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Reintroducing Josh Grispi

"I think he’s gonna come out guns blazing, but I’m good at that and I
can do other things as well. I can brawl, I can wrestle, I
can kickbox, I can do jiu-jitsu. Either way I feel like I can match the
aggression and match the intensity.

If not for injuries and an amazing run by Jose Aldo, Josh Grispi might be the 20-something featherweight wunderkind the world is talking about now. But there is nothing in the form of sour grapes from Grispi; no woe-is-me, no what ifs.

Even when he found out that he went from co-main event to prelim bout on this Saturday’s UFC 125 card when Aldo was forced from their featherweight title fight due to injury, a brief wave of disappointment turned to acceptance and then relief that he will still be fighting in Las Vegas, this time against Dustin Poirier.

“I wanted that fight so bad with Aldo and I was ready to fight,” said Grispi. “When they told me it was off, I thought they were joking at first - I thought my coaches were messing with me. I was a little upset at first and disappointed, but injuries happen and that’s how the sport is.”  

No one knows that better than the 22-year old Grispi. He actually made his debut in the WEC four months earlier than Aldo did in 2008, yet while the Brazilian put together an 8-0 record in the organization, various injuries have kept Grispi to just 4-0.

Yet what a 4-0 it’s been. Brought into the WEC with little fanfare but a local buzz that he had the potential to do big things in the 145-pound weight class, Grispi made a lot of noise immediately with consecutive first round finishes of Mark Hominick and Micah Miller in 2008. Sidelined for ten months, Grispi returned against Jens Pulver in June of 2009 and needed just 33 seconds to submit the former UFC champ. Another injury-induced layoff ensued, but there was no sign of ring rust in June of 2010 when he submitted another vet – LC Davis – at 2:33 of the first round.

So when the first UFC featherweight championship bout in history was announced, between Aldo and Grispi, fight fans got amped up for a matchup that could be replayed a few more times over the next decade given both fighters’ ages and talent levels. Grispi was one of those people getting excited about the matchup, knowing he would be fighting against a consensus pick on the mythical pound-for-pound list.

“He (Aldo) is the champ and he’s where we all want to be,” said Grispi. “He’s there for a reason and everyone’s seen it – he’s great at everything you have to be great at to be a champ. He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s young too, and I feel like we’re both similar in being explosive and trying to finish people. It would just be an insane fight, and I love to test myself against the best. I think it would be a great fight, no matter what.”

It won’t be happening Saturday night though, and Grispi’s come to grips with that, which is a good thing considering that Poirier would like nothing more than to end the Boston native’s winning streak and toss his hat in the ring for a shot at Aldo.

“I’m gonna be around for a while, so we’ll eventually fight,” said Grispi of Aldo. “I know that and it’s gonna be a crazy fight, but right now I’m just focused on Dustin. I’m not looking past him at all – I’m gonna stay focused on this fight right now, and he’s the one on my mind every day.”

And as far as having a target on his back goes, Grispi’s just fine with that.

“I probably have a target on me right now, so I know he’s probably training super hard to fight me and that motivates me, knowing that someone’s going in there trying to beat me up,” he said. “Honestly, I just gotta stay disciplined, stay focused, keep the routine every day, stick to it, and really not think about it. I just go and train my hardest every day. It’s the most I’ve ever trained, the best I’ve ever been on for a fight and I feel great. I just tightened up everything. I was really disciplined and everything before, but I just tightened up everything that much more, and I just feel great. This is my life, this is my job, and I’m blessed.”

The excitement is hard to miss in Grispi’s voice, and that’s understandable considering that this January 1st bout could begin the biggest year of his pro career, one that may include a steady work schedule if he stays healthy, and if he keeps winning, possibly a championship. Yet there is no hint of cockiness in his voice, no shoulder aches from patting himself on the back. Instead, he sounds like a 22-year old happy to be here and fighting for the biggest organization in mixed martial arts, and not one of the top featherweights on the planet. It’s this humble attitude and discipline to not get caught up in the usual exploits 22-year olds can get tangled in that keeps him on top of his game in and out of the Octagon.

“I don’t let it go to my head,” he explains. “I’m with all the same guys that I’ve been with since I started training when I was 13 and to me it just feels the same. There is that temptation after the fight to go crazy because you’ve been so disciplined, but that’s what makes us examples and makes us different. Having this discipline is why we’re so good and why we finish fights, and the reason why we’re doing so good. I have to thank God for that, honestly.”

He can also give credit to a well-rounded attack that has seen him finish 13 of his 14 opponents, including eight in a row in the first round. But beyond his physical and technical skills, Grispi has an uncanny knack to see what’s happening a step or two ahead of time, a gift that has allowed him to finish off veterans who dwarfed him in experience.

“I see it a lot slower than it’s happening,” he said. “I’ll watch the fight after and I’m like ‘wow, that was a lot quicker than I thought.’ I feel like it’s a gift. I calm down when I get in there, I get more focused and get tunnel vision, and everything comes together right at that last moment. It’s crazy.”

It also adds a layer of intrigue to Saturday’s bout considering that Poirier’s last bout saw him fighting like he was double-parked in dispatching Zack Micklewright in 53 seconds in November. Mix this blitzing style with Grispi’s finishing attack, and it promises to be something to see at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

“He’s around my age, so I think he’s gonna come out guns blazing, but I’m good at that and I can do other things as well,” said Grispi. “I can brawl, I can wrestle, I can kickbox, I can do jiu-jitsu. Either way I feel like I can match the aggression and match the intensity. A lot of dudes don’t like to get bullied, so if he’s gonna come in there and try to bully me, I don’t mind getting in there, exchanging, and having a good time.”

And that’s still what this is for Grispi, a young man who used to work in roofing with his father, and who isn’t missing working outside in the New England winters. Stepping into the Octagon and throwing hands with another fighter indoors is a much better option for him, and whatever the outcome on fight night, he’s still happy to be here.

“The way I look at it is, everybody I fight is human and they can be beat,” he said. “I don’t fear any man, so when I get in there I don’t build them up in my head, I don’t put them on a pedestal; I just go in there, and win or lose, I really can’t lose if I do my best. I’m having fun and doing something I love.”