It doesn’t seem like that long ago that things were going so well for Josh Grispi. When the UFC merged with the WEC, it was expected that Grispi would be the first fighter to challenge Jose Aldo for the UFC featherweight title. Then Grispi made his UFC debut against Dustin Poirier and lost a lopsided decision. At the time, this result served to give Poirier a lot of hype, but it didn’t seem far-fetched to think Grispi could bounce back. Instead, in Grispi’s subsequent fight against George Roop, he got completely decimated, losing by TKO in the third round, in one of the more one-sided fights in UFC history.
This seemed to be a very sudden and devastating fall from grace. What happened to the fighter once considered by many to be in the top five of the featherweight division?
The first thing I have to mention is that Grispi had no business being in the cage with Jose Aldo, even before his losses to Poirier and Roop. After his last win, against L.C. Davis at WEC 49, Grispi had a SILVA score of 49.03, on the strength of his wins over Davis and Mark Hominick. None of his other 12 wins were against anybody who could be described as a UFC-caliber opponent. At least, I don’t consider Jens Pulver (2009 edition), Micah Miller, or Spencer Paige to be fighters who belong in the UFC.
The other thing that’s very noticeable about Grispi’s record is that most of his wins happened very quickly. This is not a bad thing by any means, but it might help explain some of Grispi’s struggles. Take a look at how long it took for him to finish his opponents in his last seven wins:
- L.C. Davis – 2:33
- Jens Pulver – 0:33
- Micah Miller – 0:50
- Mark Hominick – 2:55
- Spencer Paige – 0:11
- Paul Gorman – 2:29
- Glenn Medeiros – 0:40
In fact, all of Grispi’s wins except one were by TKO or submission in the first round, often in the first minute. So I thought, perhaps Grispi is like a Frank Mir, a fighter who fades badly if the fight isn’t going his way early on? Sure enough, Grispi’s one win by decision was against Fernando Bernardino, a grappler who made his professional debut against Grispi, and whose record currently stands at 0-3-1. And it was only a majority decision for Grispi.
But watching the fight, none of the problems Grispi had against Roop or Poirier are apparent. Bernardino’s game was mostly to take Grispi down and hold him, and honestly, I’m glad to see the judges give Grispi the win there, as Bernardino did nothing that would actually threaten to end the fight. Grispi didn’t appear exhausted, and certainly didn’t take anything near the beating he took from George Roop.
Being the numbers-minded person I am, I then turned to Fight Metric. And what I noticed right away, from taking a look at the Roop fight, was this stat line from Grispi in the second round:
- Significant Strikes: 2/2
- Total Strikes: 2/2
- Takedowns: 0/0
That’s right: in five minutes of fighting, Grispi threw a grand total of two strikes. The remainder of activity in that round was by Roop. I’m sorry, but something is horribly wrong here. It takes no talent to actually throw strikes. What happened in the second round of this fight is that Grispi simply did not fight. The next question that came to mind was: does Grispi have a history of sheer inactivity like this?
As it turns out, in Grispi’s four WEC fights, he threw 78 strike attempts in 6:51, a ratio of 11.4 strike attempts per minute. In his two UFC fights, he threw 94 strike attempts in 28:14, a ratio of 3.3 strike attempts per minute. Granted, the WEC sample is rather small, but this is a massive drop in activity level for a fighter who was previously quite aggressive.
So I was ready to make the often dubious argument that Grispi couldn’t handle the pressure of fighting in the UFC. I think the phrase “Octagon jitters” gets thrown around far more than it should, especially because we just don’t know in most cases, but I couldn’t think of any other reason for Grispi to just freeze up and take a beating like he did. That’s when I found this in the Bloody Elbow archives. It’s about how, in a period of a couple days, Grispi’s first child was born, and then his father was struck by a particularly aggressive form of cancer. The latter bit of news is a terrible thing for anybody to go through, but at the same time, it only explains why Grispi didn’t fight at UFC 136. Then, later in the piece, we get what could be an explanation for Grispi’s UFC losses:
…I don’t think I should have even fought those two fights. I should have just taken care of myself when I needed to, but I needed money. I was having a kid so I needed to save up more money. I was fighting for the wrong reasons.
This suggests that Grispi was either fighting injured, or fighting at a time he shouldn’t have been. There are few specifics there, so it’s hard to tell exactly what was going on, but it seems clear that the Grispi we saw against Poirier and Roop was not the Grispi who built a 4-0 record in the WEC.
Still, Grispi has a lot of questions to answer. The fact of the matter is that his UFC record and performances are abysmal. Against Rani Yahya, he won’t have to worry about taking another beating – Yahya is simply not a striker. But Yahya will pursue takedowns and the ground game, and as a world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter, there’s no way he’ll be caught by Grispi’s guillotine choke. Grispi is going to have to work hard to keep this fight standing, and beat Yahya by TKO.
SILVA PREDICTION: RANI YAHYA (43.25) OVER JOSH GRISPI (37.02)
At the start of this piece, I sought to answer a question. Instead of an answer, I got another question. Are Josh Grispi’s horrible UFC performances an indicator of things to come, or a result of injuries and tough life circumstances? I wish I knew, but for now, all I can say is that we’ll find out on Saturday.