Everything was trending upward for Dwight Grant.
Heading into his fight with Alan Jouban, Grant was the model of a Dana White Contender Series product. He picked up a knockout on that show to earn a UFC contract, stumbled in his short-notice debut against Zak Ottow, then rebounded with a TKO of Carlo Pedersoli to earn himself a main card spot at UFC 236 in April 2019, a show headlined by two world title fights.
Grant, 36, made the most of it too, winning a split nod over the more well-known Jouban and cementing himself as one to watch in the welterweight division.
So why hasn’t he fought in almost 500 days?
Immediately afterward, Grant was diagnosed with a biceps injury from the Jouban fight, which would keep him on the shelf for up to six months at worst and limit his training in a best-case scenario. But more bad news was on its way, news that could have had a far more deleterious effect on Grant’s fortunes had it gone unchecked.
“I didn’t know at the time that my foot was also broken,” Grant said in a recent interview with MMA Fighting. “I was doing a whole bunch of stuff with my foot, and it hurt, but after the fight your foot hurts and you’re like, ‘I’ll give it a couple of days or a couple of weeks.’ It turned out it was actually a more serious injury and potentially more dangerous to my career than my bicep. The bicep heals mechanically, it healed fast. Even before I could train, I was still able to move around and do normal stuff and I was fine.
“The foot thing was a problem because it was so close to the ankle joint and it caused a bunch of issues. I got scared, because I had to have surgery, but I couldn’t have surgery right away. I had to wait and see how it healed first. It was a whole bunch of stuff. I was terrified that I’d be out for another year or something. By the grace of God, it healed and I was able to train and build the muscle back, so now I’m great. I’m actually better and faster than I was beforehand.”
This isn’t the first time Grant has had sizeable gaps in his fight schedule. A glance at his record shows a two-year break from 2012 to 2014, and then a 19-month break between a win at Bellator 165 and his life-changing appearance on the Contender Series in June 2018. According to Grant, these previous stretches weren’t due to anything serious. He’s dabbled in various forms of martial arts for most of his adult life and his focus has always been on training and improving as opposed to potentially pushing his career forward prematurely.
Grant hoped to fight in Sao Paulo last November before learning of his foot injury. The Brooklyn native’s family has roots in Guyana, just north of Brazil, so he relished the idea of friends and family from that area getting to see him fight live. Instead, he had to sit and watch as the division moved on without him.
Fortunately for Grant, he’s not one to dwell on missed opportunities.
“Not for me, because I need to fight,” Grant said when asked if he felt he’d lost some career momentum. “Maybe if all of this wasn’t going on I might have felt that way a little bit. But I’m just usually so happy to be able to get a fight. Even though I’m in the UFC now and everything’s good, I still have this thing where when I try and get a fight I’m always scared that for some reason it’s never going to happen. It’s just always with me now. No matter what happens, it’s like, ‘I hope, I hope, I hope.’ So for that reason I’m just happy to be having a fight.
“And then on top of that, as far as momentum goes, because of the pandemic stuff going on everybody is just scrambling to get a matchup. Again, I don’t see any problem there and I feel like my job is to go out there and be spectacular and win in spectacular fashion and then remind everyone who I am and what I do. That’s my job every fight. I’m so used to this kind of thing that it’s just par for the course for me.”
Grant has been a California resident since 2013 and his time with the American Kickboxing Academy team played a huge part in his rise through the ranks. In January, he made the move from the San Jose-based camp to Alliance MMA in San Diego, with the goal of receiving more coaching attention.
With a new team behind him, Grant returns this Saturday when he fights Daniel Rodriguez to open the UFC on ESPN 15 main card, a matchup that materialized after both Grant and Rodriguez lost their respective opponents Calen Born and Takashi Sato.
Before Grant was booked opposite Born, he was supposed to face Jared Gooden, a bout that was announced just over two weeks from fight night. These short-notice calls and last second changes are the new normal in the COVID-19 pandemic era, a reality that Grant considers himself well-equipped to deal with.
“That’s my life. That’s how my career has been even when I used to fight muay Thai back in the day,” Grant said. “They’d say, ‘This guy wants to fight you for a belt.’
“I’d say, ‘Cool, when’s the fight?’
“Whatever happens, you just find out about the fight and then you go. I’m used to that kind of setup. As far as it happening now, now that I’ve moved further in my career, I’m still here like if I have to stay ready, so I’m always ready to fight. I don’t really feel like I need to set up and prepare for anybody. So I’m ready to go as soon as I get a call.”