“He’s a lot like myself. It’s two guys that have been around a long time… he’s a little more dapper and refined in his fighting and his speaking. He’s coming off a great win over probably the best MMA fighter of our generation.”
LAS VEGAS - The difference-maker in Saturday night’s UFC 126 co-main event? How about Forrest Griffin’s breath?
It’s possible, especially since the self-professed coffee connoisseur/addict recently graduated to “Cat Poo Coffee,” which is literally coffee beans featuring feces from a cat-like animal in Indonesia. The delicacy, also known as “Civet Coffee,” “Cats—t Coffee” and “Kopi Luwak”, is regarded as the world’s most expensive java and has been known to sell for $600 a pound or $50 a cup.
“Yeah, it’s the Holy Grail of coffee,” Griffin marveled. “It changed my life for the better. It’s like flying first class: Once you fly first class, then flying anything else sucks.”
Days away from his bout with Rich Franklin this weekend, the witty former UFC light heavyweight champ seemed much more content to discuss his outrageously high coffee consumption, his ADHD, and The Apocalypse than his distinguished MMA career. Fittingly, during our 30-minute interview the former police officer frequently sipped from a large cup of joe.
“In a fight camp I keep it to 800 milligrams of caffeine a day, maybe closer to 1,000 milligrams of caffeine a day,” said the thickly bearded 31-year-old, who’s been sporting the grungy look of a lumberjack and who spent north of $1,800 last year on coffee. “I usually drink quadruple espressos, about two of those a day. And I make a pot of coffee – they’re kind of weak – but I drink eight cups of coffee in the morning.”
Author of two outlandish books that made The New York Times bestseller list, Griffin said he also occasionally chugs what diehards call “coffee porn in a cup,” which is a 20-ounce drink comprised of 10 shots of espresso.
“It’s awesome but you don’t want to work out around that, you’ll have a heart attack,” he said. “But it’s good for book writing, I’ll tell you that.”
If all of this is not enough to convince you that Rich “Ace” Franklin could be somewhat victimized by a pungent and overwhelming whiff of coffee inside of the Octagon, maybe this extra tidbit will:
“I drink my last cup of coffee for the day on my way to the locker room” at the arena, Griffin said. “I get Americanas, which are basically four shots of espresso and water.”
It’s a ritual. Before upending Stephan Bonnar in the TUF 1 finale – Griffin drank coffee. Before beating Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Tito Ortiz – coffee. Griffin, 17-6 and light heavyweight winner of season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter, traces his love affair with the brown beans to his freshman year at the University of Georgia.
“I got ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or whatever, and when I found coffee it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I can study, I can study!’” he explained.
Griffin eventually earned a B.S. in political science. And as you engage him on contemporary topics, it becomes perfectly clear that, unlike many college students, Griffin actually picked a major that stoked a passion in him. For proof, I asked him about The Apocalypse, which inspired his most recent survival guide, “Be Ready When the Sh*t Goes Down.”
Do you really believe an Apocalypse is inevitable?
“Oh yeah,” he says in earnest.
What are the signs? What’s the basis for that belief?
“We’re losing our credit rating as a nation,” Griffin replied. “Our interest on our debt alone will outweigh our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in about 10 or 15 years. The interest on our national debt -- not the actual money we owe -- will be more than our Gross Domestic Product. Thus we will become an insolvent nation, like a bank that writes you bad checks. That’s where we are. It’s coming.”
OK, so since we know it’s coming, can we stop it?
“It’s too late,” Griffin said. “I wouldn’t try to prevent The Apocalypse.”
Forecasting the end of the world as we know it has not stopped Griffin, one of the sport’s most popular and well-compensated fighters, from being notoriously frugal (on everything except coffee, of course). Most of the clothes he wears are gifts from his sponsors. You expect a high-earning athlete such as him to maybe drive a souped-up SUV or a Mercedes or a top-flight sports car.
Nope. The guy still drives 2005 Toyota Scion xB that the UFC gave him back in 2005.
“I’m not going to do this forever,” Griffin said of his thrifty ways, mindful that he may need to stretch his fight career earnings over many years, though it’s not clear how beneficial those savings will be if The Apocalypse strikes. “I’ve got to be careful with money because I cannot go back to having to carry a calculator in the grocery store. And I cannot go back to having a car that is not dependable. I used to have a lot of stress, like, ‘Is my car going to start today?”
No such problems in 2011. The Scion has faithfully logged 97,000 miles and Griffin has driven on seven different occasions from Las Vegas, where he trains, to Athens, Georgia, where he still owns a residence.
Why not just fly to Georgia? Griffin’s got plenty of money.
“That’s just how much I hate flying,” he said. “Flying terrifies me. I always think I’m going to die. It’s just something totally out of your control. I don’t like it.”
When he does fly, he prefers to sit in the center of the aircraft, near the exit row, craving space for his 6’3” frame.
“You get a little extra leg room, you got the door right there and I figure that if somebody tries to get crazy I can stop ‘em,” Griffin said. “If I’m first class I like to be in the front so if somebody tries to get to the pilot I can stop ‘em. I consider myself the last line of defense. If somebody tries to rush the (cockpit) I’m (beating) them. And I’m coming at you from a bad place. I’m already in fear and if I think you’re trying to (expletive) up the plane I’m coming after you.”
Soon the topic switches to Rich Franklin (28-5, 1 NC). Griffin has nothing bad to say about the former UFC middleweight champion, sensing common traits between them.
“He’s easy to get along with,” Griffin said. “He’s a lot like myself. It’s two guys that have been around a long time… he’s a little more dapper and refined in his fighting and his speaking. He’s coming off a great win over probably the best MMA fighter of our generation.”
That would be Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell, who seemed to be winning the first round before Franklin unleashed a monster right hand that put the iconic Iceman out cold. Most pundits expect that Franklin, an owner of 15 TKO’s, will also prefer to strike on Saturday night. Griffin agrees.
“He’s probably a little quicker than me and he’s a southpaw,” Griffin said. “He’s got a strong left and he throws that wild right hook out there. He punches at weird angles. He punches wrong. It’s the way he punches. He kind of wings ‘em and he seems to do alright with it.”
Make it ugly. Impose your size advantage on the smaller fighter. Put Franklin on his back and test his cardio. A lot of people are assuming that would be the safest blueprint for a Griffin victory.
“I’ve definitely thought about it,” conceded Griffin, who has submitted seven foes and was recently awarded his BJJ black belt from six-time world champion Robert Drysdale.
Yet Griffin isn’t sold on the rough-up-the-smaller-guy approach, partially because he’s not a standout wrestler and also because wrestler-types really haven’t enjoyed much success taking Franklin to the mat and holding him there. The list of quality wrestlers who couldn’t muscle Franklin around is a long one: Dan Henderson, Travis Lutter, the late Evan Tanner, Ken Shamrock, Matt Hamill and even the brick wall that is Yushin Okami.
“People have a hell of a time getting him down and they don’t do much to him when he’s on the ground. He seems to be OK there,” Griffin said. “And I don’t have a great shot or anything, I don’t have that innate timing. I’m more of a grinder.”
Long praised as one of the sport’s hardest workers (including by mentor Randy Couture), Griffin acknowledged that age, mounting injuries and intelligence caused him to reduce the number of gruesome practices he engages in. Though widely regarded as a cardio machine, he believes that overtraining hindered some of his past performances, and he will enter this fight slightly undertrained and still confident he can fight three hard rounds if necessary.
Ring rust is a concern since Griffin hasn’t fought since November 2009, when he eked out a split decision victory over Tito Ortiz. The shoulder he had surgically repaired has held up fine. It’s his cauliflowered ears, among the most mangled in the game, that have been bothering him most.
“They’ve been really painful this camp,” he said. “I tried to start wrestling more and that was a bad idea. I’m going to have ear removal surgery after this fight, I think.”
I ask him about Vitor Belfort, his longtime training partner at Xtreme Couture, who faces Anderson Silva for the middleweight title this weekend. Griffin is in a unique position since he has sparred many times with Belfort and also fought Silva.
“Well, you know, they’re both capable of knocking me out,” Griffin remarked. “Nothing against Anderson but I really want Vitor to win. I know he can but some things have to go right for him. If he could just find that opening and be explosive – you know get Anderson to do something a little too careless and then finish him – that would be awesome.”
And just for the record, Griffin shamelessly asserted that down the road he’s willing to fight “a lot of guys” but “not Anderson Silva.”
“I’d like to not fight him anymore,” said Griffin, whom Silva knocked out in the first round at UFC 101. “I get clipped a lot. I come back fast. If guys would just leave me alone for a good 20 seconds then I would be fine to fight (laughs). They don’t want to do that, though. They get right on me and force the issue. Where’s my standing 8 count?”
The conversation carries on and, before I know it, Griffin is chugging away and coffee takes center stage once more. Griffin noted how almost every day he patronizes the same Starbucks drive-thru.
The barristas need not see his face; they quickly identify him by voice.
“Oh, hey Forrest. The usual, Americana?”
No price confirmation. No, ‘would you like anything else with that?’
The crazy thing is, Griffin still questions whether the Starbucks staffers even recognize him as a UFC fighter. Never once have they inquired, or congratulated him on a victory, or broached the subject of UFC. Of Note: Starbucks is not a sponsor of Griffin nor the UFC.
“I sponsor them is the way I like to think about it,” Griffin said. “BSN sponsors me and I, in turn, give my BSN money to Starbucks.”
He plans on writing a third book, this one a self-help guide.
“I’m going to cover every genre from finance, to sex, to anything. I really like giving advice, so I’m going to tell you how to work out, that sort of thing,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of material for this next book. It’s going to be great.”
We are winding down. My 30 minutes are nearly up. There is one last thing I must ask the UFC’s foremost coffee addict.
What happens if you go one day without coffee?
“There would be some rage involved but not enough energy to follow through on the rage,” he said. “My whole bowel system shuts down without coffee. The last time I went without coffee was the first week of The Ultimate Fighter. I decided to stop just to see what would happen.”
“I performed the same, no better, no worse. So then I was like, ‘Screw it, I’ll just start drinking coffee again.’”