"UFC 2009 Undisputed" cover athlete Forrest Griffin would like to apologize.
"Every time I think about being on the cover, I think I suck. I think I should be better. I think they should've put Anderson Silva on there instead of my sorry ass. So to the millions of people who are going to see my face on the game, I'm sorry."
Griffin explains this to me on his cell while driving down the freeway, when out of nowhere I hear some loud commotion in the background.
"I hope you didn't just get in an accident because you're talking to me," I tell him.
"That's alright, it's legal in my state," he laughs, then goes right back to breaking down the significance of the game.
"My 17-year-old brother, he doesn't give a s--- about the UFC, but being on the cover of a video game, that's like the coolest thing I could've done in his eyes. Win some fights in UFC ... whatever. Bring him cool clothes that say 'I'd rather be choking you out' ... whatever. Get in a video game and it made his day."
But is Forrest Griffin a gamer?
"F--- no," he says. "But jiu-jitsu and video games are pretty synonymous. A lot of pro fighters love the video games. I'm too lazy. I just watch TV. It does the work for you. I'm taking being American to the next level of laziness."
Here's what else the brutally entertaining and brutally honest Griffin had to say about everything from his love of fighting to why he feels he's one of the most dangerous people walking the planet.
ESPN: What do you think led to UFC's spike in popularity?
Forrest Griffin: Obviously the TV show did a really good job of building the fan base, and they really had a good idea about doing all of the behind-the-scenes stuff before the fights. They let you know the guys a little, and whether you like them or you don't like them, you have a vested interest in them.
Some guys are real noble guys, like Rich Franklin or Randy Couture. These guys are just really good people who happen to fight. Then there are some kind of bad boys who want the money and the publicity, guys like Tito, then there are guys like me who are the average people, the guy next door, the every man. But instead of trying to manipulate character, they just showed us for who we are. They didn't show anything in the best light, they let you know, hey, this guy is this way and this other guy is more like that. They don't encourage you to take on a persona. Even in boxing, guys try to develop a marketing niche.
I think another thing is the fact that we don't wear masks or helmets, so you really see the way the guy feels. What's going through his head, literally ... or what's going upside his head.
ESPN: Is that why your fight to win the first Ultimate Fighter was dubbed by Dana White as the most important in UFC history, because it was the first to really capture the mainstream?
Forrest Griffin: Yeah, it brought some more interest to the show, and I think up to that point, the show wasn't quite a success, but it wasn't a failure either. It was still on the fence. But I think that evening, the fights really put it over the hump.
ESPN: What's funny is, I was telling some friends who aren't big sports fans that I was going to interview you and they were all excited because they had watched the show. But if I say I'm interviewing someone like Derek Jeter, they just shrug their shoulders.
Forrest Griffin: One thing I've found is that when I walk into the grocery store, I might meet five or six people who are big UFC fans. But when you think of it, Derek Jeter can never walk through a grocery store, so you can never have that level of access, whereas, I'm not that different from you. You'll see me buying coffee at the same joints you buy coffee and most people are pretty cool, pretty casual. They'll come over and say they liked my fight or ask what I'm doing next. But I've seen actors who aren't even any good in the airport and there are women screaming. You can't have a dialogue with people when there's screaming involved. People don't do that when they meet me. They just want to tell me that I'm a tough dude.
ESPN: When you first walked onto Ultimate Fighter, did you think you even had a chance to win. I know Dana had to talk you into even joining the cast.
Forrest Griffin: I have a weird mentality about everything. I think a lot of people who are genuinely nice guys, they see other people fail and they don't think of themselves as special so they don't think that maybe they can achieve stuff. I've always mid-lined myself where I don't really expect myself to do big things or to win big fights. It's not a lack of confidence, it's just that I think to an extent that you need a bit of an ego if you're going to think that you're going to conquer something. I see people around me try hard and fail and I don't see myself as being any better than them.
ESPN: So what do you think it is about you that helps you win these fights?
Forrest Griffin: It's not even the winning, I just hate losing. I hate when someone gets the better of me. A Division 1 wrestler comes in and takes me down and I get frustrated. You gotta hate to lose and you gotta hate it so much that you figure out what the hell your opponent is doing so you can beat it.
ESPN: So if I'm playing as your character in "UFC 2009," what's your advice on how I should play?
Forrest Griffin: My advice is not to lose because you'll make me look bad. You should start out with a different character until you get a feel for the game. I want your good stuff when you're playing as me. I get beat up enough. I don't need you getting me beat up in effigy.
ESPN: How about in real life, do you prefer to knock someone out or make them tap?
Fighting is the ultimate form of competition. Two people set aside just enough rules to make it kind of safe, then you fight.
”-- Forrest Griffin
Forrest Griffin: I'm not that picky, a finish is a finish. I like to make people quit. Whether it's because I'm striking them or submitting them, I just want to make them quit. In the war of wills, that's the win. And there's nothing dishonorable about quitting, you just got the better of someone that day. It happens to everyone. I guarantee you that if I get a chance to save a joint ... I've already been there. I've had fights where I chose not to tap and that's six months of your life sucking. So if I can make someone stop before they pop me, I'm going to do it.
ESPN: How's your hand doing?
Forrest Griffin: It's good. It's 100 percent. I'm punching people in the face, hopefully harder than I did before.
ESPN: The video game has a career mode where you take a fighter on a journey from rookie fighter to UFC superstar. I was just wondering about your road to glory in real life. What's the best thing about your journey so far?
Forrest Griffin: I don't ever stand back and look at what took place. I live in the moment and look forward. What was extraordinary yesterday becomes very ordinary today. It's funny, I got to play in the World Series of Poker, I got to jump out of a plane with the Golden Knights, I might get to go fly in an F-16. I get to do a bunch of crazy s---, but it all just seems kind of normal. I don't really take stock with what's happening. I just go along for the ride.
ESPN: How did you do in the World Series of Poker?
Forrest Griffin: I lost quick, but I went out like a bat out of hell. I never played poker in any kind of organized tournament before. I usually only play poker for beer and I usually win by intimidation.
ESPN: I know you like to quote literature and famous philosophers for words to live by. What are some of the quotes going through your mind at the moment?
Forrest Griffin: One of them is from "The Alchemyst." You see, when I was champ, I really didn't feel like I should be. I felt almost bad, like I didn't really want to be because I knew I really wasn't the best guy in the division. I think it goes back to feeling ordinary. There is a phrase in that book, something about being ordinary to extraordinary. When I was coaching on the show, I was trying to make a dramatic, extraordinary event become ordinary, become run of the mill just so you don't get as overwhelmingly excited about it.
Then there is the obligatory Nietzsche quote: "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." I don't know about that one, as it's all out of context, but if you can actually use these phrases in conversation where they have meaning, that's awesome, but this is just horse s---.
I'm one of the most dangerous things there is -- I'm a dumb, well-read person. So I'm kind of dumb, but I think I'm smart, and I have a lot of book knowledge. But I'm still pretty dumb ... and dangerous.
ESPN: Is that why you like to fight for a living?
Forrest Griffin: It's just a rush. To an extent, fighting is the ultimate form of competition. Two people set aside just enough rules to make it kind of safe, then you fight. I liken it to this: When I played football and someone beat me on a play, I wanted to run over and beat the s--- out of them. When I was playing basketball, I had a couple of guys dunk on me and make me look bad, and I wanted to just fight them right there. I wanted to take off the stupid jersey, kick the ball out of the way and fight them. I think it's the purest form of sport, and if you really think about it, it's the first sport.
ESPN: I'm saving my fighting for the Xbox 360. At least the only thing I break is my controller.
Forrest Griffin: I really like fighting people. It's pretty damn cool if you think about it. And I've never been a bully or anything like that. I've actually lost fights before because the other guy appeared to be hurt so I stopped, then they turned around and beat the s--- out of me, but that's just the way it goes.