UFC lightweight contender T.J. Grant has a golden opportunity this Saturday at UFC 160 when he faces off with Gray Maynard for an unlikely opportunity at Ben Henderson’s 155 lb. belt. While many fans were surprised by Dana White’s announcement that this fight would have future title implications, it does make sense when examined in detail. After a cut down from welterweight, Grant is quietly on a four-fight winning streak in one of the toughest divisions in all of MMA.
Detractors would tell you that Grant hasn’t fought the best competition available at 155, but it’s very difficult to drum up a winning streak like that against the UFC roster. Supporters of Grant would tell you that’s he’s gone largely unnoticed while becoming one of the grittiest fighters in the UFC. He’s not letting any of it get to his head, telling MMA Junkie his experience has lead him to the right place:
"People tell me that I'm overlooked in the division, but I've got a lot of experience in the UFC now and I've fought a lot of top-tier dudes at welterweight and at 155, too.”
"I'm fortunate to get the experience I've gotten. Right now, I feel like I'm built for the long haul and I'm here to stay."
Whichever way you tend to sway on Grant, he has a chance to make a move towards becoming a household name this Saturday. But in order to do so, he’s going to have to make it past undoubtedly the toughest challenge of his stint at lightweight.
Across the Octagon, former two-time title challenger Gray Maynard will stand. Maynard is best known for his highly publicized feud with Frankie Edgar in 2011, where Maynard had the champ all but out on his feet, only to garner a draw and a demoralizing KO loss in the second fight. He rebounded with a win over Clay Guida last summer, and hasn’t fought since, pulling out from a scheduled UFC 155 bout against Joe Lauzon due to injury.
Not exactly the picture-perfect recent run of a title contender, but one look at Maynard’s resume would suggest otherwise. He’s run through a gamut of top-level lightweights and still only has the one loss to Edgar on his record. His power wrestling is up there with the best and he’s arguably the strongest 155 lb’er.
And with Anthony Pettis spending his summer at featherweight fighting Jose Aldo, a new 155 lb. title contender must emerge. Sure, maybe the spot could belong to Gilbert Melendez, who just lost a controversial split decision to Ben Henderson, or Josh Thomson, who put an emphatic knockout on Nate Diaz on the same card. But Thomson lost to Melendez twice, and Melendez lost to Henderson, so controversial or not, White is looking to this pivotal bout between Grant and Maynard for his new number one contender.
It’s a tough fight to predict, as I don’t see either fighter giving an inch. But overall it makes sense after being a bit puzzling initially. Who is your pick to emerge from UFC 160 with a coveted lightweight title shot?