Forrest Griffin's No Mas Moment: Did Anderson Silva Ruin Griffin's Career?

Photo by Josh Hedges, Zuffa LLC, via Getty Images.

If you want to survive, possibly even thrive, in the cutthroat world of mixed martial arts journalism sometimes a little sensitivity is in order. Believe it or not, fighters are emotional and sometimes illogical creatures. Usually you will be just fine. Sometimes you'll ask a stupid question and they'll give you that look. Josh Koscheck has a good one, simultaneously bored and annoyed all at once. But there are two questions you never want to ask a hulking man with the ability to kill you dead long before you could ever reach your gun. Never ask Brock Lesnar about steroids. Whether you are a young Jonathan Snowden or the the mighty ESPN network, that question will stop an interview dead in its tracks. And you never, ever ask Forrest Griffin about the Anderson Silva fight at UFC 101.

Don't believe me? Ask friend of the site Othello Bouchareb who made that mistake in an interview last year for his podcast. The big O was well within the bounds of propriety in the interview. Griffin may not like to discuss it, but it's one of the highest profile fights of a high profile career. Griffin shut him down hard, something that would probably be enough to quell most MMA reporters who are quite timid beasts. Not Othello. He wanted his answer, thought he was engaged in a spirited back and forth, maybe just having a bit of fun with a fighter who likes to test reporter's for gumption. And then Griffin threatened him with gun play, referencing page 32 of his book that discusses how Griffin likes to light up varmints with one of his many guns. It's a little chilling if you think about it.

Sometimes the response is less threatening and more insulting. Here's Griffin explaining to Ariel Helwani how he will deal with the question of why he sprinted out of the cage after the bout like they announced a sale on AR-15's at the local gun store:

This guy actually asked me a good question the other day, and this is a real story and I really like it: first off, he was very confrontational; I didn't like him much to begin with, and he goes, 'Hey, man, I have to know,' because it's his business to know, 'why did you run out of the cage that night after the Silva fight.' And I said, 'Look, man, I haven't told anybody, let's keep this on the down low, but the truth is your mom was waiting for me in the back to suck my d***, and you know how good of a b*** j** your mom gives, so I didn't want to be late for that sh**.' And that's pretty much the answer I give. I like that answer, so I'll give that answer to everyone.

What is it about this fight that makes the former UFC light heavyweight champion so unreasonable? The answer is simple, if completely unexplored in the MMA media. Griffin wants to put that fight in his rear view mirror because he quit. Not in the honorable way God and Helio Gracie intended, by signaling to his opponent that he was beaten, but mentally. It was Forrest Griffin's "No Mas" moment.

More on quitters and a brief history after the break

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In 1980 there were two boxers who stood head and shoulders above all their peers. "Sugar" Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran were battling for more than WBC gold that year- they were engaged in a battle of wills to determine which man was the best fighter in the sport. Their first fight in June was an epic slugfest. Duran had gotten under Leonard's skin with prefight taunts and the slick boxer wanted to prove to the world that he could stand toe-to-toe with the Panamanian tough guy.

The fight was an amazing back and forth, but contested in Duran's wheelhouse. He won the WBC title via unanimous decision, handing Leonard the first loss of his career. It was a fight that demanded a sequel and five months later they packed the SuperDome in New Orleans to see if Leonard could solve the challenge posed by Duran. This time Leonard fought his fight, boxing, dancing, taunting, and frustrating the toughest man in the sport.

To the boxing industry, quitting is the ultimate sin. In MMA culture, tapping out is respected, par for the course. In boxing, a man fights until the bitter end. As Leonard continued to wallop Duran, the champion's frustration built and built. And then, the unthinkable. Duran, known as El Animal, turned his back on Leonard and the world:

If Duran arrived in New Orleans with a reputation as unassailable as Simón Bolívar's—he had a career record of 72-1, after all, including his victory over Leonard last June 20 in Montreal—he left with it somewhere in the neighborhood of Papa Doc's. It was bizarre to witness so swift and devastating a collapse of a man's name. And what a name it was. Here was a man whose whole professional life had been built upon the precepts of Latin American machismo... 

So it was incomprehensible that Duran would quit. When, unhurt, he turned his back on Leonard and said to Referee Octavio Meyran, "No mas, no mas" one had the sensation of summer lightning in the air, freezing forever in the mind that scene and that man with his arms raised. Incredulous, the referee said to Duran, "¿Por qué?" Duran replied, by way of not answering, "No mas."

Meyran's question lingers, unanswered yet. ¿Por qué? Duran left his two veteran trainers, Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown, groping for an explanation, trying to make sense out of something they would have regarded an hour earlier as not merely unlikely but impossible. So the two were reduced to embarrassed musing. All Duran would say to Arcel was, "I quit. No gonna fight anymore."

"He just quit," said Brown. "I been with the guy nine years and I can't answer it. The guy's supposed to be an animal, right? And he quit. You'd think that an animal would fight right up to the end."

Something similar happened in Philadelphia in 2009. Forrest Griffin, a fighter who built his reputation for toughness in a war with Stephan Bonnar that helped propel the Ultimate Fighting Championship to new heights, quit in the cage. Like Duran, he was befuddled by a quicker and more skilled foe. Like Duran he likely felt the sharp sting of embarrassment.

For Duran it was the famous bolo punch. Leonard whirled his right arm around like he was going to throw one, then snuck in a quick left jab. It had to be mortifying for such a powerful warrior to be treated like a child by an opponent he barely respected. For Griffin it was Silva's Matrix moment. The middleweight champion dropped his hands, completely dismissing the first Ultimate Fighter winner, dodging punches like he knew exactly when and where Griffin would strike.

In the end, Duran turned his back and quit. Griffin was hit with a glancing jab, dropped to the mat and appeared to quit. It's no wonder Griffin sprinted from the cage that night and refused to face the media or speak to his devastated fans. Watching the tape back, it's quite clear to me he wasn't done. His eyes still held that spark of intelligence. He knew exactly where he was and, more importantly, exactly how hopeless his cause. Something broke inside him that night he told the Las Vegas Sun months later:

"I was definitely broken that day, no doubt about it," Griffin said. "I was so stressed about that fight and I was really disappointed because I thought I was mentally stronger than that. I thought I could handle whatever happened."
Duran's life was never quite the same. His cult like demigod status in his native Panama suffered greatly. So too did Griffin's reputation for toughness, accountability, and wicked sense of self deprecating humor. This weekend he faces his polar opposite in Rich Franklin. In two fights with Silva, Franklin showed no quit. He soldiered on, absorbing the punishment like a fighter is supposed to. Who was wiser for it?

Franklin hasn't been the same fighter since his fights with Silva either, broken in body like Forrest was in mind. Was it wrong for Griffin to give up when he still had the capacity, if not the will, to fight? Should Franklin have given in sooner to Silva's other worldly skill? Who sleeps better at night, all alone with their thoughts, their aches and their pains? That's a troubling question.

If Forrest Griffin was a boxer, he would be persona non grata for taking the easy way out. Mixed martial arts fans may be more forgiving, but it's worth noting that his next headlining bout was his worst performance at the box office since winning the Ultimate Fighter. Forrest Griffin is our avatar. He's supposed to be tougher than any of us, walk through punishment and adversity that mere mortals would never dare face. He's not supposed to be human, but he gave us a glimpse inside the curtain, exposing that idea as a lie. And his career, built on warrior spirit, may never be the same.
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