T.J. Grant's huge first-round knockout over Gray Maynard, which took place on the main card of the UFC 160 pay-per-view (PPV) event last Saturday night (May 25, 2013) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, was a refreshing reminder of how a fighter, making the most of an opportunity, can greatly enhance his career.
Grant simply couldn't have come up bigger than he did over Memorial Day Weekend, taking out the talented and proven Maynard in a rousing brawl where he was nailed early, only to rally and turn the table in ultra-violent fashion for a definitive win.
What's fascinating about Grant is how quietly he's inched his way up the ladder, now finding himself on the cusp of a title shot against Ben Henderson. Maybe it was because he'd spent the first six bouts of his UFC campaign as a welterweight, going 3-3. But timing is everything in MMA, and since dropping down to lightweight in Oct. 2011, he'd put together a four-fight win streak, while the top echelon of the division was sorting itself out between Frankie Edgar, Maynard and Henderson.
By the time he landed the fight with Maynard, many of the roadblocks to a title shot had cleared.
Gone to featherweight are Edgar and, at least for now, Anthony Pettis; Henderson has edged Gilbert Melendez, former Strikeforce champion and the UFC's hottest addition to its roster. Between he and Maynard, there were no logical challengers left.
Grant had an opening, and he pounced on it.
While Henderson is 8-0 in his UFC career, he's also won eight fights by decision, and given Grant's toughness, the bout is likely to play itself out over that distance. That's why this is an interesting fight, because Grant's outstanding jiu-jitsu against Henderson's incredible flexibility and physical pressure will make a distance fight fun to watch.
I don't expect it to play out in a kind of mutual cancellation of skills, which is pretty much how Melendez and Henderson negated one another. Rather, Grant will rely on being just as physical and hard-nosed as Henderson is, unable to confuse the champ with speed and fast feet, as Melendez did at times.
Stranger things have happened.
When Matt Serra emerged from the smoke of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 4, he took out Georges St. Pierre because he and his team believed in his chances, even if nobody else did. Upsets happen in MMA. And while Maynard is still a top lightweight and certainly looked good in the bout before it all turned south (he'd landed some great punches), it's a refreshing step for the division to throw some new blood in there for a title shot.
Grant's win gives every fighter looking for a new lease on life another reason to take a risk, whether it's a new division or an improbable opportunity, and make the most of it. And that's good for the sport.
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