Thursday, June 23, 2011 | 6 p.m.
Tyson Griffin doesn’t talk like a mixed martial artist mired in a three-fight losing streak.
Three days before his UFC on Versus 4 bout against Manvel Gamburyan in Pittsburgh, Griffin’s voice oozes with confidence. He’s already discussing getting back into the title picture, albeit not in the same weight class he dreamed of a year ago.
Griffin, who fights out of Las Vegas and trains at Xtreme Couture, has put a rough 2010 when he went 0-3 in the octagon behind him.
“It hasn’t been that hard to be honest,” Griffin said. “I’m all about a short term memory when it comes to fighting. I’m moving forward.”
The downswing sent Griffin (14-5 MMA, 7-5 UFC) from near the top of the lightweight division, the UFC’s deepest weight class, to the bottom. A year later, he’s out of it all together.
Griffin will make his featherweight debut Sunday in the final fight of the preliminary card, which begins at 3 and streams on UFC’s facebok page. Versus airs the televised portion of the event at 6.
Griffin said it wasn’t the recent skid that made him decide to drop to 145 pounds. He pointed out that he had one previous featherweight bout, a notable TKO victory over Urijah Faber in 2005.
The 5-foot-6 Griffin felt featherweight was where he belonged for more than a year. He told the UFC he wanted to drop down in weight before his last fight when the promotion announced it was merging with the WEC to implement the smaller classes.
“I talked to (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva prior to the Nik Lentz fight, so it was something I already planned,” Griffin said. “I think it’s more my natural weight class. I’m learning more about diet and nutrition. I think it’s time to start being more serious about being a professional athlete and I feel great.”
He’s not getting a tune-up in his UFC introduction to the class with Gamburyan (11-5 MMA, 2-3 UFC). Like Griffin, Gamburyan moved to featherweight after hitting a wall at 155 pounds in the UFC.
Griffin can only hope to repeat his results. Gamburyan won his first three fights in the WEC to set up a championship bout against Jose Aldo last September, which he lost via second round TKO.
This is Gamburyan’s first fight since the defeat.
“It’s exactly what I wanted,” Griffin said. “I want tough guys. I don’t want easy fights. This is a perfect opportunity to establish myself as a top guy at 145. He’s well rounded like I am, but I think I’m sharper everywhere.”
That’s a proclamation that no one would have debated before last year. Griffin started his UFC career 7-2, but impressed even in the losses.
The two defeats came to current UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and former champion Sean Sherk. Griffin won one of the three rounds in each bout and both performances took Fight of the Night honors.
Two of Griffin’s 2010 losses were in close, split decision affairs. He lost to teammate Evan Dunham at UFC 115, and more controversially, to Lentz at UFC 123 in a fight most thought he won.
“Tyson Griffin got (expletive) big time tonight,” UFC President Dana White told reporters at the UFC 123 post-fight press conference. “You know how I feel. I like guys who come in and fight. I’d rather keep a guy who lost a dogfight than keep a guy who ran around in circles for three rounds and won.”
The only emphatic loss Griffin suffered came in between Dunham and Lentz. Former PRIDE champion Takanori Gomi knocked him out a minute into the first round — the only time Griffin has ever lost via stoppage in his career.
“I’ve never even been dropped in the gym,” Griffin said. “Then to get dropped like that, it was like a learning experience. I’ve matured from dealing with it all — the highs and the lows.”
He said all the experiences gave him a new outlook and that’s why he’s so energized heading into the Gamburyan showdown. More than his attitude and weight have changed, as Griffin also altered his training camp.
Griffin said he spent more time working on his grappling than he had in the past six years.
“It made me have a lot more fun with training,” Griffin said. “I’ve gotten back to my roots and gotten back to what got me in the UFC. It’s what got me into the top of the division back in the day and it’s going to do it again.”