March 4, 2011Ryan MaquianaCSNBayArea.com
Four years ago, Otis Triple O.G. Griffin had the boxing world in the palm of his hand. I had a great contract and I was making seven figures, said the former SaberCats defensive specialist turned pugilist. I was undefeated in 20 straight fights and on the warp-speed track to a world title.Then everything slipped away. An overconfident Griffin traveled to Australia and was knocked out by Danny Green. Four more losses in his next five fights followed. Suddenly, the fame and the paydays were gone.Griffin was no longer the pigeon, but rather, the statue. Even worse, his own mother asked him to hang up his gloves for good.She told me that I had a successful job and an education, so why not just call it quits? recalled Griffin, who attended West Texas A&M. But I refused. I became a fighter to win a world title, and Im not stopping until I do that.Perhaps its fitting that the SaberCats return to the AFL from a two-year hiatus at precisely the same time the 33-year-old Griffin (23-6-2, 9 KOs) enjoys a career resurrection, having won his last four bouts in a row.Friday, the Sacramento resident has the opportunity to make his boxing dream a reality, as he travels to south to Woodland Hills to face Yusaf Mack (28-3-2, 17 KOs) for the right to face IBF light heavyweight world champion Tavoris Cloud in the summer.During my losing streak, I got a concussion and was knocked unconscious, and that led to some questions about retiring, said Griffin, who paused before continuing. But I think Ive answered them with my latest climb back to the top of the mountain.After spending parts of the 2000 season as a free safety on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad, Griffin made the move to San Jose the following year in hopes that it would be a springboard back to the NFL. It didnt work out. While life on the gridiron fizzled, however, the ring subliminally came calling.I got into boxing because I actually got into a fight with one of my teammates, said Griffin, laughing. I met up with a boxing trainer after that and I realized that a lot of the things you do as a defensive back correlate to what you do in the ring, especially your footwork.Otis was an athletically gifted player during his time with the SaberCats and he certainly showed the aggressiveness and strength it takes to not only be a football player, but also a great boxer as well, remembered SaberCats head coach Darren Arbet, who has added the titles of owner and general manager since Griffins stint in San Jose. Griffin seemed to walk a paved road to stardom upon leaving pro football in 2004 to partake in Fox Sports Nets boxing reality series, The Next Great Champ. After winning the televised tournament, he signed with Oscar De La Hoyas Golden Boy Promotions. I didnt realize how everything was being handed to me after I won that reality show, he said. I wasnt a complete fighter, however, and I found out how important that was.Griffin soon learned that boxing, much like football, is a sport where perfection is at a premium at the elite level; incurring just one loss on the ledger can ruin ones chances for a championship. I was relying on pure athleticism and raw power to win early on, he said, but that mentality got me to lose five out of six fights.It was the last of these defeats, a two-round destruction at the hands of Marcus Oliveira in June 2009, which forced Griffin to take a hard look in the mirror.A knockout like that will make anyone wonder if theyre in the right sport, said Griffin, his eyebrows rising. I needed to clean house with a new team around me.First, Griffin enlisted the help of an old friend from Alabama, Osric Pratt, to be his new manager. The subsequent hire of Sacramento mainstay Seifudeen Mateen as his new trainer followed, and the budding partnership couldnt be happier.My boxing I.Q. has increased exponentially with Coach Mateen, said Griffin. Im a late bloomer in the sport, kind of a like a fine wine. Im learning to box more and not living off athletic ability alone.We started with the basics, especially his footwork, said Mateen, who nodded his head in agreement. Then its like building the foundation of a wall brick by brick. Now hes moving from side to side and using his boxing ability instead of just coming forward.So far, so good. Griffin is riding a four-fight winning streak that includes an impressive eighth-round technical knockout of former world champion Byron Mitchell last May, which netted him the regional USBA title.Coach Mateen said some of the body shots he saw me get hit with by Byron could knock down a wall, recounted Griffin. But I outboxed him and then stopped him, thanks to the grace of God. My confidence was sky-high after then.Now all that separates Triple O.G. from a date with destiny is Mack, a longtime buddy and former sparring partner. Still, expect Otis to shelve their friendship temporarily on Friday.Yusafs heavy-handed with great power, said Griffin. Weve been working on not running into a big shot and using our skills to prevail.Ive studied Mack upside down and inside out, added Mateen. Ive watched his last six fights. Were going to take away the left side of his arsenal and jump on him right away.Although the fight wont be televised, count Griffins old head coach as one of his supporters this Friday.I wish him all the luck against Yusaf Mack and hope to see him with a light heavyweight belt very soon, said Arbet.Griffin was never quite able to bask in the Super Bowl spotlight, but one more victory in the ring will take him closer toward vindicating his athletic renaissance.I just want guys to know that even though youre down on your luck, you control your own destiny, he said. A champion is a guy that presses on.