This was just after the time Tyson Griffin lost again, for the last time in the UFC, the last time before he got released and his world got turned upside down. In his mind, he had been a loyal soldier. He'd fought when they'd asked, even on short notice. He did P.R. He'd competed in an exciting style. He mostly stayed out of trouble. But then he was gone.
Try as he might, he couldn't wrap his head around it, but … come to think of it, it didn't seem to be particularly fun anymore. The atmosphere at his gym, Xtreme Couture, had taken a drastic dip, and now he was jobless, and what exactly was he doing with his life anyway?
"I put in all this time, all this dedication, and I was beating my body up," he told MMA Fighting. "All of this hard work and all of the sudden, it was like a slap in the face. It was like, 'F---, do I really want to deal with this?'"
The answer was murky.
In the ensuing months, he resolved to clear his mind. He went back home to California and worked some construction jobs to make money. Occasionally, he trained with friends from different teams, and funny thing, he actually saw them smile and enjoy themselves, and wouldn't you know it, before too long, he started doing the same.
It was then he realized, it could still be fun.
"That's why I got into this sport originally, was because I enjoyed it," he said. "I enjoyed the competition, it was a lot of fun. And now I'm having fun again. I want to give myself another chance to make another run at the sport and see how far I can take it."
That starts on Nov. 10 at World Series of Fighting 4, when he takes on fellow veteran JZ Cavalcante.
To Griffin, who is still just 29 years old, it's not a continuation of a career but a restart. He'll do it another the guidance of a new team, American Kickboxing Academy, after leaving his longtime home at Xtreme Couture.
As Griffin tells is, the move was a necessary one. Though he was fond of training partners like Gray Maynard, Mike Pyle, Martin Kampmann and others, in his words, the atmosphere had "gone to s---."
"We couldn't get what we wanted from the management," he said. "I got tired of driving all over, here and there, to get what we needed. It just became kind of mundane and boring, and I felt like I needed to go where they had everything under one roof. So far, it's been awesome."
AKA was the choice for him for a couple of reasons. His longtime teammate Maynard had already joined the gym, and it was about an hour from where he grew up. It felt like a homecoming. It felt right.
"As I've gotten older I think I've changed my own perspective," he said. "It's nice to be close to friends and family. It's nice to be back around green trees and rolling hills, near the ocean to go fishing. It's nice getting back to my roots."
This was the place he grew up, the place that made him fall in love with competition. As a kid, Griffin's favorite sport corresponded with the season. In the summer it was baseball, in the winter it was ice hockey. And on and on, until eventually he settled into wrestling, and eventually, MMA.
He was a natural, and by the age of 22, he was in the UFC, winning five of his first six Octagon bouts. He was also a natural entertainer. During one seven-fight stretch, he won five Fight of the Night awards. But then he hit a cold streak and lost three in a row, setting in motion a move to featherweight.
The move was too much. Even though he won his first UFC bout as a 145-pounder, beating Manny Gamburyan, something was amiss.
"I really didn't feel safe or healthy," he said. "My vision was really blurry. I should have taken that as a sign to get out of that weight class, but I'm a competitor, and I saw an opportunity to get to Jose Aldo and get that belt."
His next time out, he missed weight by a couple of pounds, and was knocked out by Bart Palaszewski. That was the end of both his featherweight experimentation, and his UFC career.
Griffin says he was surprised when he got that call, but looking back, says he understands the decision. At that point, 14 fights into his UFC career, he thinks he was making more money than the divisional champion.
"If I was winning, I wouldn't have gotten cut," he said. "I can only blame myself."
Now with his new gym and his new promotion, Griffin just wants to remind people that he's never really gone away. He doesn't want to look too far into the future or the past. WSOF is his home, and he's intent on building a relationship with them.
Where it all ends up? Who knows. He won't outright dismiss the possibility of an eventual return to the UFC, but it's not a priority, or even a concern. He sees talent around him in the WSOF, and for him, that's enough. After questioning whether he truly wanted to continuing doing this, his motives are back to the same level of purity they were when he first began.
"I'm sure some people probably think I disappeared, but I can’t worry about that," he said. "I'm just worried about what I've got to do and where I want to go. You're never going to make a lot of people happy. A lot of people don't know who I am, and that's cool with me. I didn’t get into this for fame or notoriety. I just got into it to compete, and there's nothing more raw than two guys competing in the cage."