Sick, not ill

UFC president Dana White used the word "sick" three times to describe light heavyweight contender Forrest Griffin.

All three usages were meant as compliments to Griffin, who fights Hector Ramirez on Saturday at Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

"It's sick how competitive he is," White said of Griffin, noted for his willingness to slug it out.

Griffin's slugfest with Stephan Bonnar in the finale of season one of "The Ultimate Fighter" remains one of the seminal moments in UFC history. White credits that bout with helping to save the company.

"The guy is sick," White said, later, referring to Griffin's sense of humor. "He's nuttier than me, I think, and you know how (messed) up I am."

Griffin, 28, is the ultimate prankster, liable to say anything to anybody at any time.

Griffin, though, says he simply vocalizes what other people are thinking.

"I'm just crazy enough to say it, but you know other people are thinking it and they like to hear me talk about it," he said.

Griffin has no fear of expressing emotion of any kind. After being knocked out by Keith Jardine in Las Vegas in December, Griffin openly wept in the Octagon after the fight and apologized to the fans on the public address system.

Not many fighters show that kind of emotion in any situation, let alone ones in which they're at their most vulnerable.

"I was all right by the time I got back to the locker room," Griffin said. "It was behind me. But when you cry in front of millions of people, that's real, and I think people appreciate that."

They also appreciate his sturdy chin and willingness to try to make each fight special. Griffin has superb ground skills, White said, but he too often forgets them because he gets caught up standing toe-to-toe firing knockout punches.

"It's sick, his desire to put on a show," White said. "He really takes it seriously, his role in putting on a good fight for the fans. A lot of guys come and their only idea is to win, and they don't care how they do it. He wants to win, but he also wants to make sure the people watching feel they got their money's worth.

"Forrest loves to come out and trade and go for it. He's Mr. Excitement, and that's why you'll never hear me have one complaint against Forrest Griffin. Him and Stephan Bonnar put us where we are today."

The UFC is riding a crest of popularity that has seen it land on the cover of Sports Illustrated, sell out arenas around the world and generate pay-per-view numbers that dwarf what boxing is doing.

But before the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2005, things weren't going as well. Zuffa, the company which owns the UFC, had been hemorrhaging money since purchasing it and taking control in 2001. Losses at that point were at about $40 million.

White admitted in a 2006 interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he was concerned Zuffa owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta would close up shop because losses were so great.

"I kind of dreaded getting that call, but I knew it was a possibility," White told the newspaper. "We were close. Real close. How could we not have at least thought about it? We're not in the business of taking money and flushing it in the toilet.

"But we were sustaining these unreal losses, and I wasn't sure how much longer we'd be around. I knew it was a concept that would work and would take off in a big way, but I started thinking that maybe we'd just picked the wrong time."

And then came "The Ultimate Fighter," which ended with a title fight between Griffin and Bonnar. It was the MMA equivalent of historic boxing matches such as Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns or Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III, with the two battering each other with punches to the face the entire fight.

The UFC suddenly began to gain more media attention and sell more pay-per-views, which led it to the position it is in now.

Griffin, though, isn't changed by the success. And he said he even has questioned his legendary chin. He was known for having one of the best chins in the game, at least until he was knocked out by Jardine.

Griffin said he hopes to get cracked on it by Ramirez early just to let himself know he still can take it. Until then, he said, he won't be sure.

"Obviously, you have doubts when something like that happens," Griffin said of his knockout to Jardine. "Anyone would have those kind of doubts."

Ramirez is a hard puncher, too, and White admitted he thinks Griffin would be wise to take the fight to the ground where he could use his underrated submission skills.

But UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture said he's excited to watch Griffin-Ramirez because of Griffin's courageous style.

"You tell me a Forrest Griffin fight is on, and I want to watch because of the kind of fights you get when he's fighting," said Couture, who has brought Griffin in to train at his gym in Las Vegas. "He's the kind of guy you can't help but want to see fight because of the way he goes for it."

Sick, Dana White might call it.