Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, June 28, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Combat sports are filled with veterans who mistakenly let optimism get in the way of realism.
Forrest Griffin is not one of those fighters. In fact, the 32-year-old former UFC light heavyweight champion falls on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Griffin is probably too dismissive, or too self-deprecating depending on interpretation, of his career's current state as he enters his eighth year of competition in the octagon.
“There’s a lot of guys I can beat, but I don’t know if those guys I can beat are in the top 10,” Griffin said at a workout this week. “I’d say I’m still in the top 25 in the world at 205 pounds. Problem is, I keep fighting the top five or 10 guys.”
Griffin has an assignment he feels is more fitting to his skill level in the co-main event of next week’s UFC 148. Griffin (18-7 MMA, 9-5 UFC) meets Tito Ortiz (16-10-1 MMA, 15-10-1 UFC) in a bout that will double as their trilogy match and Ortiz’s retirement fight.
For only the second time in his past eight contests, Griffin enters as the favorite.
The 37-year-old Ortiz is a prime example of a fighter some felt should have already walked away. He remains the longest-tenured light heavyweight champion in UFC history by nearly two years for his run from 2000-2003 but has tarnished his legacy by going 1-6-1 in his last seven fights.
That’s a trap Griffin, who’s perhaps even better known for winning the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter” than his championship belt, wants to avoid.
“You should quit when you’re kind of breaking even,” Griffin said, “which is where I’m at now.”
Griffin has gone 2-3 over his last five fights, but the losses have come to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Anderson Silva and Rashad Evans. Shogun and Evans are former champions while Silva is considered the best fighter in the history of the sport.
Those hiccups are forgivable. Despite how it may sound, Griffin isn’t ready to follow Ortiz’s trail and move on from MMA just yet.
He’s got a few fights left, but not much more than that.
“It’s not going to be a long time,” Griffin said. “I don’t foresee this huge comeback. I worked out with that (Alexander) Gustafsson kid — young guys, man.”
Griffin knows his profile makes him an ideal candidate to face a promising up-and-comer like Gustafsson in the future. That doesn’t bother Griffin, who mentioned he still has a couple upsets left in him.
But he doesn’t want to spend too much time thinking about it, either. He referred reporters to tarot cards for questions about what lies beyond Ortiz.
He’s too excited for this fight. It’s hard for Griffin to believe that it was a decade ago when he watched one of Ortiz’s five straight UFC title defenses in a bar while working as a police officer in Augusta, Ga.
“I was like, ‘I’ll fight him,’” Griffin said. “I was dead serious. Why not? I still feel that way.”
Five years later, Griffin became a star and faced Ortiz at UFC 59. Many called Ortiz’s split-decision victory the fight of the year.
Griffin avenged the defeat with a split decision of his own three years ago, but Ortiz believes the judges made a bad call. When Ortiz decided he had one fight left, he demanded making Griffin the opponent.
“This fight means the world to me,” said Ortiz, who the UFC will induct into its Hall of Fame before the fight. “I’m going to show on July 7 how much it means to me. I’m not coming in playing around. I’m not talking any smack. I’m coming in to fight. I know Forrest is ready. I’m ready, so let’s fight.”
If Griffin wins, it sets him up for another fight against elite competition — the kind he admittedly no longer feels confident against.
That’s not his concern at the moment. Griffin, who authored a comedic book on surviving the apocalypse last year, isn’t convinced he’ll ever have to worry about another fight.
And not because he’s retiring.
“I’m telling you, we’re all dead in November,” Griffin said. “So chill out.”