From the moment it was announced that T.J. Grant had withdrawn from a UFC lightweight championship match against Benson Henderson and been replaced with Anthony Pettis, the conspiracy theorists drew conclusions. It just seemed too convenient, they said, that Grant would pull out due to a concussion, of all things, in favor of Pettis, a man who has a storied history with Henderson and deep ties to the UFC 164 host city, Milwaukee.
Grant himself drew hundreds of new followers on Twitter in the hours that followed, all eager to let him know what they thought.
"I think they all got on there just to tweet that I'm a lowlife," he said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.
But Grant said that he suffered a medically documented concussion.
The incident that caused it occurred in June, when Grant was rolling jiu-jitsu in practice. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the session, and as the routine wore on, Grant's training partner went for a sweep. As he did so, his heel slammed Grant in the ear.
At the time, it just seemed like a good, solid impact. But by the end of their next roll, the No. 1 contender was done. He had a headache and difficulty concentrating.
He went home to rest, but the next day, Grant had to travel to Winnipeg for a UFC appearance, and suffered the same kinds of problems. He also had problems when he'd look at text messages on his phone too long, or when sounds were too loud, or had other sensory overloads.
It was all so out of the ordinary, and as the days wore on, worrisome, as his condition didn't improve. He began to ponder the idea of fighting Henderson without any sparring, just focusing on stamina.
"I’m not scared to fight anyone," he said. "If I was healthy and I knew that I could get in shape, I would’ve [tried it.]. It’s a little scary. I wanted to kind of make the best decision for myself."
Grant also knew there was the chance of a setback in camp, which could have knocked him out of the fight late and put the UFC in a bad position. So even when he got a clean MRI result, he knew he wasn't just right.
By this point, he had informed the UFC of his issue, but the improvements weren't coming. It all crystallized in his mind on the weekend of UFC 162, when he watched Chris Weidman beat Anderson Silva. Grant watched the match with no sound, and like many fans, got a little carried away watching the main event. In the aftermath, he suffered the same troublesome affects he'd felt when he first had his concussion.
Fighting Henderson was the opportunity of a lifetime, but it was clear there was more to consider.
"I want to do what’s best for me," he said. "I want to fight for a long time. I want to live a long time. I want to enjoy my baby girl and all that stuff, so I thought about it a lot and talked to the UFC doctor and all the doctors here. The decision was 100 percent mine."
And so, he pulled out.
To the conspiracy theorists, Grant would like them to know that he wouldn't sell out for anything. And besides, he wasn't even guaranteed a title shot by matchmaker Joe Silva upon withdrawing. Sure, Grant hopes to fight the winner of Henderson-Pettis, but the only thing Silva told him is that if he has to take a step back, it will only be one, minor step; in other words, another likely title eliminator.
Either way is fine with him. Of course he would prefer to fight for the belt, but right now, his health takes precedence. He thinks November would be about the ideal return date, giving him enough time to recover and then train. Grant is hoping to start some light exercise this week and then work slowly into things.
He'd be fine fighting Josh Thomson, but of course, he'd prefer to sit back and watch Henderson-Pettis II, take some notes and set his sights on the future.
"I’m not rooting for anyone," he said. "Honestly, I don’t really care. I hope they have a good fight, they beat each other up good. I hope the winner doesn’t get injured though, because I want to fight him."