UFC

Grant letting fate decide

TJ Grant
TJ Grant lost his shot at the lightweight title after suffering a concussion in training.
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Mike Chiappetta

Mike Chiappetta has documented the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts since 2006 for news organizations including SB Nation, NBCSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, AOL and ESPN. He appears regularly as an analyst on countless television shows and radio programs, including CBS Radio and MMA Beat. Follow him on Twitter.

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Three months after suffering a concussion that sidetracked his dream of winning a world championship, UFC lightweight T.J. Grant is still patiently awaiting the right moment to return to the mats. The trouble is, he doesn't know quite when that will be. Until now, Grant has done everything correctly. He stopped rigorous training, he's seen doctors, and he's stayed away from the things that could make his symptoms flare up again. Yet the waiting game continues.

While it does, the division moves on without him. The man he was supposed to fight for the belt, Benson Henderson, lost it to Anthony Pettis, and Pettis already has his first title defense set up with Josh Thomson. Through it all, Grant has remained patient with the hope that the UFC will honor the top contender slot he won with five straight victories. But hoping is all he can do when the decision is beyond his control.

Despite his concussion, Grant seems to have a clarity of focus when it comes to his future. He understands that nothing is promised to him, that the UFC can't guarantee him that title shot, and that his time on the sidelines could continue to drag on. Yet through it all, he refuses to feel sorry for himself.

That's because he's taken control of part of the process, and he says that even if a doctor green-lit his return, he wouldn't move forward unless he felt he was completely ready to go.

He hasn't gotten the OK yet. Not from a doctor, not from himself.

"It is what it is," he told FOX Sports. "We do a dangerous sport. I’m not going to sit here and cry and pout. I put my body on the line for people’s enjoyment but I make money doing it and I also love what I do. I’m definitely going to take all the necessary precautions to try to be safe and try to live a long life. At the same time, when I get in there, I’m going to go in there and fight like I always do."

In order to expedite the process, on Monday Grant began physiotherapy, which he'll couple with his acupuncture to improve neck problems, an issue that he says was responsible for his last flare-up of concussion symptoms. Other issues have been caused by watching too much television or something as benign as excessive conversation.

Right now Grant is at a point where he can do light exercise, including cardio training and weight lifting, but can't progress to anything higher-intensity. For now, he's happy that he can do anything at all, saying that it plays tricks on your mind when you can't "get the rage out." And that progress has made him positive he's moving in the right direction.

"You know what? Honestly, my return is not that far away," he said. "It's no sweat."

Despite his inability to compete, Grant has no jealousy pangs watching others do so. He was in Toronto last weekend to experience the epic Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson clash, and even watched Pettis start his reign in the match that was supposed to be his.

Although he doesn't have any preference over who he fights, he expects "Showtime" to retain the belt against Thomson when they meet in December.

"He’s got a lot of tricks," he said. "He’s got very good standup. He has a lot of speed, he's got improved wrestling and his jiu-jitsu has always been really good. He’s pretty aggressive, too. I’m a pressure fighter. I’d have to make it ugly, get in his face and see what happens."

Seeing what happens is likely to be a theme for him in the coming weeks then. As his wait continues, others will step forward and complicate the UFC's decision. In addition to himself and Thomson as contenders, just days ago, Khabib Nurmagomedov added his name to the list with a dominant win over Pat Healy. Rafael dos Anjos has a five-fight win streak, and Gilbert Melendez is bidding for another crack at gold, too.

From the sidelines, Grant can't stop anyone else from making their case. He can't rush his own return, either, and that's why he has learned to let the future play out without stressing over what he can’t control. He'll come back when he's ready. He'll face who's put in front of him. Everything else is for others to decide. The most important thing is that his brain gets healthy. Right now, the fighting career is secondary, even if it’s never too far from his mind.

"I earned that title shot, and hopefully my window doesn’t close from when I earned it, but there are high-level 155 fights coming up," he sad. "I know they can’t have titles log-jammed, but they are getting the title fights out in this weight class, so hopefully I get my shot. That's all I want."

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