Outside the octagon, he’s speaking to children in group homes, raising money for charities, discovering his core values through sports psychology and promoting a newfound sense of unity after years of tension between Sacramento-area mixed martial arts clubs.
But when he climbs in the cage, “Pain” is his middle name. The adrenaline flows. The fists fly. Elbows land with devastating impact, so sharp and surgical he partially severed a man’s ear in one of his most recent victories.
“I had blood all over me — blood on my face, blood in my teeth,” he says. “It was disgusting. I felt like a complete animal. Like a total savage.”
Max “Pain” Griffin has tasted blood. Now, having achieved a level of peace and balance in his personal and professional lives, Griffin wants more.
“Man, it’s a blessing,” he said. “I just feel so good and I’m in such a good place. I’m ready to f— everybody up.”
Griffin has found joy while inflicting pain, so this declaration of inner peace comes with threats of violence as he prepares to fight former interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit at UFC 264 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Griffin (17-8-0) will face Condit (32-13-0) in the featured preliminary bout on ESPN before Conor McGregor fights Dustin Poirier in the main event on pay-per view. UFC president Dana White said tickets for the event sold out in a matter of seconds when they went on sale in April.
Griffin, 35, calls Condit, 37, one of the legends of the MMA game, but he is intent on carving a path of destruction to his first UFC championship. Griffin is surging at a relatively late stage in his career, but he believes his time has come.
“They can’t deny me after this victory over a former champion,” Griffin said. “I’m going to beat Carlos Condit. I’m going to get ranked and then I’m going to call out everybody who’s ahead of me. I want the title now. I didn’t used to want it. I just wanted to win, like, ‘Please, God, let me get a win.’ Now, I know my potential, and it’s growing. I’m one of the best in the world right now, so I want the title.”
Going viral on ESPN
Griffin went 12-2 with six knockouts and two submissions to start his MMA career under the tutelage of longtime coach and former world kickboxing champion Dave Marinoble. He won West Coast Fighting Championship welterweight and middleweight titles as well as the Tachi Palace Fight welterweight championship, but his move to the UFC meant a higher level of competition and more pressure to perform.
Griffin went 3-6 in his first nine UFC fights with some close and controversial decisions, but his fortunes seem to have changed. He is coming off back-to-back wins for the first time since joining the UFC in 2016, providing peace of mind and some job security with a 10-year-old son and new baby to support.
Griffin went viral when he sliced off half of Ramiz Brahimaj’s left ear to win by technical knockout at “UFC on ESPN 17” on Nov. 7, 2020. Griffin then recorded an impressive first-round knockout against Kenan Song at “UFC on ESPN 21” on March 20, earning a bonus for Performance of the Night.
“He’s getting better and better,” Marinoble said. “He’s always been pretty good, but fighting is very mental. You’ve got to have your mind in the right place to do the right things at the right time. He’s really at the top of his game.”
Griffin started training with Marinoble when he was 4 years old after his family moved to the Sacramento area from Santa Barbara. The former Bella Vista High School student has lived in Carmichael, Fair Oaks and Citrus Heights, and now resides in Antelope.
His popularity is soaring with his recent success.
“The whole city is rooting for us and it has shown,” said Jamie Jones of Hometeam Management Group, a brand management company representing Griffin and other local fighters. “Max’s social media has grown. His appearances have grown. His sponsorships have grown. He’s being embraced by everybody.”
Griffin’s core values
Griffin credits his work with Danny Patterson, a full potential performance coach from Canada. Griffin connected with Patterson a couple of months before facing Brahimaj. Patterson helped Griffin come to some important realizations.
“He watched my fights without sound. My mannerisms, my expressions, how I looked,” Griffin said. “He said my most successful fights were the ones when I had the most fun. I was smiling. I was in a good mood.
“I said, ‘You know, you’re right. I did enjoy whooping Mike Perry’s ass. I did enjoy knocking out David Mitchell.’”
Patterson also encouraged Griffin to look within to identify his core values.
“That’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” Griffin said. “It took like a month to come up with my core values. I looked online to try to find out how to find my core values. You look at your best friends, people you look up to. What traits do they have? Are they respectable? Do they work hard? What are their values? You look at people you don’t like — people who are selfish, people who are greedy. You find out who you are.
“The words I came up with were authentic, loyalty, growth, courage, discipline and respect. He had me break those down and write exactly what those things mean to me, so I spent hours and days on each of these words to figure out exactly what I mean by growth, exactly what I mean by courage.”
Strength in numbers
Griffin, a member of MMA Gold, first met Patterson on a recommendation from his former rivals at Team Alpha Male, which is headed by UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber.
In addition to his work with Marinoble and MMA Gold coach Jim West, Griffin has been cross-training with Team Alpha Male and Lem Adams at Game-Fit, among others. Relations between the local fight clubs have improved since Faber and MMA Gold founder Dave Hirschbein agreed to work together about a year ago.
“There was a decision made to help each other produce some bad-ass fighters out of Sacramento,” Marinoble said. “You know what I bring when I come to the table. You know what Urijah brings. You know what Dave and Jim West bring. So everybody knows what each person brings to the banquet and we’re all eating good.”
Faber agreed, saying: “There’s a lot of unity in our region right now.”
Griffin can feel it, too.
“The city is powerful,” he said. “The opportunity that’s happening for me, the love I’m getting, it’s like everyone’s together now. It’s like a unified beam of energy coming from Sac.”
Griffin believes this surge can take him to the top as he nears his 36th birthday in November. Faber hopes to see him get a shot at the title.
“He’s a hyper-focused guy and he’s one of those guys that’s built to be able to have a long career,” Faber said. “He’s got some really good natural gifts, he lives a healthy lifestyle and he’s been surrounding himself with the right people. He has a lot of things coming together at the same time.”