career, one hell of an ambassador for the sport of MMA. It all makes sense. Forrest was always one of the most gregarious fighters during his heyday inside the Octagon, and watching people get punched in the face for a living instead of being the one getting punched in the face suits him well. These days, he’s doing everything from helping new fighters transition into their combat careers, to surprising fans in the back of a Buffalo Wild Wings for fun nights of UFC action. The latter BWW action is how this interview came about.
Forrest is no doubt a busy guy, so when he was a little late to our interview I didn’t think anything of it. He probably had some important Forrest Griffin business to take care of. Who was I to question that? It turns out he didn’t. But, he began our interview in the most Forrest way possible, saying, “My apologies for being late there was a wounded kitten in the lane of traffic on the way here and I stopped to get it out.”
Are you serious?
Haha, no, but it’s a good excuse for being late.
Yeah, maybe I’ll use that in the story, we can make you a hero.
But you gotta commit to it if you’re gonna do it. You gotta make it a kitten from the pound or something and I had to save him.
I watched this Buffalo Wild Wings surprise. Do you usually spend your time surprising people in the back rooms of restaurants?
Uh, you know, I actually do surprise some people. Sometimes they don’t know who I am, which is really embarrassing. But no, yeah, I’ve done some more stuff for that. This was cool because I was like “By the way, do you want to go to the UFC fight? ‘Cause we can make that happen.”
Yeah, it’s pretty cool.
Well, Buffalo Wild Wings sent me some videos of what they had done in the past and I thought, you know, being the UFC we have to try to one-up that and actually take them to a big live event. Give them the VIP treatment.
The guy that won is actually a Vegas local and his son actually started coming to my gym, which is pretty cool. We kinda stay in touch a little bit.
It seems like your inner marketer is coming out with these innovations. Is that where your energy is going towards now that you’re not fighting?
Maybe, I think (the UFC) just tries harder. Just in general we try harder than other sports.
It seems like you very much enjoy just hanging out. Like you’re one of the guys, just one of the guys who can beat people up.
Very much. I’ve always kind of been the guy next door who just happens to fight for a living. I tried to figure out what was special and marketable about me early on in my career and I realized that there’s absolutely nothing special about me, so I wanted that.
You could say that the fact that you’re aware that you’re not special is special.
For Las Vegas, I’m actually original because I don’t have any tattoos.
I think one of your most important legacies is that you represented pale men very well.
Pale, hairy men. Yeah, I got that going for me.
Are you sad you didn’t get to kick the fan you met at BWW at least once?
You know, (sighs) my kicks aren’t what they used to be. I might’ve just let him down. So no, but in my prime I would’ve kicked him. I used to carry waivers with me. “Hey, would you sign this real quick?” “What is that?” “Oh, don’t worry about it.”
Are you still training regularly?
I don’t train at all. I try to break a sweat every day doing something. Try to do hot pilates once a week. I’m not kidding. I actually hurt myself doing hot pilates, so I got that going for me.
How did that happen?
I honestly don’t know. I was competing with middle-aged housewives and they’re better athletes than I am. What can I say?
Do you consider yourself a trailblazer as far as worldwide acceptance of spokespeople with incredible amounts of scar tissue?
Yeah, definitely. Because I’m pretty non-threatening. Unfortunately, I found out when I was trying to like square up with people and face off with people and, like, try to intimidate them and I’m pretty non-threatening.
Have you heard about Anderson Silva needing gallbladder surgery?
Yeah, I did, I just heard. I don’t know if he’s just sick or what, but my wife just actually had her gallbladder removed. I guess you get a blockage and if you put work in they can actually be pretty dangerous. So yeah, that’s unfortunate.
Especially considering the way his last few years have gone. Do you think it could be the end for him?
You know, I don’t know. What I do know is everybody hangs on too long because you love the sport and it’s what you’ve done. It’s what you’ve always wanted to do, it’s what you’ve done and you continue to want to do it, to have that drive in you. It’s just something that you have and you’ve always done. Even when I would be down and out, I found myself naturally going to the gym to do something. It’s just in you to compete like that. The other thing is he’s on the wrong side of 40.
Do you think you held on too long?
No, no, blowing my knee out completely saved me from doing that. Otherwise I would’ve. I actually think I still had a couple of good fights in me. Maybe another year, 3-4 fights, at a relatively high level.
You looked good against Tito in what turned out to be your final fight. And you know, everyone retires and then they come back. You retired and haven’t come back since because of that knee.
Yeah, well I never intended to quit, but I tore my knee pretty badly — and ‘badly’ is correct, I look it up on the internet, you can say ‘badly’ — and then I tore it again eight months later playing soccer with 5-year-olds. And that’s when I knew, even that thought in the back of my head about coming back was just gone. I was like “Well…I got put down by a 5-year-old today. I should probably stay down.” That was the start of my glory days in hot yoga.
Getting beaten in hot pilates and tore your knee playing soccer with a 5-year-old, you’re kind of ruining my view of you.
This is what I tell young fighters, when it starts going downhill, it goes down fast. Unfortunately.
I’ve been watching you for a long time and this is a question I’ve always wanted to ask you…
What is it like to bleed so much?
Man, I tell you what, having watched the recent fights, I feel insecure about my bleeding. I see a lot of guys bleed a lot more.
I don’t know man, I think you’re in the HoF of bleeding. You’ve probably affected the UFC videogames your bleeding is so legendary.
Well, I appreciate that, I appreciate that.
Has there ever been a time you got busted open and accidentally started bleeding around the house?
Yeah, more than once. For like a year, even after I retired, my ear would just bleed. There was just some scar tissue on it that tore open so many times that it just started bleeding all the time. It’s rough on the wife, she has to keep washing the sheets again and again.
So there’s no opportunity for you to un-retire? To maybe get some revenge on some old losses to fight Dan Severn?
Dan Severn already beat me up once. I’m gonna accept that loss. But no, there really isn’t and to kind of give you the spiel that I give myself; I’m still involved in the sport, I still get to do what I love to do, and I get to have a positive impact on the UFC which is, you know… I was a kid, 19-20, when I saw it I thought it was the greatest thing in the world and I would give anything to do that and I got to do it. I had a little run, I wish it was longer, but I still get to be involved. So, for me, I feel very fortunate that I get to do this and still work towards helping young athletes make this sport better.
Are you mentoring young fighters or helping anyone if you’re not training?
To an extent, yeah. We have 30 to 40 of our new athletes, our new signees come out and we take them to courses related to mental preparation, diet, financial management, media. And I get to tell them where I went right and where I went wrong and get to help them a bit. And even, to an extent, help with the programming of what I think fighters today need to be told.
Are you pro or con fighter union?
So… Unions become an organism, and they become out for themselves, and I think that’s happened in every major union in the world. If you want to look to what unions have really gone wrong, look at the US government, specifically if you remember Waiting for Superman. I think that was just how wrong unions can go. I see that with charities too, unfortunately. Instead of the original cause, it becomes about the chairman. You know? There are people in the unions making a lot of money and it’s a lot like politics, your job becomes to stay in office and you do whatever it takes to do that. The other thing is I feel like sometimes I can be that voice of balance. We realize that fighters are our best asset and we try to take care of them. We’re building the athlete to help them perform instead of helping athletes extend their career. Open that earned income potential just a little more to train properly. We really want to get the message out there that we care about these guys, but, you know? It is a rough sport, but it’s a rough sport like every other sport. You know?
What’s your take on the UFC possibly being sold?
Well, I didn’t bother to write up a resume. Not that I would know how to, not having written one since 2004, but I wouldn’t be too worried about it.
It’s interesting to hear your thoughts. You studied Poli Sci and politics are front and center with the election coming up.
Yeah, every fourth year we care. American politics.
It’s horserace politics. Some people consider it a sport itself.
Yeah, it is.
Anyone you’re pulling for to win the presidency? (At this point the Buffalo Wild Wings rep interjects to get back on the tasty subject of their 16 signature sauces while enjoying UFC PPVs at one of their many locations or the interview would have to end. Forrest laughed mightily.)
I really don’t. I can just say that I remember having multiple candidates on a card from different parties that I thought would do a good job at one point and I don’t really feel that way.