A Fighter Rejuvenated

On Saturday night at UFC 160, TJ Grant faced Gray Maynard in the biggest fight of his career. The stakes were high, with the winner receiving a shot at the lightweight title against Benson Henderson. Somewhat surprisingly, Grant knocked out Maynard in the first round. Producing the greatest performance of his career and also earning himself a knockout of the night bonus, worth $50,000. A bonus that was originally destined for Junior Dos Santos until Mike Tyson urged Dana White to award it to Grant. Interestingly, Grant’s victory over Maynard at UFC 160 was his first ever appearance on the main card of a UFC event. His previous ten fights in the UFC have all been conducted on the prelims. A low profile career for a low profile man.

Arguably, Grant’s lightweight title shot was the most captivating story to come out of UFC 160. This is a fighter who has fought the majority of his career at welterweight, it’s where he fought the first six of his fights in the UFC. During his time as a welterweight in the UFC, Grant managed a 3-3 record. His three wins in that period came to fighters who were immediately released following the loss. He was a fighter whose career was going largely unnoticed.

Then came the pivotal moment in his career, following his loss to Ricardo Almeida in 2010, Grant decided to move down to lightweight. A decision that rejuvenated his career. Since his transition into the 155 pound division, Grant has won five in a row and his next fight will be for the world title.

TJ Grant is now the poster boy for changing weight classes.

A fighter moving weight classes is relatively common in MMA. What isn’t common is when a fighter’s career is significantly improved because of that change. Typically, a fighter will move into another division as a last resort. It’s usually a desperation move when a career is in its death throes. A ploy to prolong their career, at least with the UFC. Lost a couple a fights in a row? Hey, why not seek a fresh start in another weight class. The problem is, if you are a mediocre fighter struggling for a win, changing the division you fight in isn’t likely to change that. You will just be a mediocre fighter in a different division. This is the reason why TJ Grant’s story is so interesting.

Grant was a .500 fighter at welterweight who became a wrecking machine once he moved down to lightweight. Rarely, if ever, has there been such a disparity in a fighter’s performance between weight classes. There are many examples to compare. Rich Franklin, Wanderlei Silva, Brian Stann and Kenny Florian have all fought in different divisions. However, there was not a stark contrast in their performances immediately before and after the move. If they were a top 10/15 fighter in one division they became a top 10/15 fighter in their new division. So why is Grant so different?

Maybe it was simply a case of fighting in the wrong division for the majority of his career. All of his three losses at welterweight in the UFC came against big strong grapplers (Dong Hyun Kim, Johny Hendricks and Ricardo Almeida). So the theory that the reason for his deficiencies at welterweight was due to him being undersized holds some weight. It’s also possible that the move to lightweight gave his career a new lease of life which reinvigorated him. Who knows. It doesn’t really matter anyway. However it happened, it is one hell of a story.

The fact is that later in the year, TJ Grant will fight Benson Henderson for the lightweight title. In doing so, he will be one of the unlikeliest title challengers in a long time. He doesn’t have a big name, a charismatic personality or a flashy fighting style. Following the recent title shots given to Nick Diaz and Chael Sonnen though, this is just what we needed. A deserving gritty contender who has risen up the rankings to earn his shot. For that reason, plus we all love an underdog, a lot of MMA fans will be in the corner of the Nova Scotian come fight night.

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