In the UFC, sometimes timing is as important as your performances inside the Octagon.
Canadian T.J. Grant can attest to that. The talented Cole Harbour, N.S., was quietly putting together the longest win streak in the UFC’s lightweight division (four in a row) outside champion Benson Henderson’s (seven). After his impressive first-round knockout of veteran Matt Wiman in his last outing in January – his most noteworthy win to date – two days later Grant was offered a fight with Jim Miller at UFC 159 on April 27
It was a fight that seemed to make perfect sense from a matchup and rankings perspective. Grant had even mentioned Miller’s name as a possible opponent he’d like next.
Only Grant turned down the fight. Why? Because he and his fiancée Belinda were expecting their first child around that time.
Instead, the UFC scheduled him in this weekend’s UFC 160 bout against former champion Gray Maynard. And after Benson Henderson successfully defended his belt against Gilbert Melendez a week before Miller instead fought – and was submitted by – Pat Healy, UFC president Dana White announced that the Grant-Maynard winner would be the next man to fight for the title.
Talk about serendipity.
It was also a bit of surprise to UFC fans. Not because Grant wasn’t deserving, but because it appeared to come out of the blue.
In fact, it did for Grant as well.
"I found out the same as everybody else," Grant said. "I watched the (UFC on FOX 7) fights, came home, and I was out for a little stroll with my (fiancée) and my dog and I got a text saying, ‘You watching the press conference?’"
Already on a high from the news, five days later his daughter Casey was born, making it one of his better weeks as a UFC fighter.
"I’m super happy I turned that (Miller fight) down for sure. I didn’t have to miss my baby girl being born."
By virtue of his decision – okay, also his impressive performances in the cage – he is now facing the most high-profile fight of his career.
"I never expected this. It doesn’t even seem real at this point. I’m ready to go out there and do my job, fight Gray Maynard, put a beating on him hopefully, and if I’m next up for the title that’s awesome. That’s what I want."
Of course, with that comes some added pressure, but Grant is taking it in stride.
"I know there’s pressure there, it should be there. But I feel pressure for every fight. My job right now is just to prepare the best I can and really let it all out there on fight night," Grant said. "I just prepare for an opponent. I don’t like to think too far ahead anyways before any of my fights. I’m just going to treat this no different. I’m not going to really think too much about the title shot."
The 29-year-old Grant does say that the chance at a title was on his radar, and he knew he was fairly close, simply because of his standing in the UFC’s new fighter rankings, which he admits he does pay attention to. But he honestly wondered how much impact the rankings would have on setting up title fights.
"They introduced the new ranking system, I was eager to see how that would play out. Are they going to give guys title shots based on who’s where in the rankings or are they going to give it based on what’s going to make the most money?
"At the same time, I just never really worried too much about it. When I found out I was fighting Gray Maynard I knew it was step in the right direction anyways and thankful for that opportunity."
What’s somewhat interesting is that the Monday after it was announced that Grant (20-5) would be fighting in this title eliminator, he was No. 6 on the UFC’s rankings page. That actually had him one slot below Donald Cerrone, who is fighting K.J. Noons on the same card but in the fight just before Grant’s and not for title consideration. (Since then, the two have swapped positions in the rankings, despite neither having fought in the meantime – the rankings are voted on by media, so perhaps enough people realized the errors in their voting!)
Either way, with a win over Maynard, Grant will certainly have earned a title shot based on his win streak and strength of opponents.
"I’m just doing my job," Grant said. "If I keep winning the rest will take care of itself."
Grant is already getting plenty of recognition, especially out east where he hails from. An online ad for the UFC 160 pay-per-view for the Halifax-based cable company EastLink, which services all of Eastern Canada, had the following:
UFC 160, Featuring Nova Scotia's TJ Grant
This Saturday, May 25, don’t miss UFC 160, live on Eastlink Pay-Per-View.
One of the cards in UFC 160 features Cole Harbour, NS, fighter TJ Grant, who’ll face Gray Maynard in his first-ever televised Pay-Per-View fight!
Plus, in the World Heavyweight Championship, it's Cain Velasquez vs Antonio Silva.
Order UFC 160 on Eastlink Pay-Per-View NOW and get ready to cheer on TJ Grant!
<<< The fourth fight on the PPV card gets higher promotion than the main event, which was relegated to a "Plus, …" afterthought. Now you know you’ve made the big-time!