It is rare to see mixed martial arts (MMA) results improve for fighters who drop weight classes to the extent that they have for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight T.J. Grant. The 29-year-old is entering the prime of his career and the Canadian could not have timed his 15-pound cut, and corresponding impressive run, any better.
After posting an even (3-3) record in the Octagon as a Welterweight, it was clear Grant had to change something or just be content as "average." Boasting a record against lower-tier 170-pound competition is not conducive to career longevity, regardless of how hard a fighter works or how exciting his performances are on fight night.
Typically, dropping weight classes can guarantee a win or two, but often results are not consistent enough to ensure long-term success.
With this in mind, nobody expected Grant to emerge as a possible top lightweight title contender, but that's exactly what he did in his run up to UFC 160, which takes place tonight (Sat., May 25, 2013) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. His win streak started in style, taking home a submission victory over World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) veteran Shane Roller even though the finish was slightly controversial (Roller never tapped).
Regardless, the victory was more than credible, with Grant dominating the fight in all phases from bell to bell.
This Roller fight should have, and was for some, foreshadowed of a bright future in the UFC's 155-pound division for Grant. Not only did he show that his larger frame was well-suited for the division, but Grant demonstrated drastic improvements in all facets of his game, leading him to a dominant victory over a hard-nosed veteran.
With notable improvements from fight to fight, Grant followed up his performance against Roller with three straight victories, including his most recent -- and perhaps most impressive -- performance, during which he implemented a violent Muay Thai attack to register his third career knockout against the notably durable Matt Wiman in just one round with standing elbows.
It's rather baffling to think that with just five fights in the UFC lightweight division, Grant could earn a title shot, but that's exactly what will happen if he picks up a win over Gray Maynard later this evening on the UFC 160 pay-per-view (PPV) main card. Obviously, Maynard presents challenges with which Grant may struggle, but that does not mean he is unbeatable.
The main challenge Maynard will present is a problem Grant was no stranger to in his time as a welterweight, which is a size and strength advantage. "The Bully" is definitely one of the larger fighters in the lightweight division, and coupled with his wrestling prowess, he could use his size and strength to edge out a decision win over Grant just like Dong Hyun Kim and Johny Hendricks did in the past.
This fight, while a huge step up from his recent competition, is the perfect test for Grant to prove himself as a worthy lightweight title contender. In addition to converting to a more natural weight class, Grant has improved by leaps and bounds over his last few fights. And those improvements will be crucial against Maynard because the Grant of old may not have had any chance against someone as physically imposing as Maynard.
For Grant to win this fight he'll have to call upon all his new skills, and he will likely have to beat Maynard standing, as a battle from the bottom position is rarely one that can be won in the eyes of the judges. With his improved Muay Thai and boxing approach, that is certainly within his capability. Undoubtedly, Grant will need to be on his "A" game, but a fight of stopping takedowns and inflicting damage is certainly something he can definitely accomplish even over top opponents.
With a win over Maynard, Grant will have made a surprising rise to prominence in the lightweight division, which is the reason he is UFC 160's "Fighter to Watch" tonight in "Sin City," starting with the PPV broadcast that begins at 10 p.m. ET.