Six years ago, on a sunny November day just outside of Austin, Texas, Bobby Green held court inside the Post Oak conference room at the Horseshoe Bay Resort.
Calling what was taking place a media scrum is a bit of an overstatement, as there were only three members of the media present at the time — Houston radio man Nick Sharara, MMA Junkie’s John Morgan, and myself — and Green’s answer to the first question was “No comment.” But over the next 20 minutes, the standout lightweight from Inland Empire, California, who was readying to face Edson Barboza, emotionally shared his unfiltered thoughts on everything from the trials and tribulations he faced outside the cage, the challenges of life as a professional fighter, and the crucial role the media plays in shaping how fans and observers view athletes and the sport as a whole.
Pacing back and forth in front of a UFC step-and-repeat, the charismatic fighter challenged us to choose our headlines wisely, acknowledging that despite him being the one providing the quotes, we were ultimately the ones who would share his thoughts with the masses and could choose to frame him and them however we pleased.
Wednesday afternoon, I was back on the phone with Green, who lost that fight with Barboza and went 1-4-1 over his next six fights before embarking on the three-fight winning streak that carries him into Saturday’s contest with Thiago Moises at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
The times have changed, but the messages remain the same.
“To be honest, I hear all the stuff you’re saying and I don’t want to sound disrespectful in any way, but I don’t think any of that is the actual factor,” Green said politely when I asked if changes in his approach to training and simply being a little older and wiser have been key pieces in his recent run of success. “I’ve been fighting this way and doing the same things; the day is the only thing that has changed.
“You guys are just paying a little bit more attention,” he said, lumping me into a collection of folks that includes judges, fans, and critics, all of whom have started to take greater notice of Green and his efforts in the last several months.
The 34-year-old has been one of the standouts during the UFC’s restart period, having collected unanimous decision victories over Clay Guida, Lando Vannata, and Alan Patrick in the span of a dozen weeks. Saturday night, he looks to make it four victories in 19 weeks when he steps in against Moises.
The last time he earned four straight victories inside the Octagon was at the outset of his UFC career, ahead of his bout with Barboza, when he had earned eight consecutive victories overall and held down a spot in the Top 10 of the lightweight division rankings.
“I’m getting a little bit of respect, but I feel like I haven’t gotten what I deserve,” continued the 38-fight veteran. “We’re talking about Fighter of the Year and I’m not mentioned in those spaces. They’re talking about Israel (Adesanya), they’re talking about Khabib (Nurmagomedov), and they’re talking about that Khazmat (Chimaev) guy, but they’re not talking about me. Where’s the respect?”
If he’s able to register a fourth straight victory this weekend, with a possible fifth fight in December, Green would be a lock for at least “Honorable Mention” status in the Fighter of the Year race, if not a podium finish, as he’s battled a tough slate of experienced veterans in the deepest division of the sport and emerged triumphant each time and has the chance to turn back a promising prospect on Saturday.
In addition to feeling like he’s never garnered the kind of respect someone with his resume, his entertaining style, and his readiness to take on all comers deserves, the way he’s perceived by the masses has remained another bone of contention with the unapologetically honest veteran.
Green is a natural showman.
He does a diving somersault into the cage and emulates WWE superstar Triple H’s signature water spray each time his arm is raised in victory. Watching him fight, it’s clear he’s enjoying himself, a smile ever-present on his face as he talks with his opponents, motioning for them to engage and visibly waving off blows that landed, but didn’t have much impact.
While finishes have been few and far between during his UFC tenure, he also isn’t one to get finished, meaning if he’s on the card, fans are almost guaranteed 15 minutes of entertainment.
But operating the way he does inside the Octagon seems to be reserved for only a very select collection of athletes, so what is an obvious display of joy for him has often been misconstrued as cockiness and arrogance, leading to Green being miscast as brash and disrespectful when he’s anything but.
“Yeah, that’s a great way to put it — just because I’m a little bit hood and a little grimy at times doesn’t mean I’m not a good dude,” said the veteran lightweight. “I may not always deliver a knockout or a finish, but I’m going to give you great stuff that you can learn from and great stuff that you can enjoy.
“I just want to give a good show and gain the respect from my peers.”
He also wants to be a beacon of hope for anyone who has endured the same challenges he has throughout his life, from growing up in the foster care system to having their lives ravaged by violence in the streets.
Just a few months ahead of that bout with Barboza, Green’s older brother Charles Gasaway was shot three times. Four months earlier, he lost his younger brother Mitchell Davis Jr. in a drive-by shooting. Rather than let the pain consume him and prompt him to retaliate, Green opted instead to organize a community walk dubbed “The Green Mile” to raise awareness about crime and gun violence within his San Bernardino community.
“I’m really trying to enlighten people that I come from the darkest places, but you can change your stars and impact people,” he said when I asked about using his post-fight interviews to share elements of his personal life and offer up messages of love and hope. “You could not have a mother, you could not have a father, and you can still make it. So many people are damaged and messed up and they give up, but I’m trying to be a light for them.
“A lot of people have been really receptive to it because they can see that I’m real,” he added. “I’m just being honest with people.
“I don’t try to think of things to say before I do interviews — the truth comes out and I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I’m going to be honest with you and tell you how it is, so a lot of people receive me and that’s great.”
Towards the end of his extended monologue in Austin all those years ago, Green talked about the comments he would hear from friends when he went dark on the world as he entered training camp and prepared for his next fight.
They didn’t understand why he disappeared, but the way Green saw it then, he didn’t have a choice.
“I don’t have time for friends,” he said in the fall of 2014. “I don’t have time for that because I’m focused on that work. I grind.”
Six years on, Green is still grinding.
“It’s been amazing,” he said of competing as regularly as he has since the restart in May. “It’s been tiring. It’s been a lot and I like it.
“This is the grind of being successful; it’s uncomfortable and you’ve got to learn to be uncomfortable.”
Like the Clipse, Green’s grind has always been about family and never been about fame, and regardless of wins and losses, commitment to an approach like that over all these years is the kind of thing that demands respect.
Here’s to you, King.