Grant Dawson just had a sensational debut where he knocked a fighter who had been unbeaten in the UFC unconscious, he had a name in mind for a callout, and people are giving him a hard time.
Dawson stopped Leonardo Santos with a barrage of brutal hammer fists and earned a TKO win with one second remaining in the lightweight matchup at UFC Vegas 22. With the win, “KGD” improved to 5-0 in the UFC, extended his overall winning streak to eight, and earned on of the event’s Performance of the Night bonuses.
While he’s had 12 finishes in his 16 prior victories heading into his 155-pound debut, Dawson had never put a man to sleep via strikes. That all changed this past Saturday night in Las Vegas.
“I’ve gotten a couple of TKOs but it was through exhaustion, punches and bunches, but it’s never been like that,” Dawson told MMA Fighting. “The look in his eyes that he gave me after the fight, I went up to shake his hand. He looked at me and he had no idea who I was. It was one of those, ‘Wow, I hurt this dude,’ and he was definitely unconscious, unconscious.
“So that was a new experience for me and it’s something I’ll take into my next fight. It’s a confidence builder. I can finish fights not just being a grinder, not just being a submission guy.”
After fighting almost his entire career at 145 pounds, Dawson made the move to 155 after a weight miss prior to his submission win over Darrick Minner in February 2020 at UFC Norfolk. The 27-year-old returned five months later to face Nad Narimani on Fight Island and admitted he had a hard time making weight for the 150-pound catchweight bout, which he did prior to earning a unanimous decision win.
Up a weight class against a very experienced fighter in Santos, Dawson struggled to land takedowns, which led to a seething between-rounds speech from his head coach James Krause prior to the final stanza.
“You’re gonna have fights where you can’t take the guy down every second of the round,” Dawson said. “It is what it is. I’m gonna grow from it and I’m gonna move on.
“Let’s not forget that Khabib [Nurmagomedov] was making his big run, he fought [Gleison Tibau] and he couldn’t get him down. Not once. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad wrestler, he just needed to make some adjustments and move on, so that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Guida, who has 30 UFC appearances since making his promotional debut at UFC 64 in 2006, is coming off of a decision win over Michael Johnson in February which stopped a two-fight skid. Although Guida has a name, and it’s a bucket list type of matchup for Dawson, the feedback on the callout hasn’t been overly positive.
“Clay makes so much sense to me in my brain and I keep hearing people saying that the matchup doesn’t make sense,” Dawson explained. “How does the matchup not make sense? He’s a legend. I remember watching him fight when I was in high school. I want to fight him. I want to fight a legend, a big name and Leonardo Santos is a better fighter than Clay Guida, but if you ask random people who Clay Guida is and who Leonardo Santos is, I guarantee you 99 percent more people are going to know who Clay Guida is.
“So I get paid great to fight him, we’re in the same weight class, and, when I beat him, his name pushes my name up there, which gives me a crack at the top-15. So that fight makes perfect sense to me. Obviously if they offered me Al Iaquinta, I’ll take Al Iaquinta. Absolutely if they offer me Kevin Lee, I’m taking it. I just don’t think they are. I would much rather fight Clay Guida, a guy with a name, than [some guy] who is 58-0 and nobody knows who he is. So then I beat him and everyone’s like, ‘Well, who’s that guy?’
“This is not just a sport, it’s a game. You have to be able to do both. You have to know how to fight and you have to know how to play the game. I’m playing the game while fighting.”
Dawson’s major goal is to become a world champion and is willing to take every step, every fight along the way to make that happen. At this point in his career, he doesn’t expect to get a top-15 guy in his second lightweight appearance. Whether he faces Guida, or anybody else outside the rankings, Dawson believes there isn’t much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
“We have to remember one thing, and people forget this, if you’re not ranked in the top-15, we’re all the same,” Dawson stated. “Nowadays, people are getting wins over nobodies and getting ranked in the top-15. They’re not beating [ranked guys] anymore, they’re going on a win streak and beating [someone with] a name.
“So it doesn’t even matter anymore. I don’t have to beat someone in the top-15 to get into the top-15. I bet you if I beat Clay Guida I’ll be ranked in the top-15. So don’t tell me that fights don’t make sense. I’m trying to buy a house, I’m trying to start a family, don’t be mad at me for going after a legend and a chance to make more bonus money. Get outta here, dawg.
“The same people that were saying I was gonna lost to Leonardo Santos because he was too experienced for me are the same people saying I only beat up an old man and now I’m trying to beat up another old man,” Dawson continued. “Your goddang right I’m trying to beat up old men. Let’s go. Give me all the legends, give me all the guys on their way out. I will cash these checks and when I’m ready—and I’m not even in my prime yet—and I’ve hit my whole man body, then I’ll start beating up anybody.
“Listen, I’m not turning down no fights, I’m not saying I don’t want to fight the top-15. Just what makes sense to me is Clay Guida.”
Despite the negative comments from fans, Dawson is sticking to his guns if he has a say in the matter. He’ll say yes to whoever the UFC offers him. In the end, the fans are a motivating factor—both positive and negative—but they don’t pay his bills.
“These guys sitting on the couch saying, ‘That doesn’t really do anything for his career,’ bull crap that doesn’t do anything for my career,” Dawson stated. “That dude is a gamer and he’s beat a lot of people: he’s beat RDA, he was beating Brian Ortega, and he’s got a bunch of wins under his belt. You can’t tell me a win over Clay does nothing for my career.
“Also, if you’re not my coach, my manager, my family, or teammates, y’all don’t get a say in my career anyways. So, later.”