Josh Grispi got married, became a father, ruptured his appendix, and watched his father battle brain cancer. It’s the life journey many share in one form or another, only his has taken place in just 23 years.
More specifically, he endured all those life-altering moments in a single calendar year.
“I feel like I’ve gone through everything, so hopefully this fight (against Rani Yahya this Saturday) shouldn’t be a big deal to me,” said Grispi of the year that he will never forget, both personally and professionally, and for good and bad reasons.
2011 might have been something completely different for the Boston native, a featherweight phenom who tore through Mark Hominick, Micah Miller, Jens Pulver, and LC Davis, all in the first round, in successive WEC bouts from 2008 to 2010. When the merge between the WEC and UFC was announced, Grispi was going to get the first shot at champion Jose Aldo at UFC 125 in January of last year.
But when Aldo withdrew from the bout due to injury, hungry Louisiana prospect Dustin Poirier got the call to face Grispi in Las Vegas. As he was getting ready to fly out to the fight, Grispi’s soon-to-be wife Kaitlyn informed him that they were having a baby. Grispi got to the fight, wasn’t in fight mode, and Poirier dominated him over three rounds en route to a unanimous decision win.
“When I lost, I didn’t go through a depression, but I was like ‘I have to win my next fight’ and I was just fighting for the wrong reasons,” said Grispi, who got knocked out five months later by George Roop for his second consecutive defeat. “Then we found out my dad had brain cancer, and everything just went haywire. It’s like when it rains, it pours. And for a while I was just like, what the heck is going on? I had everything at one point and now I was just struggling to get through every day. It was tough.”
After the Roop fight, Grispi decided that he was going to put prizefighting on the shelf.
“I decided to not even think about fighting for a little while, and just got to hang out with my dad as much as I could, and he got to hang out with his grandson,” said Grispi, who married Kaitlyn in June of 2011. Josh Jr. arrived in August, and while Grispi’s father is still undergoing treatment, he’s doing well at the moment. A burst appendix last November was the final stroke of bad luck for “The Fluke,” and once recovered, he began to think about his day job again.
“It was a crazy situation, but now everything’s come back together, and I feel good,” he said. “I just had an urge to train and I realized that this is why I do it. I love doing it and I love learning.”
This Saturday, he is back in the Octagon to face jiu-jitsu specialist Yahya in Los Angeles. For some fans who may not have watched Grispi tear through the WEC’s featherweight division with a Jon Jones-esque finality, this may either be their first exposure to the New Englander or another look at a kid who is 0-2 in the organization. Either way, Grispi hopes to remind them just why he was considered one of the top prospects in the sport just a little while ago.
“I don’t want to be remembered by my last two fights,” he said. “I want to re-enter the cage and pretend this is my first.”
It’s a wise tact to take, especially since this is not the same fighter who debuted in the Octagon against Poirier. Going through everything he has in the last 18 months has to affect him. And fatherhood is at the tip of the iceberg,
“It changes everything,” said Grispi. “It’s not about partying and everything anymore. Now I have responsibilities and I like it. It puts the pressure on me that I need and that most people probably don’t like, and it’s helped me deal with pressure. It’s tough doing all that stuff, but I want to rise to the occasion.”
Of course, having said that, Grispi has always been mature for his years. You can’t reach this level of the game without being that way. But when you ask him about this, he deflects praise onto his dad, Richard.
“My dad taught me that way and I’ve learned that hanging around other people that they’re not the same way and they don’t act the same way,” he said. “But that was just how I was raised. I don’t think of it as being mature; it’s just how I was taught. I have to do it, so I’m gonna do it – there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.”
Now coming back to one of the sport’s most competitive divisions, Grispi is looking at a landscape much different than the one he left in June of last year. Sure, the man at the top – Aldo – is still the same, but there’s been plenty of shuffling everywhere else at 145 pounds.
“When I got out of it for a little bit, I got completely out of it,” he said. “I came back and was like ‘what the heck happened?’ (Laughs) I don’t know who’s what, there’s new people, and I’m like what the heck’s going on here? But everybody’s tough, and that’s the thing about this sport. You never know what’s gonna happen on any night. You can think you know the best fighters, and all of a sudden someone lands a punch or pulls out a submission you never saw coming and that’s why we train for everything and it’s gonna be like that forever. That’s why this sport is growing so quick.”
Speaking of quick, how fast did Grispi get back to form in the gym?
“10 minutes ago,” he deadpans during the July 23 interview before breaking out in laughter.
“Honestly, I’ve always been athletic, and even when I’m not training or anything, I’m eating clean, so I was never really out of shape,” he said. “The only thing I had to work on was the mental aspect of it because those last two fights I wasn’t myself at all. I guess you could say I choked, and I don’t want that to happen again, so I’ve got to prove it to myself, my dad, and my family that it wasn’t me out there in those fights. But I’m trying to stay under the radar too because I want my opponent to still think that I’m the same guy from those last two fights.”
With a big win over Yahya in his return, there will be no staying under the radar anymore for the devoted father, husband, and son. In fact, you can probably add featherweight contender to that list of titles once again. It’s been a crazy ride to get back to this point, but Josh Grispi is only thinking positively from here on out.
“You realize what you take for granted when you’re in that position,” he said. “Now I realize what I had and I want to get back to that, I want to give my son a good life and I don’t want to be struggling. Right now I’m more motivated than ever.”
After a Life-Altering Year, Josh Grispi is More Motivated than Ever
"I feel like I’ve gone through everything, so hopefully this fight (against Rani Yahya this Saturday) shouldn’t be a big deal to me." - Josh Grispi