Enemy territory. Coming off a loss. On the last fight of his contract. Biggest underdog on the card.
That’s what Max Griffin had to deal with heading into his welterweight bout against Mike Perryon the UFC on FOX 28 main card last month in Orlando. It didn’t look good for Griffin. Everyone was picking Perry. And mostly by knockout.
But one thing going for Griffin was that this was his first fight as a full-time fighter. He left his day job at the end of 2017. Starting this past camp, he trained more often, had less on his plate, and was subsequently able to focus much more on fighting than he had ever before.
Leaving his day job at a local health insurance company was a risky decision. It was a reliable job — more so than fighting, anyway.
But it paid off.
Griffin came through at the end of February in a big way, defeating Perry by unanimous decision. He frustrated Perry with his boxing and reach advantage, outpointing the Florida resident from a distance over 15 minutes.
Griffin believes the work he put in between the last day at his job and the Perry fight made a difference.
“Usually when I fight, it’s stressful,” Griffin told BloodyElbow.com. “You have a lot of nerves, it’s happening so fast. This time, it was slowed down. I was beyond comfortable. It was just slow. It was calm in there. It was great.
“I’ve never fought like this before. It’s always like how you want to fight — ‘I want to this, I want to do that’ — but your nerves get a hold of you.”
The Perry win, which moved Griffin’s UFC record to 2-2, simply reassured Griffin that he had made the right choice by laying everything on the line and becoming a full-time fighter. Not only did he get back into the winning column, he put on an impressive performance against a highly-touted fighter in Perry — that has to count for something, Griffin said.
“This was my breakthrough fight,” he said. “I definitely made the right choice. I went all in, and it paid off big. It paid off major.”
Usually, fighters want to get finishes. That’s just the how MMA has always been. The more finishes, the better. The flashier they are, the better. Finishes can lead to performance bonuses — which, for some fighters, can be life-changing — and typically make the UFC happier with you. Fans want to see you fight again after you score a brutal knockout or put someone to sleep.
But Griffin actually thinks going the distance with Perry, as a major underdog, made his win more impressive. He said there’s no argument to be made regarding his upset being just luck.
“I feel like I got to show a lot more by going that long,” Griffin said. “I didn’t take him early; I got to bust him up, show my speed, show my wrestling, show my cardio, show my movement. And it was real decisive. He got picked apart. He took some good punches.
“I feel better about it, because I did drop him, I did hurt him, I kind of embarrassed him. There was a lot more win in that win by making it a decision than just finishing the guy.
“It wasn’t a fluke. I broke him, and you can’t deny it.”
Griffin wasn’t happy to see after beating Perry that some people were questioning Perry’s condition heading into the matchup (Perry lost a hard-fought decision to Santiago Ponzinibbiotwo months earlier, and has been very active over the past year or so). Griffin believes some are taking away from his win and not giving him the credit he deserves.
“All the media now is not giving me too much credit, because they counted me out so much,” Griffin said. “They’re saying more, ‘Should Perry have fought me?’ It’s like they’re taking away from me, like he had a bad night, instead of I actually put him exactly where I wanted to put him and beat him there.”
Griffin said his gameplan worked to a tee. He knew a lot about Perry going in — he knew that Perry hits hard, comes forward with aggression, and throws with all his might. Griffin also knew how to avoid Perry’s power, proven by the fact that he did not get knocked out like many of Perry’s past opponents.
Perry’s lack of success was a result of Griffin’s smart tactics, he said. Not Perry coming back too soon after his last fight.
“I made him fight like that,” Griffin said. “I was doing particular things. He was in shape. People just don’t understand that I fought the fight that I wanted him to fight.
“It wasn’t a lucky fight. He got dismantled.”
Griffin believes the Perry win has changed his life.
“To have this type of performance against a Mike Perry, it’s a blessing,” he said. “I’m so pumped for the future. It’s like a fairy tale, just how it’s going down, how I was able to do that to him. And everyone thought I was gonna lose. Everyone picked him. It helps my fire. I fought him for a reason. I’m telling you. People don’t understand that.”
Griffin said the Perry fight is the one where everyone will start remembering who he is. When fans look back on his career, the win in Orlando will mark a big transition period — or, as Griffin calls it, the start of his career.
Griffin used his unsuccessful The Ultimate Fighter stint as an example. Back in 2012, when he fell short to Matt Secor in season 16’s opening round, he wasn’t ready to fight at the highest level. But now he is, he said.
“I’m just getting started,” Griffin said. “This is just the beginning. My next deal is gonna be like the beginning of my career. This is like my breakthrough. This is my moment. Now is my time.”
Now a free agent, Griffin plans on re-signing with the UFC. He believes the premier MMA promotion is still interested in his services, considering he’s coming off the biggest win of his career.
“We sent something out,” Griffin said. “They’re definitely down, interested. My manager sent a message out, and they’re totally on board. They see an interest all the way.”
But Griffin won’t sign the dotted line without a significant increase in pay. He believes he deserves to get paid more money after beating a widely-known fighter in Perry. He made $24,000 (which includes a $12,000 win bonus) for the Orlando bout, and wants a raise in his next contract.
“I want to get paid,” Griffin said. “I feel like I can get paid. I feel like I’m worth it.”
Griffin expects to remain in the UFC, but he said he’d entertain outside offers if the promotion doesn’t offer him what he’s looking for.
“I do want to stay in the UFC. And I think they’ll let me. I feel like the owners know that I can do my job,” Griffin said. “It’s about getting paid, though. If someone else has some lucrative offer, hey, I’d consider it, honestly.”