There is a sign entering the small Nova Scotia town of Cole Harbour (population: 20,000) that reads:
HOME OF SIDNEY CROSBY…
While UFC fighter TJ Grant has improved his perfect record to 4-0 since dropping to lightweight, someone printed and taped onto the sign an addition to the last line:
…AND T.J. GRANT
“That lasted for like an hour,” Grant said of the fans’ tribute to the town’s newest sporting hero.
No, the 28-year-old mixed martial artist hasn’t quite reached the level of notoriety of the NHL superstar and Pittsburgh Penguins captain. But with performances like Saturday’s emphatic TKO of Matt Wiman in Chicago, he could be there sooner rather than later.
“It’s coming along,” Grant said of the recognition and media attention he has been getting of late in an interview with Sportsnet.ca. “I won’t lie, during fight week it’s really nice when you don’t have any media responsibilities. I’m sure that’s going to change. And obviously if you want to be the best that’s what’s got to change and I’m prepared for that.”
The success he has found since making the move to 155 pounds should not be understated. Only one other UFC fighter is undefeated in the division in as many appearances, and he happens to be the guy Grant is ultimately eyeing — champion Benson Henderson, who has won six in a row since joining the organization.
Grant’s current run is particularly stunning considering how his Octagon career began. A welterweight to start his career, he debuted in the UFC in April 2009 and won by split decision over Ryo Chonan in Montreal. But he ended up going 3-3 in his first six fights, following up a win with a loss each time. That’s when he decided a move down a weight class was in order.
“Coming into it there were a whole lot of unknowns, I didn’t really know a whole lot, but I’m just happy the way things have gone,” Grant said. “Making the weight cut has been a great thing for my career. I’m getting better all the time.”
At UFC on FOX 6 in Chicago, he couldn’t have been better. He dominated Wiman from bell-to-near-bell in the first round, outstriking him by a three-to-one margin and eventually stopping him with nine seconds to go in the first with a beautiful barrage of elbows.
“I haven’t really had too many fights like that where things went well from start to finish. I’m really happy, I put in a lot of work, and having an opponent like Matt Wiman is something that makes you prepare even more.”
The scary thing? Grant (20-5) believes we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of his potential.
“I feel like I’m not close to where I can be. I feel like I have a lot of flaws that I have to get better every day.”
After the Wiman bout he asked for a matchup with Jim Miller. He said he wasn’t calling him out, he just thinks it would be a great fight and would help prepare him for the next level.
It’s also one that could put him on a path with the champ — the goal for any UFC fighter.
“I’ve been flying under the radar, I’ve done everything that’s been asked of me, I’ve fought everybody that’s been put in front of me. I think I want to fight somebody that’s been around a bit longer and that I can feel like I can get a lot of exposure from fighting. No offence to anyone, I don’t really want to necessarily take a step back. I’m not saying any guys are tougher than others, but I’m really looking for the exposure.”
He believes the UFC is on the same page, saying UFC matchmaker Joe Silva told him they were really happy with his fight. He told Silva he was ready for “anyone and everyone in the division.”
“I feel at home here at lightweight, I’m not giving up 20 pounds on fight night like I did against guys like Johny Hendricks,” Grant said in a post-fight interview. “I feel I have the speed and the power to go against anyone at 155 pounds. I got my whole game working in this division.”
Whether a matchup with Miller ends up happening could depend on timing. Grant is set to get married in October and his fiancée is due with their first child — a girl — in April.
“I’m kind of not sure when I’ll be (fighting) next, either before that or a few months after. It’s kind of important that I’m around at the middle of April,” Grant said, knowing that goes without saying (if he values his relationship with his fiancée!)
2013 is looking up on many fronts for the bearded boy from Cole Harbour, who is a killer in the cage but super-friendly outside it. And if he keeps rolling, we may see him up against Henderson, with someone’s lightweight unbeaten streak on the line (not to mention a championship belt).
Who knows, he may even find himself in close company with Sid the Kid by the time the year’s up.
Well, that might be pushing it.
“Sidney Crosby’s the man. He’s got a billboard. I’ll have to get a carpenter to build something for me, man.”