Can Forrest Griffin Get Out of His Funk at UFC 134?

griffin stare

Forrest Griffin

Former champ sounds complacent heading into rematch with “Shogun” Rua.

Forrest Griffin is at a crossroads in his career, and not just because I say so here.

The former light heavyweight champion has said as much himself in the build-up to his rematch with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua Saturday at UFC 134. Griffin is blogging for Yahoo! Sports in advance of the bout and, as has always been the case, he didn’t pull any punches or hold back in his self-assessment of where he stands.

Griffin admits that he still struggles with putting together his training camps, and hasn’t viewed his job as fun for quite some time. The reason?

“It quit being fun when I realized I wasn’t getting better. I’m plateauing or almost getting worse sometimes. One of the essential elements to have in this is your perceived expectation of the future, and I’m a painful realist, so I realized that I’m not going to get better; this is it. It’s only gonna get worse from here on and you fight as much as you can, you fight until you don’t have it anymore, and then you fight a couple more times after that.”

Had this been an interview, I wouldn’t put as much stock into the quote. Griffin’s interest in discussing fighting and doing interviews ranges from zero to I’m-going-to-just-mess-with-you-for-fun and hits every marker in between, and you never know what you’re going to get.

The first time I spoke to him, we talked about his getting accosted by high school girls on his way to Starbucks, after discussing his latest Hepatitis test and how would have preferred me to tell women — only women — that he tested positive so they’d leave him alone. We eventually got around to Rich Franklin.

But this wasn’t someone sticking a microphone or a voice recorder in Forrest’s face; this was him sitting down and sharing his thoughts. While he could be adding a dose of creative embellishment to his assessment, the fact that he’s talking about taking his training on the road next time around has me thinking there is more fact that fiction to Forrest’s words.

It makes you wonder where Griffin’s head is at heading into Saturday’s co-main event.

He’s 32-years-old; younger than Randy Couture when he started his career or Chuck Liddell when he began his run of dominance in the same division, but those men came to be champions in a different era. Griffin is now surrounded by bigger, stronger, faster kids who get by on natural athletic ability the way he used to get by on heart.

Though he enters his rematch with Rua riding a two-fight winning streak, those victories came against a pre-comeback Tito Ortiz and Franklin — two fighters who fit Griffin’s peer group. As tough as each man is, they’re on the outside of the title picture looking in, and will most likely remain there until they hang up their gloves.

Right now, Griffin is a ‘tweener; not quite viewed on the same level as champion Jon Jones, Rashad Evans or even Rua, but superior to fighters like Ortiz and Franklin, if even just on the basis of his recent success against each man.

There is no shame in grinding out a good living in battling in the middle of the deep light heavyweight division, but Griffin’s own choice of words doesn’t make it sound as if that is something he’s all too keen on doing long-term.

That makes Saturday’s match-up even more compelling.

Griffin seems to be searching for answers and a shot of energy to push him through his current mid-career crisis. Nothing would serves as a better catalyst for kick-starting the next chapter of his career than a second victory over Rua.

Much like the first victory became the jumping off point for Griffin’s eventually arrival at the top of the light heavyweight heap, a replay of the results at UFC 134 could be the affirmation Griffin needs to get out of the funk it sounds like he’s in right now.

A win over Rua would put Griffin on a short list of contenders for the 205 pound title, behind Evans, but alongside Lyoto Machida.

Though they’ve been major factors in the division for quite some time, the two have yet to meet in the cage. Pairing the two to determine the next next #1 contender would make sense, as would slating if to the co-main event of the UFC on FOX debut in November.

Griffin calls himself a “painful realist” in describing his current standing, but it sounds more like a guy who has settled and doesn’t know how to change his own situation.

On paper, scoring another upset win over Rua on Saturday and the potential opportunities that could follow would be enough to stoke the internal fire once again; push through one more run to the top and take stock of things from there.

Of course, a victory is only one of the possible endings to Saturday’s showdown in Brazil.

A loss would most likely leave Griffin living out the final lines of his quote above; fighting out the string until he decides he’s had enough.

He doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would like to be a stepping stone to up-and-coming fighters — and he wouldn’t like it any more if you dressed it up nicely and called him a “gatekeeper” either.

This is a man who once broke down into tears in the cage following a loss, and twice fled the scene on foot. Becoming the veteran used to bolster the careers of the Alexander Gustafssons of the world doesn’t seem like a Forrest friendly activity.

As such, a trilogy bout with a now-healthy Ortiz remains a possibility, as would bouts with the likes of Vladimir Matyushenko or Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. After that, however, the pickings are pretty slim.

Just a couple weeks after Dan Hardy suffered his fourth straight loss and vowed that he’d return an improved fighter next time out, Griffin is on the opposite side of the coin, riding a two-fight winning streak into Saturday, but convinced that it’s all down hill from here.

Saturday’s fight holds the key to whether or not his perception of things will become reality: a win could spark a renaissance, or a loss could be the start of the slow decline he thinks is inevitable.

Griffin’s at a crossroads — which path he picks is anybody’s guess.