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'These guys are f-----g crazy': How UFC's 'Crochet Boss' went from fashion to fighting

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 29:  Maurice Greene prepares to enter the Octagon prior to facing Junior Albini of Brazil in their heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at the Target Center on June 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Maurice Greene will face Aleksei Oleinik (not pictured) on Jan. 18 at UFC 246 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The biggest stars often come from the most unexpected places. Conor McGregor was an apprentice plumber on public assistance whose ability to talk a good game bought him an opportunity to prove he was one of the best fighters in the world.

Ronda Rousey won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but several months later, she was bartending and sleeping in her Honda that she affectionately named Fonda as she tried to figure what to do with her life.

Rich Franklin was a high school math teacher, as comfortable talking about the ins and outs of the Pythagorean theorem as he was the subtleties of a perfect left hook.

So why is it such a stretch to believe that a guy who weighed 330 pounds at the start of the previous decade and who so loves to design clothes that he adopted the nickname “The Crochet Boss” could become one of the world’s elite heavyweights?

If you ask Maurice Greene, it’s no stretch at all.

“You have to give the people a reason to care,” Greene says.

Greene is 33, and on Jan. 18 at UFC 246 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, will meet Aleksei Oleinik on the main card underneath the welterweight fight between McGregor and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

That Greene is in this spot at all is something of an upset. His older brother played Division I college football, but Greene never came close. He had a growth spurt in which he grew six inches in the summer between his sophomore and junior years in high school. He had the size of a football player, but he had difficulty growing into his body.

“I couldn’t jump at all,” said Greene, who went from 6-1 to 6-7 in a matter of months. “I couldn’t do a lot of things. And right after high school, I put on a ton of weight.”

By the time he was 24, he’d ballooned to 330 pounds. In addition to not liking what was looking back at him in the mirror, Greene also had to confront the reality that he was about to become a father and had a family history of high blood pressure.

Like so many in a country where obesity is one of the most serious health issues, Greene decided he needed to cut weight. So he turned to jiu-jitsu and martial arts as a means to accomplish his goal.

“I’m not a guy who grew up dreaming of being an MMA fighter,” he said. “I’d see a fight and I think to myself, ‘These guys are f-----g crazy.’”

He took a fight in 30 days after starting training, and suddenly realized he’d found at least one of his callings.

“My fiancee was pregnant and I didn’t want to go back to school and I realized that as much as I didn’t see myself as a fighter, I was good at it and so I needed to find a way to make this s--- work,” he said.

Friends who knew him in 2010 when he began this journey were stunned to see the progress he’d made — and continues to make — in a short period of time. He admits he still has much to learn and there is a risk for him given his relative inexperience going against a decorated veteran like Oleinik.

Greene, who is coached by former UFC welterweight Brock Larson, struggled with being hit at first, because it was a new experience. But as he did it, he found that it wasn’t as bad as he thought.

He’s a shrewd man wise beyond his years and he understands that while it’s most important to show up on fight night, no champion is ever going to be made overnight.

“I love the fight, the actual fight; I just love it,” he said. “But, and this is important, you also have to enjoy the process, which I’m really learning. You can’t just crave the result of winning; you have to enjoy the process of making yourself a better fighter every day, every day, every day.”

Greene loves to design clothes, and considered going to school to study fashion design. But he opted against it when he felt it was more a case of who you know and not what you know.

He’s long enjoyed knitting and crocheting and said he’s gone to the thrift store and bought second-hand items and then put them together to make an outfit for himself.

“I’d go out and people would say, ‘You look great, I love that outfit,’ and that would be the best compliment to me,” he said.

He gave himself the nickname “The Crochet Boss,” and knitted in front of UFC executives the entire time he was auditioning for a spot on Season 28 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

He’s got several clothing lines he’s completed that he hopes to use the money he earns from fighting to help launch. But he wants to be good enough at fighting, and make enough money, so that he never has to work again and only will work if he wants to.

“It’s not easy, and I’m scared as s--- right now because I’m trying to get to the point where my family is set,” he said. “I’m trying to retire from this. I’m not looking to go back to work. Why am I doing this if I can’t retire from it? I’m 33 years old. I’m in my prime and I have the ability and so it’s up to me to do what I have to do to take advantage of what I’ve been given and be able to do that.

“The ultimate goal is to be an analyst for this sport. I talk a lot and I’m not afraid to get in front of people and say what I think. It’s what I do. That’s ‘The Crochet Boss,’ man.”

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