Road to recovery

TJ Grant
TJ Grant lost his shot at the lightweight title after suffering a concussion in training.
FOX Sports E. Spencer Kyte
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Injuries are an unavoidable reality of life in the UFC.

The severity and timing of an injury can wreak havoc on a career, and time and again over the last few years, we’ve seen hard-charging contenders and dominant champions forced to the sidelines for extended periods of time at the most inopportune times – not that there’s really a good time to get injured.

And so we decided to create the Road to Recovery series – a bi-weekly Q&A with top UFC stars on the mend designed to fill you in their journey back to the Octagon.

Selecting a participant for our first installment was easy.

Canadian lightweight contender TJ Grant was supposed to be the man battling Benson Henderson for the UFC lightweight title last Saturday night at UFC 164 in Milwaukee, but the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native suffered a concussion and was forced to withdraw from the biggest fight of his career.

We spoke to the surging title hopeful two days after the event – and a day before UFC President Dana White confirmed that Grant, and not Jose Aldo would be the first man to challenge Anthony Pettis for the lightweight strap.

Hungry for his opportunity and getting healthier by the day, TJ Grant is on the Road to Recovery.

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I know you said you were moving over the weekend. How’d everything go?

It went pretty good. We had a lot of help. It’s been a pretty busy week, but like I said, we had a lot of help. It wasn’t too bad. For people that moved in here three days ago, it’s pretty much all set up. We have to hang stuff up on the walls, but other than that, we’re pretty good.

You know there are going to be conspiracy theorists out there that say, “Look at that – TJ Grant is able to move into a new house. Must be that UFC money he got to step aside,” right?

I guess that has nothing to do with Mike Tyson getting me the Knockout of the Night (UFC 160) or that I’ve won my last five fights. That’s why I’m not making too big a deal about moving in because I’m sure that would definitely get some people talking about it.

Right – it has nothing to do with five consecutive win and show checks, plus a Knockout of the Night bonus, a Fight of the Night bonus from the Evan Dunham fight (UFC 152), and surely some increased sponsor pay along the way as well.

Right. Everything is getting better.

Shifting to (UFC 164), what were your impressions of Anthony Pettis’ performance and how was it for you watching the fight?

I already dealt with the disappointment and all that. I just wanted to watch the fight – see how it played out. I thought Anthony was going to win – that was my opinion. That’s no disrespect to Benson (Henderson), I just felt stylistically that he’s a finisher, and it was going to be a good fight. Pettis did his things, man; it was a pretty good performance.

In his post-fight speech, he acknowledged you, but then immediately went to Jose Aldo, saying they have unfinished business. What was the first thing that went through your head when you heard that?

I know he wants the big marquee fight, but you know what – the UFC has got to make a stand here. There can’t be guys – he won the title, but he hasn’t done anything at 155.

Jon Jones can move around – he’s cleaned out the division. (Same things for) Anderson Silve. There’s a line-up. These are the two busiest, most stacked divisions, with contenders through the Top 15. I feel like you gotta start having these title fights.

I hope he’s healthy. Obviously, I’m not 100 percent yet; I’m on the road though. I feel like in the last three weeks, I’ve made a lot of progress, and I definitely want that fight. I fought to get where I am, and that’s the fight I want.

I agree with you completely about these being the deepest divisions. There are contenders waiting in line for a title shot, and guys have to know they’re fighting towards something.

You’ve got Cub Swanson, Ricardo Lamas, and (Chad) Mendes who had a great performance on the weekend. There’s all these super-talented dudes at 145; they have to start getting their title shots. I love “The Korean Zombie” – I think he’s entertaining as hell – but I think he was probably the least deserving guy of those three that I mentioned in terms of a title shot.

Jose Aldo is a great fighter, but he’s going to have to fight those guys, man. The UFC has to start building guys up – not just champions. Guys gotta start getting their opportunities. I know it’s a business and they want to make money, but at the same time, when one guy gets injured and they throw another guy in and no one knows who the hell that is, that’s not (the new fighter’s) fault. If they were promoted a little more…

Well we went a long time where a lot of people said Chris Weidman wasn’t ready yet, wasn’t a big enough name to fight Anderson Silva – now he’s the UFC middleweight champion, and their rematch is poised to be one of the biggest fights of the last two or three years.

Exactly. I was happy to see Chris get that fight. I thought he was going to do it, and it was great to see him get that opportunity. He went out there, and he seized the moment.

We’ll shift to your injury. You’ve mentioned in the past that you suffered the concussion when you were (training jiu-jitsu).

How have the past few months been, and how soon until you think you’re ready to get back into camp, getting ready for a fight?

I’ve been hitting some light workouts and stuff, feeling better, and not really having any setbacks because of the workouts. To tell you the truth, television and an iPhone can sometimes cause more issues. I was getting nauseous if I watched TV or listened to musin on my phone, but I’m beyond that now.

I’m trying not to over-do it though. The workouts have been just starting to get a little more intense. I’ve been doing hot yoga. My goal for this week is to start pushing it a little bit. I’m going to stay off the mats for another month – I’m getting married October 5th, and I feel like there’s no point in really doing too much before that other than getting healthy, getting in good shape.

For most of the summer, literally there was no exercise. People thought I hurt my head in July, but really I hurt it two weeks after I fought Gray, before the fights in Winnipeg; that’s when I got the concussion. I literally didn’t train from June 13 until whenever I pulled out of the fight, which was like a full month later or something like that.

I haven’t done any training up until a couple weeks ago when I started doing some yoga and light cardio and stuff like that.

Congratulations on getting married. Definitely a wise decision to not push too hard before the wedding – you can’t show up with a black eye or a busted nose.

I was willing to fight any time before the wedding, but it would be hard to fight the week after your wedding, but that’s off the table now.

Can you talk about some of the symptoms and issues you’ve been dealing with this summer? As much as concussions are in the sporting news right now – with the NFL’s recent settlement and fellow Cole Harbour resident Sidney Crosby being a guy that we as Canadians have fixated on a lot for his concussion issues – there’s still a lot that is unknown.

You hear people saying, “Oh – TJ Grant has the worst concussion in the history of all concussions,” but they’re so different in severity, so different from everybody, and in a sport where you can take repeated blows to the head, it seems prudent to take make sure you’re completely recovered regardless of what that means in terms of postponing fights and missing major opportunities.

I had never had a concussion before, and if this is what a concussion is – I’ve sparred plenty, and who hasn’t gotten their bell rung? I definitely see all the other sports, see everything that comes with it, and I don’t want to make a bad decision. There is life after fighting, and the way I lived this summer is not any way to live. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I wouldn’t want to face that again or maybe worse.

My approach is to approach this as safely as I can, even when I’m ready to get back into the gym, which is something I’m looking forward to doing because I definitely miss it. Just the social aspect too – you get to hang out with the boys everyday, and you go from that to (not really seeing anybody).

I’m definitely trying to get in there and enjoy myself a little bit, and get back into the routine.

I had read that you were at the point this summer with your symptoms where you weren’t even able to really play with your newborn daughter all that much because it would be too much for you?

It’s tough when you’re sitting there and you’re trying to play with your kid, and they start crying or the TVs on, any kind of noise – it gets tough. I was pretty much just trying to keep it as low-key as possible.

Everybody’s different, and I’m hoping this goes away as soon as possible because I want to get back on the horse.

The other bit of news that came out at the post-fight press conference was that Pettis felt a pop in his knee.

If he’s now sidelined for an extended period, do you look at other guys, try to figure out fights that make sense? And ideally, when do you think you’ll be ready to get back in the cage?

I want to find out what the UFC wants to do, first of all. I want to get healthy, but at the same time, I predict (I’ll be ready to go) in 4-6 months, especially at the rate I’m going now. I want to fight Pettis. I don’t want to fight anybody else, but it’s up to the UFC. It’s whatever they want.

I know what I want – I want to go out there and fight the champion. That’s my goal.

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