Lefko: No guarantees in the fight game

Grant went on Twitter to refute suggestions of a payoff by UFC president Dana White. AP

It’s one thing to suffer a broken bone or to strain or tear a ligament because medical science has evolved to help overcome the trauma of the injury, but the matter of a concussion is completely different, which is why one has to be concerned about the future of T.J. Grant.

It was only last week that Grant revealed he had to bow out of his title shot against champion Benson Henderson on August 31 in the main event of UFC 164 due to a concussion.

“I’ve been following the basic concussion protocol just trying to get better. … I’m going to be back fighting,” he told Sportsnet The Fan 590 after it was confirmed he wouldn’t be fighting Henderson. “I’m getting better every day…This isn’t going to change how I fight or how I approach fights…I waited for as long as I could. I made a decision that was I felt like best for me long term.

“I don’t want to be a selfish guy,” he added. “It really broke my heart to make the decision. I had to do what was best for me, my family, I’ve got a little baby girl here and I just want to keep my brain intact. I don’t feel like this hurts my stock in any way. The UFC was cool with it…They’re probably more happy with it realistically because this is the fight they wanted to see, unfortunately for myself.”

The conspiracy theorists were already discussing that the UFC had found a way to conveniently remove Grant from the fight to put in Anthony Pettis, who is a native of Milwaukee – the location where the card will take place. Pettis fought Henderson in December, 2010, and stripped him of his WEC lightweight championship by decision. The bout was voted Fight of the Night and Fight of the Year.

Grant went on Twitter to refute suggestions of a payoff by UFC president Dana White.

“Sorry all you conspiracy theorists. Dana White/UFC didn’t and couldn’t pay me any amount of money to step aside.”

Grant had been experiencing the effects of a concussion incurred doing Jiu-Jitsu training as opposed to striking sometime in June and had been inactive. It is stunning, if only because he had been in the public eye and gave no indication of his condition. He did broadcast work for Sportsnet for the UFC 161 card in Winnipeg on June 15 and was one of several stars who attended the launch of Sportsnet 360 two weeks later. Only someone with an intuitive understanding of concussions or with an intimate knowledge of his condition would have known Grant had been harbouring a great secret that would directly impact his career in the short term, perhaps even longer.

I asked him at the launch at what stage he had been in terms of training camp.

“So far the preparation has been building towards Benson Henderson, but as far (training) camp it hasn’t started yet. It’s still about a week away,” he said. “As of right now, it’s just keeping sharp and working on techniques, specifically to fight Benson. I’m just trying to get better.”

It seemed a little odd at the time that he wouldn’t have already commenced training camp for a fight of this magnitude. But clearly Grant had been hoping for the problem to pass so he could begin training camp without anyone’s knowledge. Grant is hoping to return to the cage in the fall or early in the new year, assuming he comes back physically healthy and passes all the baseline testing that will definitively prove he has fully recovered from the concussion.

Had he suffered a broken bone or limb, there would be no concern about his return because that type of injury is easy to repair. Had he strained or tore a ligament it would be more severe because of the possibility of a recurrence – just ask bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. He needed major reconstructive surgery to fix a knee ligament which had already undergone a total repair because his body rejected the cadaver ligament. That said, there have been major strides in repairing knee ligament problems and returning healthy and strong in far less time than it once did – as Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson demonstrated.

But concussions remain the great mystery because sometimes it’s not even obvious there is a problem. The signs are different for every individual case as is the recovery time.

In an interview with the Halifax Metro News three days ago, Grant talked openly of what he had been experiencing.

“I’ve been kind of living like a vampire, keeping the lights off and the curtains drawn,” he said. “I’m just following standard protocol. You definitely go a little crazy at times, but you find little things that you can do to try to keep yourself busy. I would be happy to take this fight on three weeks of training, but my progress has just been so unpredictable at this point and I can’t put a timetable on my recovery. I didn’t want to pull out of the fight at the last minute. And if I went back training maybe I would have had another setback because I have had frequent setbacks over the last month. Plus, I wanted to give the UFC time to come up with an alternative plan.”

You have to feel sorry for him because of the remarkable turnaround in his career that put him into the position to be good enough for a title shot. He had been a welterweight of little renown until he decided to drop down to lightweight and started putting together a string of sensational victories, highlighted by his first-round technical knockout over Gray Maynard in a lightweight title eliminator that was voted Knockout of the Night. He didn’t just defeat his noteworthy opponent; he destroyed him.

Moreover, he created excitement in Canada, which has been looking for some future stars to carry the torch knowing the legendary UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre is in the twilight of his career. All that has been put on indefinite hold for Grant, a native of Cole Harbour, N.S., where hockey great Sidney Crosby was also born. Coincidentally, Crosby suffered his own problems with a concussion.

There have been several Canadian UFC fighters who had to retire due to concussions, including bantamweight Nick Denis, welterweight Jeff Joslin and heavyweight Gary Goodridge. Denis retired at the beginning of his promising UFC career and Joslin in his prime. Goodridge suffered severe long-term effects from MMA and kickboxing.

UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones used the expression “war gods” last week to explain why longtime middleweight champion Anderson Silva lost to Chris Weidman after clowning around in their recent match and suffering a stunning second-round knockout. Jones later replaced “war gods” with karma. Whether that is true in a philosophical way or it merely came down to a skilled champion losing his focus and paying the price is open for interpretation and debate.

But what about Grant? Is his injury a factor of the “war gods,” karma or simply and plainly bad luck. To know you could be that close to a title fight and have it taken away by a head injury is the type of thing that will surely test Grant’s emotional and mental resolve. So much can change in the fight game, and what may seem crystal clear one day can become obfuscated the next day by the whim or a promoter seeking to appease the fans or an injury that throws away months of months of planning.

Silva can lose his fight and then say afterwards he doesn’t want to face new middleweight champion Chris Weidman, who stripped him of his belt. But Silva is too big of a star and there is too much money on the line that less than a week after the historic fight a rematch is already in the works.

Grant doesn’t have that luxury. Firstly, he has to overcome his head injury – however long it takes and without suffering any symptoms – and then he may have to re-establish his position as the first in line for a title shot.

There are no guarantees when it comes to the fight game, least of all for a fighter recovering from an injury to his head, one of the key striking points in a bout with unlimited strikes to the body. The injury doesn’t even have to incur in the bout. Sometimes training can be just as punishing. In fact, in many cases it can be far more physical, and even something relatively safe as grappling on the ground can produce a head injury – as Grant discovered.

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