Chad Griggs was a little-known fighter contemplating a move to light-heavyweight when he got the phone call that changed everything. Offered a chance to face former WWE star Bobby Lashely in Strikeforce, Griggs realized what everyone else did: that he was being brought in to lose.
That was just fine with Griggs, who figured he'd simply buck conventional wisdom and upset Lashley, which is exactly what he went on to do. That was the start of a perfect run through Strikeforce that has now put him in a position to debut in the UFC.
Twenty months after Griggs unleashed his first surprise on the MMA world, he's aiming to recreate the trick, as the Arizona-based fighter will again be a major underdog in his UFC debut against Travis Browne.
Those parallels have made Griggs feel right at home as he makes his final preparations for the at UFC 145 heavyweight bout.
"I do well as an underdog," he said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "Right now, I’m going in as the underdog. Against Lashley, I went in as the underdog. It takes a lot of the pressure off. With Lashley, he likes to wrestle you down and beat you up on the ground. With Travis, he’s got a lot of reach and a lot of standup power so this is a more dangerous fight. Someone’s going to go out quicker in this fight with these big punchers."
While Griggs (11-1) readily admits he could easily cut down to light-heavyweight, he simply hasn't felt a need to do it because of his success, even if it means going up against some of the division's biggest.
He will be at a severe size disadvantage in the fight. While he's 6-foot-1 and weighs around 230 pounds, Browne is 6-foot-7 and around 255.
"That’s 20-30 more pounds he’s got to carry around," he said. "I’m fairly confident I can hit just as hard as him, if not harder. So he can have his 20-30 pounds to carry around."
Griggs has found an unorthodox path to heavyweight relevance while double-dipping as a full-time firefighter in Tucson. That means 24-hour shifts sometimes interfere with his training schedule. He says when he's not working, he gets in two training sessions a day, and even when is working, he is often able to incorporate conditioning while at the firehouse.
It's one thing to stay in shape, but it's another thing entirely to successfully compete at the sport's highest level. On top of that, he has to worry about chopping down a giant.
Because both he and Browne are mainly standup fighters, Griggs said he expects to have an exciting match. Overcoming the reach differential has been one of the focuses of his camp.
"I can't stand outside and let him pick me apart," he said. "I’m going to have to get inside and hurt him when I do. There’s definitely a method to the madness, and it’s definitely geared towards Travis Browne, a big and strong guy who likes to hit and kick. We’re going to try and fight a smart fight, but exciting fight at the same time."
The "Gravedigger's" ' M.O. so far has been whatever gets the W. Against Lashley, he survived a tough first round through conditioning and heart and then took the fight over. Against Gian Villante, he overpowered the prospect with sheer power. Against Valentijn Overeem, he scored an early takedown and overwhelmed him on the ground. Three fights, three very different methods to victory.
Griggs knows plenty of eyes will be on him in Atlanta, and many will be expecting him to lose, just like they did all those months ago against Lashley.
He still remembers the post-fight feeling vividly.
"It felt great," he said. "Nothing against Strikeforce. I appreciate everything they did for me but it was kind of like, 'In your face. Keep them coming.'"
It's a sentiment he'd like to repeat again on April 21, on an even bigger stage.