UFC 160 fighter T.J. Grant may be one of the most unassuming competitors you'll ever see step foot in the Octagon, but that's only until the cage door closes.
Outside of fighting, Grant is the epitome of the friendly Canadian stereotype, rarely having a bad word to say about anybody. Inside the cage, however, Grant is a force of nature—especially since dropping down to the lightweight division, where he's mauled his way to the top of the weight class and now has the chance to earn a title shot with his next win.
Grant continues to slip under the radar sometimes because he's not always the most outspoken fighter on the UFC roster, but his fists certainly do plenty of talking for him. For instance, in his last fight against Matt Wiman at UFC on Fox 6 in January, he unloaded a barrage of punches and elbows to win the fight by knockout in the first round.
There was nothing nice about Grant's forearm slamming into Wiman's head repeatedly until Wiman finally dropped to the canvas. That win earned Grant his shot at former title contender Gray Maynard this weekend at UFC 160.
Once again, Grant is the underdog and not the loudest guy in the room saying that he deserves a title shot or that he's going to destroy Maynard in some boastful proclamation to sell the fight. Grant chooses his words carefully, just as he does the precise techniques he uses to dismantle opponents inside the Octagon.
"It's a lot easier to be the underdog than the favorite, that's for sure," Grant told MMA's Great Debate Radio on Tuesday. "I've been the favorite fighting in my hometown and the pressure's there, but I put the pressure on myself no matter what the situation. I try to treat every fight the same. I've got a lot of pride, and I try to go out there and put on a good fight and try to represent myself good.
"Obviously winning, that's what I want to do, but at the same time, I also want to be proud of my performance, win or lose, and have a good fight. This fight is massive for my career, and I understand that. The pressure's the same."
Facing Maynard is a big step forward for Grant's career, and he realizes what happens if he wins on Saturday night. It means his next fight will be for the UFC lightweight title and a shot at champion Benson Henderson.
Despite the gold being dangled in front of his face, Grant refuses to even discuss the matter until after he beats Maynard. He knows just how good Maynard can be on his best night, and even if he's off his game, the former Michigan State wrestler is still awfully dangerous.
"I'm going to just go out there and fight and do my best. I know what type of fighter Gray Maynard is and how dangerous he is, but at the same time I'm just going to go out there and fight my fight, fight my style," Grant stated. "I'm not intimidated by anything he does in the fight. We're going to go in there and get at it."
Another factor that can't be ignored about the overhanging ramifications of this bout is that if Maynard wins, it would be his third title shot in the last two years. While both of those fights came against Frankie Edgar, it was also during a time when the lightweight division was a revolving door of contenders.
Rematches became the standard at 155-pounds, with Edgar having two fights each with B.J. Penn, Maynard and Benson Henderson all in consecutive fights. Now with the chance to inject some new blood at the top of the division, Grant is ready to seize his opportunity by beating Maynard and becoming the No. 1 contender.
"There's so many guys out there, I think the UFC's trying to get away from having the belt tied up for all these rematches. I'm all for it. Obviously I want my shot," Grant said. "I feel like new blood, I bring an exciting style, I think that a lot of fans don't know a lot about me, but hopefully just getting to fight on the pay-per-view is going to bring my name to the masses a little more. I want to have a good performance and be exciting and violent."
Grant also hopes that his recent performances show that he can not only be exciting but dominating in the way he wins his fights. The rematches that took place in the lightweight division over the last few years happened because championship fights have been razor close time and time again.
Grant believes he can change that culture if he captures the belt. No more split decisions or outcries that the wrong fighter got the judges' nod. Grant wants to win the title and define his reign with finishes and one-sided performances.
"I feel like I can be that guy," Grant stated. "I take every fight incredibly serious and prepare the best I can, and that's one thing I always do—I take it one fight at a time. I don't look at everybody else in the division and say "can I beat that guy?". Give me a training camp, give me an opponent, I'll train my butt off, I'll prepare specifically to beat that guy, and I feel like I can beat anyone in the world."
Grant will get his chance to prove it if he can get past Maynard on Saturday night at UFC 160.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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