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Another Climb for Otis Griffin

It was only a year-and-a-half ago when Otis Griffin looked in the mirror and gave himself the talk that every fighter dreads—the one about whether he should consider retirement.


After incurring five losses in a span of six bouts—four by stoppage—the Sacramento resident began hearing the calls to hang up the gloves from his own family after getting knocked out cold by Marcus Oliveira last June.


“My mom came up to me,” recalled Griffin. “She said, ‘You have so much going for you. You have a very successful job at the Department of Corrections; you have an education; you’ve done a lot in boxing, so why not just call it quits?’ But I said no. I got in the sport to win a world title and I’m not going to stop until I do that.”


It’s a good thing fighters are a stubborn breed, as he now stands on the cusp of his first major world title shot. Griffin, 23-6-2 (9), will take a four-bout winning streak into the Minneapolis Hyatt Regency on February 4 against Yusaf Mack, 28-3-2 (17), in an IBF light heavyweight title eliminator (The bout was originally scheduled for this Friday but was moved to the new date due to travel complications brought on by the extreme weather issues in Minnesota).

“At the time, my mom and everyone else in my circle were really worried,” added the converted former safety at West Texas A&M and later, the Arena League. “But I’ve been playing football since I was six years old. That’s why playing high-contact sports for all this time and never getting a concussion, followed by getting knocked unconscious like that, led to some questions. But I think I’ve answered them with my latest climb back to the top of the mountain.”


Six years is a long period of time but it seems like yesterday when “Triple OG” started his pro career as the winner of Oscar De La Hoya’s reality series, “The Next Great Champ,” which was Fox’s precursor to NBC’s (and later ESPN’s) “The Contender.”


“When I first started boxing, I was on the warp-speed fast track,” said Griffin. “I was involved with Golden Boy Promotions. I didn’t realize how everything was being handed me. I was winning on athletic ability and they kept pushing me.”


Riding a 20-bout unbeaten streak that included an NABO belt and a win over Jimmy Mince, the man who beat him in his debut, Griffin found himself at the doorstep of a world title shot.


Unfortunately, an unsuccessful trip to Australia against Danny Green in July 2007 and a failed attempt at super middleweight against Jesse Brinkley seven months later derailed him from the list of top ten contenders and temporarily into the gatekeeper car. Golden Boy dropped him from their banner and he continued to lose three more bouts soon after. At that point, Griffin knew that changes were necessary to keep his career alive.


“I really had to stop making stupid decisions like taking the fight with Danny Green in Australia on four days notice,” Griffin lamented. “On film, Danny seemed like a vanilla guy but factor in a 24-hour flight and fighting a tough guy like him and I lost, so Golden Boy left the picture. One time after that, I went down to [166] to fight Jesse Brinkley. Look, I’m at four-percent body fat at 175 [pounds]. I’m a really lean and muscular guy. And in that same year, I fought at cruiserweight where my opponent outweighed me by 40 pounds on fight night.”


So what lessons were to be learned?


“I learned that I can’t do that anymore. Case in point, I walked away from the Tavoris Cloud fight because my old team would probably see it as now-or-never but now with “Oz” and Coach Mateen, I’m really thinking about negotiating and pacing myself the right way,” he said.


That would be Osric “Oz” Pratt and Mateen Saifudeen, his new manager and trainer, respectively.


“I knew I would get back, especially once I cleaned house with a new trainer and new manager,” said Griffin. “We have a saying in our camp: ‘I want for my brother that I want for myself.’ What comes to me comes to everyone involved in my team. Osric ‘Oz’ Pratt is a close friend from Alabama, where I’m originally from. He used to promote concerts with Al Haymon.”


With Saifudeen, Griffin has worked on developing an identity as far as styles were concerned.


“With that big knockout against Marcus Oliveira, I learned a lot,” said Griffin. “Last thing I remember was after the first round, I wasn’t happy with just winning the round. The mistake I made was that I wanted to pressure the guy to death. He had ‘Alley Cat Syndrome.’ He came at me full-steam, so you’ve got your back against the wall, so as a fighter, you fight. He threw a wild uppercut and it was just a money shot that landed perfectly. When I saw it on tape, it was just high-speed chess and it turned out being checkmate.


“My trainer, Mateen Saifudeen, has done a great job breaking training down for me,” he added. “My boxing IQ has increased exponentially with him so I don’t get caught like that anymore. I’m a late bloomer in the sport. I’m kind of like [middleweight champion] Sergio Martinez, sort of a like a fine wine. I’m learning to box more and not living off athletic ability alone.”


The climb back has been faster than expected. After a stoppage win over Ernesto Castaneda in September of last year, he pulled the upset of Joe McCreedy on his home turf of Rhode Island. Still, no one in the sport really took Griffin’s renaissance seriously.


It was his subsequent eighth-round stoppage of former WBA champ Byron Mitchell for the USBA light heavyweight title in May of last year that turned heads.


“Byron Mitchell’s from Pike County, Alabama, and I’m from Troy, which in the same county. Without saying anything, I wanted to get his more than fight him. When I grew up, he was the baddest dude but Byron Mitchell came from the dirt and he stayed there. He was one of the grimiest fighters I had ever seen and maybe one of the top ten punchers I’ve seen, as well. 


“Coach Mateen did a great job training me and he said some of the body shots he saw me get hit with could knock down a wall. But I outboxed him and then stopped him, thanks to the grace of God. My confidence was sky-high after then.”


After staying busy with a workmanlike unanimous decision over trial horse Billy Bailey, Griffin now prepares for his latest step up in class with Mack.


“What’s surprising is that Yusaf and I are very good friends and actually trained together for a year and a half at Lake Arrowhead in Big Bear,” shared Griffin. “Yusaf’s always been a great boxer and he lives and breathes boxing. He definitely has advantages he can use against you. He’s pretty heavy-handed and a great power puncher. We’ve just been working on increasing the boxing IQ so that I don’t run into a big shot. My conditioning and hand speed are there and I believe my power has improved where I would say it’s better than his. I think I’ll be able to stop Yusaf but I’m confident I’ll be able to come out of there with a win.”


The implications of the bout are no mystery to either fighter.


“The winner of this fight will be the number one guy for Cloud,” said Griffin. “All the other guys are fighting for other sanctioning bodies. Chris Henry is fighting for the WBC. [Bernard] Hopkins is over at the WBC with the [Jean] Pascal fight. You got [Gabriel] Campillo with the WBA and [Nathan] Cleverly with the WBO, so those guys really aren’t in front of me.”


With the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel upon him, Griffin reflected on his return to prominence.


“I want people to look at my story and realize this,” he concluded. “Boxing is a down-on-your-luck kind of sport. You can be a very good fighter but life can be kicking your ass. Over the last five years, I lost several immediate family members. I lost two uncles, two brothers, a first cousin, a father-in-law, one after each other. I just want guys to know that even though you’re down in your luck, you control your own destiny. A champion is a guy that presses on. [The Book of] Proverbs says, ‘For though the righteous man falls down seven times, he gets up seven times.’  It’s all in God’s hands now.”


Ryan can be reached at, on Facebook at, or on Twitter at

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