It’s June 2012, and Tyson Griffin, aged just 28, is currently teetering on the edge of complete irrelevancy. He’s 1-4 in his last 5. A stark contrast from his days as a lightweight contender and one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. He had the striking, wrestling, grappling, physique — the dude rivals Ben Henderson for “really muscular legs” — and chin to really make a push for UFC gold, but it never materalized. So what happened? Let me take you back a little bit to summarize Tyson’s UFC career…..
It was almost five years ago to the day in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Tyson Griffin burst onto the MMA scene with his epic back-and-forth fight with Clay Guida at UFC 72, earning both the split-decision win and Fight of the Year honors. It was the 2nd tremendous fight in a row for Tyson, having come off a thrilling “hidden classic” against Frankie Edgar on the preliminary card of UFC 67, which Edgar won by unanimous decision. That particular fight was so entertaining it made the PPV broadcast as time-filler. Griffin would go onto have ANOTHER Fight of the Night showing later that year at UFC 76: Knockout, edging out Thiago Tavares to open up the televised pay-per-view.
Through his memorable 2007, Griffin became a regular main-card fighter and a potential lightweight contender in a division that would later see BJ Penn commit 3rd degree ass-kickings of both Sean Sherk and Joe Stevenson. He rattled off two more wins against Brazilians Gleison Tibau and Marcus Aurelio, but neither fight was anything to write home about. In another Fight of the Night occasion, his chance to stake his claim as a top contender was halted when Sean Sherk outstruck and outwrestled him towards a decision victory. Griffin would follow this up with FOTN honor #5, an entertaining striking and grappling contest with Brazilian Rafael Dos Anjos … are you noticing a pattern here? Griffin went on a run of seven fights (amassing a 5-2 record) going the distance, and the main concern with Tyson was that while he was an entertaining talent, he was incapable of finishing fights at a high-level. He had not recorded a stoppage win since an easy submission over David Lee in his debut with the UFC. Well those criticisms went away after he brutally knocked out former title challenger Hermes Franca, something only some Joe Schmo many years ago in the regional circuits had ever done.
Not only was Griffin’s 2009 a memorable one much like 2007, he had achieved his first KO in the UFC but he looked to be back on course to contend for BJ Penn’s belt, which was then being used to beat Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez like a drum.
Then everything changed.
Unable to fight at UFC 108 due to injury, Griffin’s 2010 debut came well into June at UFC 115, facing rising prospect Evan Dunham, who had just submitted Efrain Escudero earlier that January and was 3-0 in the UFC. It would be a turning point in the revolving door of LW contenders, as Dunham repeatedly took Griffin’s back and used superior grappling control to get the biggest win of his career. Inexplicably, Tony Weeks scored the fight for Griffin, but Weeks similarly had Leonard Garcia beating Nam Phan later in the year, so he’s not exactly a beacon of judging excellence.
Griffin then took a short-notice fight for the injured Joe Stevenson against Japanese legend Takanori Gomi to begin August. Gomi had come off of a poor performance against Kenny Florian, and Griffin, known for his stellar chin and strong wrestling, it looked to be a mismatch for the fading Gomi. Instead, Gomi shocked the MMA world with a vintage Fireball Kid performance, knocking out Tyson Griffin in just 64 seconds, becoming the first man to ever finish Griffin. It also marked the first time Griffin had lost consecutive fights and suddenly his rise to the lightweight summit had collapsed. The UFC tried to throw him a bone when he was matched with Nik Lentz at UFC 123, presumably done to give Lentz a loss after his legendarily terrible fight with Andre Winner. Well that plan backfired, as Lentz won a controversial split decision to give Griffin loss #3. It was later found out months later Griffin failed a drug test and tested positive for marijuana.
Griffin was no longer a contender at lightweight and his job was only secure on the basis that many in attendance and of course the authoritarian Dana White believed Griffin deserved the nod. Having fought at featherweight in his first 4 career fights, including a 3rd round TKO of Urijah Faber, Tyson decided to drop back to 145 with the UFC having recently announced the acquisition of the WEC’s bantam and featherweight divisions.
The success was immediate for Tyson if not uneventful as he defeated former title challenger Manny Gamburyan via majority decision, vaulting him into the top 10. His next test would be in the fall of 2011 against Bart Palaszewski, a hard-hitting Polish-American who had recently made the cut to 145 after being a longtime 155er. Griffin not only missed weight by three pounds, but Palaszewski soundly knocked him out cold within 3 minutes to give Griffin his 4th loss in 5 fights and his 2nd straight KO defeat.
Griffin currently does not have a fight booked.
How did this happen? Where did it all go wrong? Once one of the must-watch fighters at 155 now finds himself out of that division and essentially far away from contention at 145. I have only two theories:
Griffin Avoided Powerful Strikers
This is pretty much fact. The majority of Griffin’s opposition was tailor-made for Tyson to do whatever he wanted. Clay Guida, Marcus Aurelio, Gleison Tibau, and Thiago Tavares are not, and never will be considered powerful punchers nor technical strikers. But as soon as he faced a real hard puncher in Gomi his lights went off. An identical outcome occurred in the Palaszewski fight. Perhaps his chin wasn’t made out to be that good, and he simply rode his luck by fighting guys who simply were either inferior strikers or were superior strikers like Edgar but lacked any sort of power.
The Kenny Florian Complex
One of the biggest criticisms of the now-retired Kenny Florian is that he “choked in big fights”, although that was mostly a Dana White statement after the completely boring Gray Maynard laid on Florian for 15 minutes in Kenny’s home town of Boston. There is some truth to that, as Florian lost The Ultimate Fighter Finale, all three title fights and the #1 contender fight with Maynard, and frankly most of those fights weren’t even close.
Well, that’s pretty much Tyson Griffin at a slightly lower-level. He just never made that true “push” needed to at least set himself up for a title shot. He’s not a better wrestler than Sean Sherk, not a better grappler than Evan Dunham, not a better striker than Takanori Gomi, and not a harder hitter than Palaszewski. He’s good at everything and elite at nothing, and the guys he lost to at lightweight were just simply superior overall fighters.
Whatever it is, it’s unfortunate and bordering on inexplicable. What do you think happened? And can Tyson Griffin’s career be salvaged at this point?