UFC Fortaleza: Excited to be Fighting a Legend in Thiago Alves, Max Griffin Discusses Sharpening Both Mind and Body

Max Griffin and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Max Griffin during UFC Fight Night - Brunson vs Machida at the Ibirapuera Gym in Sao Paulo (Photo: Reinaldo Reginato/Fotoarena) - via Alamy

Max Griffin feels he has been just seconds, even milliseconds, from smashing opponents in fights he later lost — so he’s set out to sharpen both mind and body ahead of UFC Fortaleza, where he faces Thiago Alves.

It’s been seven months, roughly, since we last saw UFC welterweight Max Griffin enter the octagon. That came at UFC 226, where Griffin came out on the wrong end of a decision against Curtis Millender. Since then, Griffin has been taking steps to shore up his game, and he now heads to Brazil for UFC Fortaleza, the promotion’s sophomore event on ESPN+. There, Max ‘Pain’ takes on the tenacious ‘Pitbull,’ a.k.a. Thiago Alves.

The changes Griffin has made in the past half-year or so may turn out to be key. For starters, he has begun using the UFC’s Performance Institute. “I go to the UFC PI a lot now, every couple weeks, every two-three weeks,” he told Cageside Press ahead of his showdown with Alves. “I’ve been working closely with them, because they know their sh*t.”

The PI helps with Griffin’s strength and conditioning. “I used to do it locally, but you can’t argue with doing it with the best in the world.” Plus, there’s the Performance Institute’s food program, and physical therapy program, all beneficial.

“I’m so close to smashing everyone I’m fighting. It’s just seconds, milliseconds. So I need to get my brain on-point.”

Griffin makes the trip to Vegas roughly twice a month, and while there, hits up Xtreme Couture. “We got a lot of guys out there, a lot of high level guys, a lot of big bodies. It’s good to get different looks,” he explained. “I have guys out here in Sacramento, a couple good sparring partners, but it’s good to try out stuff on new guys that you don’t know, don’t see. It’s a good environment.”

That’s the physical side of things. The mental part of the game is not lost on Griffin, however. “I’ve been reading a lot, trying to make my mind right,” he told us. “I’m so close to smashing everyone I’m fighting. It’s just seconds, milliseconds. So I need to get my brain on-point.”

To do that, Griffin has turned to the written word, some interesting stuff. In particular, “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, by Dr. Joe Dispenza. It’s a great book about how your mind works, and why it works.” It’s also a book that reaffirms Griffin’s belief in “creating what you want in your life by imagining it, thinking of it, putting it into existence.”

“I’ve always believed it, that’s how I’ve got to where I am now,” he revealed. The book, delves into topics such as quantum physics. “It’s putting the fan to the bricks, so to speak, putting the mortar in between. It’s really reinforcing what I am doing, and I’m able to do more with my mind.”

Griffin admits that he’s “had lapses in my past fights where I wasn’t focused at certain moments, or got caught being lackadaisical and not doing certain things. So you’ve got to be focused every millisecond of every second of that fifteen minutes. So I sharpened that up, and I’m looking forward to that next one coming up.”

That next one is UFC Fortaleza, and a fight against former welterweight title challenger Thiago Alves. Alves has had a rough go of it of late. Yet he remains a huge name in the sport.

“I wanted something big,” Griffin said of how the fight with ‘Pitbull’ came together. Originally, there was talk of Max fighting in China, against Li Jingliang. Griffin, however, was injured. “I had to turn it down. For me, this is a way better fight. Just as far as who it is, where it’s at.”

“I love Thiago Alves, man. I don’t take pictures with people,” Griffin pointed out, “but he’d be one of the guys that I’d want to take a picture with. I’ve looked up to him for years. Ten years ago is when he fought GSP. Even when I started fighting as an amateur, he was my favorite fighter for years. For years. Just how he brought it, his attitude. He didn’t talk sh*t, he just went in there and made it happen. Brawler. Beast.”

There’s no question, Max Griffin is thrilled to get a fighter like Alves as his opponent. “I look up to him. To get an opportunity to fight a guy like this, a legend, to me he’s like a Carlos Condit, Cerrone kind of caliber. As far as what they’ve done, who they’ve fought, the who’s who, I mean he beat Matt Hughes.”

“It’s an honor. This is what it’s about,” he continued. “When I said I waned to be in the UFC, I wanted to be one of the best in the world. That’s why I got into it. This is a good start. To fight these guys that are honorable and are pioneers in the game.”

“I feel blessed that I even have the opportunity to throw down with him,” he added. Plus, under no circumstances is Griffin here “to fight schlubs, or guys that no one knows.” He wants to best — and Alves definitely qualifies.

As to how you prepare for a legend, Griffin explained that “I watched a lot of the old stuff, but he’s been fighting for so long, that old stuff really isn’t really relevant. It’s more the last few years, two three four five years, even the last few fights that matter the most.”

What he sees is a Pitbull who has changed a little bit. Still, “he’s crafty, he’s a veteran. So we watch what beats him, watch what doesn’t beat him, make some adjustments, and beat him how he gets beat. That’s what we’re going to do.”

“It’s like a war zone. There’s troops, there’s bombings, it’s crazy. So I’m not going to focus on any of that stuff, I’m just going to go in there and fight, just take it to him.”

Like Griffin said, he likes to imagine things, put them into existence. A visual thinker. Asked how he sees the fight at UFC Fortaleza going, he replied that “I think it’s going to be crazy out there in Fortaleza. There’s a lot of political sh*t going on out there right now too.”

“It’s like a war zone. There’s troops, there’s bombings, it’s crazy. So I’m not going to focus on any of that stuff, I’m just going to go in there and fight, just take it to him. The pressure’s on him, this may be his last fight, his home town is Fortaleza.”

Griffin also accepts that, while he’s willing to win any way possible, a decision in Brazil against Alves is unlikely. So he really needs to put his stamp on the fight.

The political situation in Fortaleza did worry him initially, he admitted, “but at the end of the day, it’s basically gangsters versus the government. They shut down the cell phone towers by the prisons and stuff. So it’s messing up the drug trade for the prisons. So they’re mad at the government.” That said, “I think gangsters like fighting. They’re probably betting on it, they probably have a lot of guys invested in it. And Brazil loves fighting as a people. They embrace it.”

On a previous trip to Brazil, in Sao Paulo, Griffin realized fighting is “so ingrained in their culture. Fighting, out here… not everyone knows UFC. Out there, every single person knows.” Chances are, “they want the show to go on, so I’m not worried about us.”

“I’m just going to do what I do. I’m going to do it spectacularly,” Griffin added. “I’m so ready, I’ve never been this ready to fight. I know people say ‘oh it’s my best camp ever!’ but it truly has been. I’ve been recovering right, eating right, I’m with Trifecta now, one of the UFC sponsors. High quality food, it’s all grass-fed, organic.”

Yet another change for Max Griffin, and one that is already paying off. “Usually the last couple of weeks of the fight, before the camp’s over, I’m dragging, I’m tired, I’m drained. You know, my performance is going down because you’re cutting out a lot of food, carbs, but [this time] I have the same energy as I’ve had [all along].”

That has allowed Griffin to train harder. “I can’t get tired, I’ve been trying to get myself tired. My recovery’s excellent, I can’t wait. I’m ready to go, man!”

The goal for 2019 for Griffin is to break into the top ten. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, who Griffin referred to as “one of my best homies,” and Curtis Millender, both of whom Griffin lost close fights to, are now ranked. He feels he’s right there.

He’d also like to fight close to home. Griffin’s home state of California has already lost a card this year (UFC 233), but the promotion may be back. “I hear they might be doing something this way. NorCal, or something like that,” he told us. “Man I just want to fight. Maybe San Francisco. I heard something maybe about that, where the Warriors Play.”

First up, however, is UFC Fortaleza. Griffin is coming off his loss to Millender, which taught him that “I got to be more strategic in my mentality.” After all, Millender was able to steal rounds by “getting that last takedown at the end of rounds, getting that little flurry.” Lesson learned.

“Instead of just trying to fight and win, I need to break it down round per round, and be more strategic on winning each individual round,” Griffin suggested.

When whole fight scoring, rather than the 10-point must system, was suggested, as in Pride, RIZIN, and ONE, Griffin liked the idea. “That’s crazy. I didn’t know that. I do like that. I think it makes it less of a game. That’s kind of what it turns into sometimes.”

UFC Fortaleza translates to UFC on ESPN+ 2, the promotion’s second outing on the streaming service. Griffin checked out the first event, top to bottom. “I did, I liked it, it was the first one, I watched the whole thing.”

Agreeing that the beginning of the card was a bit slow, “at the end, I don’t even know if there was any commercials or anything. It just kept going! I liked Stephen A. Smith on there, I like that it’s on ESPN. People say ‘Oh, he doesn’t know his sh*t’ — just give him some time, man. It’s ESPN, it’s the number one sports channel in the world. I think it’s a good look. I’m excited for what the UFC’s doing, and I’m happy to be part of it.”

Don’t miss Max Griffin taking on Thiago Alves live on ESPN+ as UFC Fortaleza goes down February 2, 2019.