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Former champ spreads the UFC message in Bangor appearances

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC | Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC | Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Forrest Griffin interacts with fans during a Q-and-A session before the UFC weigh-in event at the O2 Arena in March 2014 in London. Griffin was in Bangor on Friday to promote the UFC Fight Night show scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 16, at the Cross Insurance Center.
By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — It was just after 9 a.m. Friday, and Forrest Griffin was ready to begin what he counted as somewhere between his “second and seventh” interview since waking up several hours earlier.

That followed a similar schedule the day before in Boston, evidence the Ultimate Fighting Championship is just as aggressive about its promotional efforts as the mixed martial arts battles it produces in the octagon.

“It’s the closest thing to a job I have,” Griffin joked.

Griffin is a former UFC light heavyweight world champion and member of that organization’s hall of fame. He fought his last bout in 2012.

He was in the Queen City Friday in conjunction with the kickoff of ticket sales for the UFC Fight Night show scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 16, at the Cross Insurance Center.

That card, to be televised internationally by Fox Sports 1, will be headlined by a five-round clash between eighth-ranked light heavyweight Ryan “Darth” Bader (18-4) and No. 10 Ovince “OSP” Saint Preux (16-5). Also scheduled is a homecoming fight for Lincolnville native and 13th ranked UFC middleweight Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch against No. 14 Brad Tavares.

“This was a vision quest of (UFC president) Dana White,” Griffin said earlier in the morning of the UFC’s rare small-market stop in Bangor.

White, a 1987 Hermon High School graduate who owns a home in neighboring Levant, expressed interest in bringing a show to the area for several years, a thought that gained momentum with the opening of the Cross Insurance Center last year and the presence across the street from the arena of Hollywood Casino.

The 35-year-old Griffin, who studied political science at the University of Georgia, began a career in law enforcement while he was in college. It was that same time when he caught the mixed martial arts bug.

“I just liked it,” he said. “I’ve always liked the pure fun of combat. I’ve always liked to fight, but I didn’t like to have to be angry. I didn’t want to be mad at people, and this was a way to just go out and fight.

“For me, getting this chance was like a dream because, when you get down to it, who doesn’t want to be a pro athlete?”

Griffin springboarded to fame in 2005 when he won the first edition of The Ultimate Fighter mixed martial arts reality series, defeating Stephen Bonnar by unanimous decision in a celebrated championship match that was credited by White with helping to bring the sport more into the mainstream.

“It was the right place at the right time with the right people watching,” Griffin said of the bout, which led to he and Bonnar being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2013. “We were a couple of guys who looked like college students out there fighting. There were no tattoos — we looked very relatable to average people.”

Griffin subsequently signed with the UFC and eventually won the light heavyweight world championship with a unanimous decision over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson on July 5, 2008, in Las Vegas.

“For me, that was like a dream, being the world champion,” Griffin said. “I didn’t even tell people about the dream because, to me, it seemed so ridiculous.”

Griffin lost the belt to Rashad Evans later that year, suffering a broken hand in the process, but he went on to fight such UFC stars as former champions Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin as well as one-time Pride middleweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua before defeating Tito Ortiz by unanimous decision at UFC 148 in Las Vegas in July 2012.

That was his third career fight against Ortiz — Griffin won the last two — but it also marked his last bout. Chronic injuries, including a torn medial lateral ligament and strained anterior cruciate ligament suffered during 2012, prompted him to announce his retirement in May 2013.

Griffin finished with a career record of 19-7.

Now he works for the UFC in a promotional capacity, sharing his love of the sport that became his career and, in this case, touting the significance of the upcoming Bangor show’s main event.

“The winner of the OSP-Bader fight will become one of the top five light heavyweights in the world. He’s going to be a legitimate contender,” Griffin said. “Bader has been there before and has that experience in 25-minute main-event fights.

“OSP hasn’t been in a main event yet — he’s has never fought under that pressure — but the last guy he beat was supposed to be the next big thing, so he looks ready now.”

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