T.J. Grant of Cole Harbour, N.S., is on the cusp of a UFC title shot.
Thanks to the announcement from UFC president Dana White following UFC on FOX 7 last month, we now have a Canadian one win away from fighting for a UFC championship and possibly joining Georges St-Pierre to give The Great White North two belt-holders at the same time. When was the last time we could say that?
Actually, we know when it was. It was five years ago, when Patrick (The Predator) Cote defeated Ricardo Almeida by split decision at UFC 86 in July 2008 to earn a shot at the middleweight title. Now, in 2013, as Grant prepares to battle former No. 1 contender Gray Maynard at UFC 160 later this month, we find ourselves in a very similar situation, only in the lightweight division; and in particular, Grant finds himself in the situation Cote was in. Check out some of the striking similarities.
The Almeida-Cote matchup, with the winner earning the title shot, was pretty surprising to some at the time. Heading into their clash, Almeida was 2-2 in the UFC and was looking for just his second win in a row, while Cote was 3-4. But Almeida was riding a seven-fight win streak overall and had just submitted Rob Yundt in his return to the UFC after a stint in Pancrase and Pride, and as a former Pan American BJJ champion, he seemed to have the credentials to be a title contender.
Similarly, the Maynard-Grant matchup is a pretty surprising title eliminator. Like Almeida, Maynard is looking for just his second win in a row in the UFC, coming after two failed attempts at capturing the lightweight belt. But prior to that he was undefeated in 11 professional appearances and is an accomplished NCAA Division I wrestler.
As for their Canadian opponents, Cote started his UFC career 0-4 (including debuting at light-heavyweight before dropping down to 185 pounds). He then rebounded to win his next three in the Octagon and was riding a four-fight win streak overall. But while he was an exciting and very dangerous striker, not too many thought of Cote as being in the championship discussion, at least not yet.
Yet middleweight champion Anderson Silva had dispatched of the division’s top talent, including Rich Franklin (once to capture the belt and again in a rematch), Nate Marquardt and Pride champ Dan Henderson (in a title unification bout). So there really weren’t any other worthy challengers. The fact is, if Cote was to emerge victorious, he’d have the longest win streak in the division outside the champ.
Fast forward to today, and the lightweight division looks similar. Lightweight champion Benson Henderson has already beaten most of the division’s top-name talent, including Frankie Edgar (once to capture the belt and again in a rematch), Nate Diaz and Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez (in a title unification bout). And while there are other lightweight fighters with more recognizable names and stronger career resumes — including Josh Thomson and Anthony Pettis, who is tied up in a featherweight title bout – the fact is, if Grant emerges victorious against Maynard, he’d have the longest win streak in the division outside the champ.
And like Cote, that seemed unlikely after the way his foray into the UFC began. Grant’s UFC career started in similarly pedestrian fashion – and, like Cote, at a different weight class than the one in which he’s fighting for a title. Grant, a former welterweight, actually won his debut, by split decision over Ryo Chonan in April 2009, but he was unable to string two wins in a row together, alternating a win with a loss until the end of 2010.
He then decided to drop down to 155 pounds, where he has yet to taste defeat. He already has the longest win streak in the division (outside of the champion Benson Henderson) at four, and if he is able to extend that against Maynard, he will be in the same position that Cote was.
We’re not talking about a path to the title like that of St-Pierre, who busted onto the scene with a couple wins out of the gate and was fighting for the belt in his third UFC bout. No, here we have a guy like Cote who is another Canuck who has gotten little fanfare outside of Canada but is now in a position to become one of the most featured fighters in the UFC.
Grant and Cote’s shot at gold have even come at almost exactly the same stages in their careers. Grant is 29, while Cote was 28 at the time of his title shot. But it’s actually an even bigger jump for Grant. Up until now, Grant hasn’t even appeared on a main card of any event yet, major event or otherwise. Now he’s on a pay-per-view card in a title eliminator. Talk about a big increase in pressure.
Cote was able to handle the moment, earning the close nod over Almeida. Unfortunately, Cote subsequently lost his title bout to Silva as a result of a knee injury, and his career took a big detour.
Hopefully, for Canadian fans, there will be no detour for Grant as he continues along a similar path as The Predator.
Is Cote the best candidate for the head coaching job of the first international edition of the reality show to be filmed in Canada? That’s debatable. But much like when he earned his title shot, who else is there? St-Pierre would be the best choice, but he’s expected to fight Johny Hendricks (if not Anderson Silva) so that won’t work (assuming the opposing coaches have to fight each other at the end).
Meanwhile, other notable Canadians coming off wins (Rory MacDonald, Sam Stout, John Makdessi and Mitch Gagnon) have fights already lined up. With Cote’s past experience on the show and his tenure in the Octagon, he just might be the best candidate right now – if they’re looking to start it anytime soon. That remains to be seen.