Eight weeks of training for 15 minutes (or less) inside the Octagon. Stars are introduced to the world via the bright lights and elaborate production of a UFC event. They are created, however, through long, grueling hours in the gym. Away from fans, away from family, and many of life’s other luxuries that most people take for granted.
On an unusually cool Wednesday afternoon in Las Vegas, Tyson Griffin is paying his dues inside the Xtreme Couture gym. Save for his striking trainer, the gym is deserted. The sounds of leather being exchanged bounces off the walls of the gym, at times overpowering Boogie Down Productions’ classic battle record, ‘The Bridge Is Over’ which plays in the background. The vocals to the track fade out and almost as if on cue, the bell rings and one of the UFC’s rising lightweight stars takes a rest.
And when the bell rings again, he’s right back at it. One more five minute sparring session and Griffin retires for the day. He goes hard in the gym-so he can take it easy during his fights.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself in training,” Griffin says of his work ethic. “I get beat up in training so I won’t have to deal with it in the fight. Hopefully the fight will be the easiest part of my training camp.”
He goes on to talk about training camp conditions that push his body to the max. He describes training camp conditions that are both physically and mentally taxing; conditions impossible for an opponent to replicate in an actual fight. “We do what we call the ‘Shark Tank,’” he says, “where you [fight] a fresh guy every minute. You’ll never have that in a fight. You push your mind and body to do things you never thought you could do. If you do all of that in training, hopefully your heart rate won’t get that high in a real fight.”
Real fights are, of course, what Griffin lives for, the way he sustains himself. Amassing an impressive 12-2 record, Griffin garnered four “Fight of the Night” honors in his seven UFC fights. The latest came in a narrow decision loss to Sean Sherk last October at UFC 90. Though Griffin netted an extra $60,000 for his efforts, he reveals that he’d give it back in a heartbeat to change the outcome of the match.
“Don’t get me wrong, the money is great, but at the end of the day, I say you can’t put a price on a W,” he explains when asked if the money makes the loss easier to deal with. “I’d have given up the money to have a win against a guy like Sean Sherk any day of the week.”
Despite the loss, Griffin walked out of the Octagon that night with a renewed since of confidence in his abilities. “I can compete with the best in the world,” he says. “In a lot of magazines, Sherk is ranked number three in the world and I had a really close fight with him. I rocked him at one point and he never really hurt me, I was never in danger of getting finished. He won the fight, but I think I showed that I can compete with the best in the 155 pound class.”
The loss to Sherk likely knocked Griffin several notches down the totem pole for title contention. However, the bitter taste of defeat left the Sacramento native salivating for the flavor of victory.
“It motivates you,” he says of losing. “You’re only as good as your last fight and two losses in a row is never good. Hopefully I’ll never lose two in a row.
“This stuff is really a lot more mental than people think. There are a lot of guys in the streets that think they can get in the cage and knock people out-and some people can. But not a lot of guys can get in the cage and make guys miss, not a lot of people can control the fight and fight your fight. That’s the biggest thing; learning how to get over those mental humps. Learning how to control your emotions and being relaxed-that’s something you have to learn early.”
At just 24 years of age, Griffin has proved to be a fast learner and looks to showcase his evolving skill set come April 1 when he faces Rafael dos Anjos at UFC Fight Night: Condit vs.Kampmann.
“He’s a well rounded fighter,” Griffin says of dos Anjos. “He seems to have confidence when he strikes. I think cardio is going to be the biggest factor in this fight. Hopefully I’ll be able to push the pace.”
Griffin is no slouch when it comes to the striking. He makes it clear that if dos Anjos can hang with his punching power, the break neck pace that Griffin is known will likely be the deciding factor in the fight. “Even if he thinks he can compete with the striking aspect, I think my cardio and my pace is going to be the worst thing for him. I’m no submission wiz, but at the same time, it’s hard to submit be because I’m going to be punching you while you submit me.”
With talk of title shots several fights away, the other lightweights in the Xtreme Couture camp are the proverbial elephants in the room. With Junie Browning entering the Xtreme Couture fold and an undefeated Gray Maynard moving up the ranks, there may come a time when members of the team hold down the title and number one contender slots in the division. Griffin says he’ll cross that bridge when the time comes, but talk of fighting a teammate is simply out of the question.
“It’s definitely an unwritten rule that we won’t fight; we’re teammates,” Griffin says. “Gray (Maynard) has gotten back in the gym for me, less than a week after his fight. If there’s a title belt in front of us, that’s the only way I could see us fighting. Unless that happens, there’s no point in us talking about it.”