Max Griffin is feeling feisty.
Fresh off the best performance of his UFC career and the birth of his son, the veteran welterweight is fueled with a new dose of paternal instincts and energy that have him ready to square up with anyone… or anything.
“I’m ready to fight a mountain lion right now, straight up, and they will get it,” laughed the 35-year-old stalwart, who returns to action against Song Kenan on the main card of this weekend’s return to the ESPN airwaves. “It’s not like I need any more energy, but I have it and I’m like a Papa Bear and that’s my cub.
“I have that paternal instinct thing where I’m already in fight mode, but this version is a whole different level where anyone looking at me, anyone doing anything can get it. Everything is heightened — my intensity, my focus, my discipline; I’m ready to fight anything. It feels good.”
Even before Tyrus Jax Griffin came into the world a few weeks ago, his dad was riding high after finally putting together the kind of performance he’d long been chasing inside the Octagon.
Respected by his peers and universally recognized as a consummate pro and a perennial tough out, Griffin entered his November clash with highly regarded Fortis MMA prospect Ramiz Brahimaj with a 3-6 record under the UFC banner, a misleading tally that has could never accurately reflect the close contests and shaky decisions that made up his first nine trips into the Octagon.
With consecutive losses stationed atop his resume, but having recently started working with a mental coach to help unlock his full potential on fight night, the Sacramento resident stepped into the cage and instantly showed he was a step ahead and a level above the talented newcomer.
“It was really nice to utilize the tools I’ve worked on with my new mental coach, Danny Patterson, like being authentic, and that means being funny and just being me,” said Griffin, who earned a third-round stoppage win. “I’d get in the cage and you get all serious, but that’s not me.
“For that fight to go that way — to have a beautiful performance and to have a good time, it’s more incentive to have more fun.
“For me to go out there, genuinely have a good time — it felt like I was in The Matrix out there,” he added with a laugh. “I was so fast and sharp; it was so dope! For me to watch it was like, ‘Holy f*** I’m fast!’ It’s so good to see.”
The excitement and happiness recalling the effort brings to the hard-working veteran radiates through his voice, with additional notes of relief and satisfaction clear, but unspoken, and with good reason.
So much of the way fighters are perceived by casual fans and even moderate observers usually comes down to what can be gleaned by a quick glance at their resumes, and in Griffin’s case, it’s not particularly pretty, but not entirely representative of what he actually brings to the table either.
Prior to his win over Brahimaj, the NorCal staple had registered one win in five starts — a majority decision verdict in a tense clash with Zelim Imadaev at UFC 236 sandwiched between four trips to the scorecards that didn’t go his way. He’d also lost his debut to Colby Covington, and another bout to Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos when the Brazilian was in the process of putting together his seven-fight winning streak.
His dominant victory over Mike Perry gets swept in the sea of close fights and questionable verdicts that went against him, leaving the talented and dangerous fighter looking like a replacement-level competitor to those that hadn’t seen those previous bouts or can’t see past the wins and losses.
While he never doubted he belonged and was capable of more than he’d shown, translating potential into performance in his final appearance of 2020 has Griffin heading into his first fight of 2021 ready to show that it wasn’t a one-time thing.
“I feel like if I did dwell on that and did put a lot on (those struggles), I wouldn’t be here,” he said, reflecting on the path that led him to Saturday’s meeting with Song in Las Vegas. “People ask me all the time about, ‘Oh, you’re 1-4 or 3-5,’ but I know how close those fights are and how many of those fights I really won.
“I’m happy that I’m still here. Usually guys lose or something happens and they get cut, but I’ve always been exciting, been in these close-a** fights, and I’m still here, and now I have the opportunity to show it.
“It’s good for me to still be here and I’m getting better every fight,” he added. “Every single fight I’m better and showing something new.”
Saturday’s bout with Song is another opportunity for Griffin to showcase the steady improvements he’s always making and what his further work with Patterson has yielded, while also putting him across the cage from a fighter who has earned four victories in five starts inside the Octagon.
The 30-year-old Song made a splash in his promotional debut with a 15-second knockout win over Bobby Nash, and then followed it up with a second-round finish of Hector Aldana in his sophomore showing. He landed on the wrong side of the scorecards in a Fight of the Night-winning clash against Alex Morono towards the end of 2018, but has since rebounded with two more victories, including a first-round knockout of Callan Potter in his lone appearance of 2020.
Entering with consecutive wins and as many victories as Griffin in half the number of fights, the Chinese welterweight profiles as a potentially dangerous dance partner for the American veteran, but Griffin isn’t particularly worried — not after how things went against Brahimaj and not with how he’s feeling right now.
“This guy is okay — he’s good, but everybody is good, right?” he offered when asked his thoughts on Song. “We saw him in China when Anthony (Hernandez) fought in China — dude was on the card, but I didn’t really think s*** of him.
“I’m not looking past this guy, but he’s a good guy to beat. He’ll stand in front of me and that’s what people don’t want to do right now.
“It’s all about is being the best version of me, because if I’m the best version of me, I can beat anybody,” Griffin said, pausing to find the right words to sum up where he’s at with his first fight of the year drawing closer by the day.
“I’m more ready and more confident. I don’t care who is in front of me, man; they’re gonna get wasted.”