UFC lightweight T.J. Grant is a happy man these days. He hasn't fought since May of 2013, when he stopped Gray Maynard with strikes at UFC 160. He never was able to take advantage of his promised title shot. Really, it's not clear where his career is or what's left of it after a concussion essentially derailed his entire fighting career.
According to Grant - now a father of two after his wife had another baby last week - that isn't ideal, but maybe the way things have to be. He's got other priorities that need attending to right now. Fighting, while he still loves it, just isn't at the top of the list.
"Who knows, man? I did [this sport] a long time. I won't say I'm still doing it currently. I'm not going to close the door on ever coming back to fight, but at this point I'm just taking care of myself and my family, first and foremost," he said on Monday's The MMA Hour.
"I did well in UFC. I wouldn't say I made a lot of money. I was able to buy a house, buy another one. But at this point for me, where did the sport really leave me? It kinda left me injured and a little over a year where I basically accumulated debt, like most fighters do between fights. So, basically, I was hurt for a while and I decided to go back to work, just be a regular guy for a bit.
"I would definitely entertain the thought of going back to fighting, but at this point I've gotta also realize that to get back into fighting it costs money," he continues. "You got training camps, you put your whole life on hold. Right now, it's not something that's in the cards for me having two little ones. That's obviously taken precedence over my life and potentially in the future, you never know. I still feel like I'd love to compete. I still like there's some fire in me. I definitely love combat sports. I love competing. I'd like to do it potentially, but I still haven't made my mind up at all."
The question arises, though: if he could get the time and money to get things going again, where is his health? Grant's concussion was 'severe', but he experienced long-lasting symptoms. Are those now cleared up, at least? Grant acknowledges they are, but there's a hesitancy to physically pick up where he left off.
"Actually, I'm feeling pretty good," he admits. "My body isn't obviously as good as I'd like it to be. My back's a little banged up. Besides that, I feel pretty good.
"The concussion thing is in the history books. But you never know, right? I did this for a long time. I'm sure a lot of other fighters will tell you the same. They'll get up and walk into another part of the house and then they'll just kinda realize, 'What did I come here for? I was going to get something. What was that?' I don't know if that's from fighting or getting older or just kinda being lazy with my brain, but that's about the extent. Short-term memory loss, maybe, a little bit. Who knows? It's probably pretty common among fighters."
That concussion, in fact, has been a bit enigmatic. While Grant says it's a thing of the past, the world has never heard the story of how it happened, until now.
According to the Canadian, it's a combination of taking a hard hit in a fight coupled with a quick return to training. In other words, it wasn't any one major hit, but a series of events that contributed to a larger problem.
"I fought Gray at UFC 160. He tagged with one, I remember feeling bells ringing in my head for half a second during the fight, then 30 seconds later the fight was over. It was just so quick," Grant explains, saying he also never received any medical suspension after the fight. He also didn't experience any classic concussion symptoms like vomiting. Yet, looking back, the hit he took against Maynard may have been the core cause.
"I think that was a little bit of a concussion, I'm willing to say. That guy hits pretty hard. He tagged me pretty good.
"Then I just went back to training, getting ready for the fight with Benson [Henderson]," he says. "I was just doing jiu-jitsu and my training partner went to sweep me. I put my head out to stop the sweep and I got a foot in the head on the same roll, I don't know which one did it. After that roll was done - it was the last roll of the night - I just had a headache. It just didn't go away."
Grant says he tried to remain 'optimistic', but "I just wasn't getting better." He eventually had to withdraw from a planned bout with Anthony Pettis in 2013, a bout that was scheduled for UFC on FOX 9.
"The symptoms never went away," he acknowledges.
And that, Grant argues, was central to everything. Maybe he could've continued and tried to fight through it. He was given up top spots on cards and title fights. Yet, the nagging nature of the injury and seeing what happens to fighters who ignore those signs was too much to overlook.
"I've seen what this sport can do to people. It definitely is an amazing sport. The highs are high, but the lows are low. There's a life after and I've seen people give a little too much in the ring, too much of themselves. It doesn't work out so good for them. I feel like I'm the type of guy when I fight, I put myself on the line. I do want to entertain. I take pride in being able to go out there and so, 'Ok, those fights stunk, but my fight's not going to stink.'
"It'll never be the most flashy and usually is not the most technical, but you're going to be excited," he contends. "You're going to see drama and that's what I always try to bring. That's the way my DNA is. I want to go out there and fight the guy and see who's got the tougher spirit. That's also a dangerous way to go about it. For me, it's a little bit scary.
"I'm not closing the door, but at the same point, I want to make sure I'm 100 percent on board with it. You can't be half way in or out of the sport. You gotta be all the way in or all the way out, unless you're just training for fun, which is something I still do. I still do jiu-jitsu. I still hit pads or hit the bag and lift weights and do all the other stuff, but as far as contact sparring, I haven't really done that."
Since taking a break from UFC, Grant took time off before realizing he needed to get back to work both for financial security and to clear his head about fighting. He's spent about a year in a potash mine in Saskatchewan, but that job's come to an end. He admits there's been times he's been sad about what's lost, but he's mostly over it, he claims, and he's had some good moments with the sport since.
"I never really dwell about it," he says. "A couple of times you get down on yourself, but by that point - the Halifax show - it's ancient history, really, as far as feeling bad about certain situations. I've already given up title shots, things I worked so hard for. I could've made it to a UFC show and had my picture on a poster."
That show Grant mentions, UFC Fight Night: MacDonald vs. Saffiedine in October of 2014, was a card Grant hoped to be on as a native of the city. He couldn't, it would turn out, because of the concussion symptoms he was experiencing. Still, a teammate of his, Chris Kelades, filled in for Louis Gaudinot against Paddy Holohan as a late replacement and won Fight of the Night honors in the process.
For the former top contender, there was a lot of satisfaction to be drawn from the experience despite not competing.
"By the time that fight came around, I was actually really happy that Chris got the fight and everything was almost like a dream come true for him," he notes. "The way it all unfolded and getting to see him fight and the drama that was involved in his fight.
"It was a magical night for him and I got to enjoy it, get my adrenaline pumping. I was emotional. It was an incredible moment. It made it all for me. I had to tell Chris that, too. If I wasn't going to fight, that was the best possible scenario otherwise."
For now, however, Grant marches on as normal. He appears scarred by the 'dark time for a little more than a year' when his concussion symptoms affected his daily life. He was happy to see his child smile, but the pain from headaches meant he couldn't enjoy it "like you probably should."
Among the realization of what was lost during that time, what can still be taken away and the economic hurdles involved with getting back in the game, Grant is staying where he's at. The door isn't closed to his MMA career, but he isn't planning on walking through it any time soon.
"I'm going to be a man and look after my family," he stresses. "It's something I love to do and I see what this sport can do to people. I've never taken fights for money. I've always done it my way and if this is the way I have to walk away, it's the way I walk away. I'm not going to say I'm going to do that for sure. Hey, I'm looking after myself right now and taking care of my family. That's no. 1."