The first time I saw T.J. Grant live, it was at an event at the Bell Centre in Montreal – the first MMA event I covered — seven months before the UFC came to Canada for the first time.
It was September 2007, Grant was a young 23-year-old with just 18 months pro experience and competing for the first time for the Montreal-based TKO Championship Fighting. Competing on the fourth fight from the last on a TKO 30 card, he pulled off a heel hook submission of local favourite Stephane Dube. It didn’t come with much fanfare, but it was an impressive enough victory that it earned him a shot at the organization’s welterweight title.
Six years later, in the fourth fight from the last on a UFC 160 card in Las Vegas, Grant pulled off another stoppage. Only this time, it was one of the most stunning knockouts of the year in the world’s biggest organization. This time there would be plenty of fanfare. And with it, he now has another shot at a gold belt on a much bigger scale.
Grant has always been one of the top prospects with lots of talent. Hailing from Cole Harbour, N.S., he was seen by many of the locals as the potential “Sidney Crosby of MMA.”
He started his career 13-2, with all his wins by stoppage. But when he finally got a shot at the UFC, it started off slowly. He won his debut – back at the Bell Centre at the second UFC event in Montreal – by split decision over Ryo Chonan, but he would go on to alternate losses and wins. So he decided to drop to lightweight.
It may have taken him a while, but he’s finally found where he belongs. And now he’s on the precipice of a world championship.
Actually, Grant did more than earn the title shot. Prior to the fight, UFC president Dana White had announced that the winner of his fight with Gray Maynard would get the next title shot. While both certainly deserved it – Grant had the division’s longest winning streak outside of the champion and Maynard was a former two-time title challenger – it seemed to have been tabbed as the fight to determine the No. 1 contender because there were few other options.
But Grant’s emphatic finished proved that he was the best option.
Earlier in his career, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt relied more on his grappling – 12 of his 13 wins before joining the UFC were by submission. But he now has two straight knockouts of veteran fighters – Maynard and Matt Wiman — who had previously only been stopped once each, showing how much Grant has improved his striking under the tutelage of his coach Scott MacLean.
“I just want to thank my coach Scott MacLean, he’s always helped me,” Grant said. “I practised (the combinations) for the last eight weeks straight and it worked. I knew exactly what he was going to do. He hit me with a couple of good shots there. He does have a lot of power. But I knew that he would be flatfooted and I’d be able to land my strikes if I stayed there and used my footwork.”
Grant also showed a tremendous chin, which he’ll need when he takes on the durable champion, who has won seven straight in the UFC.
“My ear was ringing when (Maynard) hit me with two shots, but I took it,” Grant said. “I want to fight Benson Henderson for the title. Nothing but respect but I want to fight the champ, I want to be the champ. Let’s do it.”
When Grant eventually fought for the TKO title in February 2008, he would lose by submission to Jesse Bongfeldt. Will he succeed in this new attempt at a championship belt?
He’s come a long way from his time as a younger prospect fighting on local promotions, both in terms of his ability and notoriety, and if he can hit Henderson with one of those strong and well-timed rights in his next appearance in the Octagon, I like his chances.
Either way, 2013 will be a year to remember for the Cole Harbour, N.S., star.
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) May 26, 2013
“I’m so happy right now,” Grant said to open his post-fight interview, after which he said to the camera, referring to his newborn daughter Casey, whom his fiancée Belinda gave birth to exactly one month ago: “Casey Grant that one’s for you baby.”
Not only has Grant shown that he has the skills to be a UFC champ, but he’s got the charisma and character too. The UFC has to be happy about that.