Canadian T.J. Grant finds his groove as a lightweight in the UFC
T.J., Grant was in a little grocery store before his UFC 152 fight in Toronto when he saw UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie was also doing a little shopping.
Grant, a UFC lightweight, did what most fans would do.
"I don't know if he knew who I was or anything like that. I just went up and asked him for a picture, because obviously it's Royce Gracie and I'm a fan of the sport," said the 28-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S. "I watched the first couple of UFCs live. Like who does that at 10 years old? Well I did it. I was a big fan."
Just minutes before walking out for his fight against Evan Dunham, the two met again backstage at the Air Canada Centre.
"I was feeling really good. I couldn't believe just how loose and well-trained my body felt," Grant recalled. "And then Royce Gracie just kind of walked by. ... I think he just thought I was a fan the night before because I asked for a picture. I've been a fan, I'm doing this because I've see than guy fight in 1993 or 94, whatever year it was."
Grant, who picked up a US$65,000 fight of the night bonus cheque for his entertaining decision win over Dunham, looks to extend his wining streak to four at lightweight on Saturday when he takes on (Handsome) Matt Wiman on a televised card in Chicago.
As Grant (19-5) heads into his 10th fight in the UFC, he can take stock with plenty of pride.
"When I first started fighting in this sport, I look around and said 'I'm going to fight in the UFC someday,'" he said. "And I didn't want to be one of those guys who would just get there and have one or two fights and then fizzle. I wanted to be around for a long time. This is something I definitely take pride in.
"As long as I keep going out there with that mindset, I feel like I'm going to have a lot more fights in the UFC," he added.
Grant opened his UFC account with a win over veteran Ryo Chonan at UFC 97 in April 2009. But his record read win-loss-win-loss-win-loss before he decided to drop down in weight.
The move to 155 has proved profitable for the five-foot-10 Grant, who likes to keep his weight at around 175 when he is not in training camp.
"It's definitely the best decision I've made," he said of the drop to lightweight. "It's my new home, man. I'm not looking to make any changes from here on out, just keep better at what I'm doing and keep improving as a fighter.
"As far as the weight goes, this is where I want to be. Get used to making the cut maybe a little bit better, putting on a little bit of size and stuff like that is what I'm going for. It's exciting. These guys are faster and they fight at a different pace so I'm getting used to that. I feel like the sky's the limit."
While maintaining he is still a work in progress, Grant credits his experience and comfort in the cage these days for helping him put it all together.
"Things are finally beginning to slow down a little bit in there," he explained.
Grant has proved his mettle at 155 pounds by disposing of quality opponents in Shane Roller, Carlo Prater and Dunham.
"The win over Dunham felt good," said Grant, a consummate pro who usually lets his fighting do the talking for him. "Another guy that I really admired his fighting style, especially when I fought at 170. I never saw myself crossing paths with him. It's good to fight a guy like that and have the type of fight we did and obviously get the win."
It was an entertaining donnybrook last September with Grant pushing the pace and carving Dunham's forehead open in the second round with a knee. The two exchanged 364 significant strikes over the 15 minutes with Grant having a 164-160 edge, according to FightMetric.
The Dunham cut was so bad that a glob of bloody Vaseline flew off his face and landed on the commentators' desk during the third round. But Dunham kept fighting.
The string of victories has established Grant as a lightweight to watch
"I've put together win streaks before in my career, but it's been a while," he added. "I'm just looking to put one more in front of that and make some more."
Wiman (15-8) is on a run off his own. He has beaten tough guys in Paul Sass and Mac Danzig in his last two outings and has won five of his last six.
"He's as tough as they come," said Grant. "I've seen him fight before, I've fought on the same card. I'm a fan of his fighting style. But I see him as being a lot like Evan Dunham. I feel like maybe he's a little more dangerous in certain areas than Evan. He fights at a relentless pace, which is something you have to prepare for. There's no weaknesses.
"I'm looking to go out there and have an exciting fight. I feel confident going into it that I'm going to get my hand raised."
Grant knows something about toughness. He has only been stopped once — by fellow Canadian Jesse Bongfeldt, via submission, in a pre-UFC fight. His other four losses came through decision.
Grant is also impressed by Wiman outside the cage. "He's a classy guy ... He's really humble, just a good, genuine person.
"But that's all going to be set aside on Jan. 26. We're both professionals and we're going to be able to go out there and put on an exciting fight."