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KEEPING A LOW PROFILE

Times Staff Writer

It’s one thing to be conscious of your shortcomings. It’s another to be openly self-deprecating and fight for a living.

In the sport of mixed martial arts, competitors exhaust considerable time and energy trying to conceal their weaknesses.

Then there’s Forrest Griffin.

During a recent conference call promoting his five-round Ultimate Fighting Championships light-heavyweight title bout Saturday night in the main event at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Griffin didn’t bob and weave when describing the biggest threat posed by his opponent and belt holder, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

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“He hits hard. I don’t have the best chin in the world,” Griffin answered. Standing up to hard blows has been a soft spot for Griffin since 2003, when Jeremy Horn dropped him with a kick to his left ear.

What seemed peculiar was the timing, especially with Jackson (28-6) listening in on the conference call.

Then again, nothing seems to follow the script with Griffin (15-4).

In the last eight years he has gone from campus police officer to No. 1 contender in the UFC talent-laden light-heavyweight division. He twice moonlighted on “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series on Spike TV and Griffin boosted his career by winning the series debut three years ago. In his latest appearance on the show, he coached against Jackson.

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His TV appearances, coupled with a homespun sense of humor has transcended Griffin into one of the sport’s more popular fighters. Many believe he’ll need all the help he can get against Jackson. Not only is his chin suspect, but he has never competed for five rounds.

“I tried to throw in a couple extra rounds,” Griffin said of his sparring. The underdog role is nothing new for Griffin, 29. He wasn’t expected to win his last fight either, but submitted Mauricio “Shogun” Rua with a third-round rear naked chokehold. Rua injured his knee during the fight, prompting many to downplay the victory.

Jackson, who lost to Rua three years ago in the PRIDE Fighting Championships, thinks little of Griffin’s win. “If Shogun was the same guy that I fought and Forrest beat him, I would’ve been more impressed,” Jackson said.

Despite the skepticism surrounding Griffin, Jackson said he won’t bring a one-dimensional offense into the octagon. “Forrest ain’t no dummy. He worked on his defense and stuff like that. . . . I’m not going out head hunting the whole time,” Jackson said.

Griffin’s initial career choice was law enforcement. He graduated from Georgia with a degree in criminal justice. While working as a police officer at his alma mater, he was required to take self-defense classes. During one demonstration, his instructor replayed a UFC bout. Griffin had watched UFC videos when he was younger but wasn’t impressed. This time, after watching Vitor Belfort score a vicious knockout, Griffin was hooked.

That was in 2000. Just a year later, as a wide-eyed 22-year-old, he made his MMA debut against one of the sport’s pioneers, 43-year-old Dan Severn. Fighting for $250, Griffin lost a decision.

Competing in a variety of MMA organizations and without health insurance, Griffin followed the Severn loss with eight consecutive victories, including an overtime decision against another MMA veteran, Jeff Monson. A little more than a year later, his winning streak was ended by Horn in an International Fighting Championship bout.

Medical expenses from shoulder and hand injuries erased much of his income, but Griffin received a big break in 2004, when he was invited to participate in the inaugural “The Ultimate Fighter.” As the show was whittled to its final two competitors, Griffin was matched against Stephan Bonnar. Bloodied from a gash to the bridge of his nose, Griffin landed enough blows to outpoint Bonnar in the championship match. The fight is considered one of the most exciting in UFC history.

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For their efforts, they were each awarded UFC contracts.

Griffin scored first-round victories in his first two fights, then lost a split decision to another MMA icon, Tito Ortiz. After defeating Bonnar for a second time, he lost in a first-round technical knockout against Keith Jardine, who dropped Griffin with a combination, then inflicted nine straight blows to his face before the referee stopped it. Griffin bounced back to win a unanimous decision against Hector Ramirez, then last September was matched against Rua.

Shortly afterward, Griffin and Jackson were selected team coaches for The Ultimate Fighter 7. It was also announced that, once the series concluded, Jackson would put his light-heavyweight title on the line against Griffin.

“Whether you like the guy or hate him, it doesn’t matter.” Griffin said. “You’re going to hit him as hard as you can.” And just hope you don’t get hit back.”

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dan.arritt@latimes.com


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