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Davey Grant on the disastrous early road that nearly derailed his UFC career — and why quitting never once crossed his mind

Davey Grant will celebrate his 10-year anniversary as a UFC fighter next year.

It’s a significant milestone for the 36-year-old old bantamweight, even if Grant wishes he had more to show for it than a 5-5 record over just 10 octagon appearances, because it’s a milestone that at one point in his career felt improbable for Grant to ever reach.

“Obviously, I should have had like at least another 10 [fights] on top of that, but things were just so hard,” Grant said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “I went through a rough couple of years where I was fighting like once a year, just injuries and surgeries and it was — it wasn’t ideal. And I really feel like I’m just finding my feet now, and once I started the consistent fights, I feel like I’m putting in good performances as well, I’m finally showing everyone.

“I’m just so comfortable now that I can go and fight all-out when I fight. I don’t feel like I have to try and play it safe, like I’m hunting for just getting wins. I want big fights and I want big finishes. That’s all I’m all about now.”

Grant has certainly found his footing in the UFC over the past few years. The Englishman rode a streak of four consecutive post-fight bonuses into a matchup against Louis Smolka this past weekend at UFC Vegas 54, then demolished the American with a third-round knockout to add another nasty finish to his fast-growing highlight reel.

All in all, it’s been a remarkable turnaround for a fighter whose UFC journey looked as if it’d ended before it ever even truly began. Grant joined the promotion in 2013 as a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter 18, making it all the way to the show’s finals before losing to Chris Holdsworth. Despite the loss, he still had plenty of momentum behind him when the UFC booked his sophomore appearance to be a hometown affair in London against Roland Delorme in March 2014. But then disaster struck — and it kept striking over and over again.

“The week of the fight, I got into the UFC hotel, the hotel where they booked me up, and then I blew my knee out, tore my meniscus, and I never managed to fight,” Grant remembered. “I weighed-in actually, and then I had to tell UFC.

“So the scan results came back and I got pulled from the fight the night before. That was devastating, especially because it was a good fight for me and coming off The Ultimate Fighter, I still had a lot a lot of momentum behind me, and it was in London. It was like a dream come true. It was fighting in the capital on a UFC event. It’s what every MMA fighter in England is looking to do. So I blew my knee out, I was back in surgery within a week or so, and then I’d literally only been back training for two weeks after getting money sorted, and I had a bad fall in training — I tore all the ligaments in one of my ankles,” Grant continued.

“It was a really bad one — the three ligaments on the outside of my ankle were ripped completely off the bone. And I didn’t even want to tell the UFC. It took me ages because I was thinking, ‘Oh God, they’re going to think I’m made out of glass.’ I rang them and [matchmaker] Sean [Shelby] was like, ‘Look, don’t worry about it. These things happen. We’ll need to get you into surgery.’ So the UFC had paid for my two surgeries, big ones as well, before I’d even had a chance to fight — and I was thinking, ‘I’m testing my luck. I’m testing my luck here,’ because you don’t know how things are going to get viewed.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of Grant’s bad luck.

After working back to full health from two major surgeries, he suffered his worst injury yet.

“It was a worse injury in the injury-time healing than both of the surgeries put together, but I didn’t get surgery — I had a really bad neck injury, and literally I couldn’t jog on a treadmill without being in agony,” Grant said. “And I ended up getting some injections in my neck to kill some of the nerves, and then that one kept me out for a long time. So it turned out to be two-and-a-half years from The Ultimate Fighter to fighting again on the London card.”

In all, Grant wound up being sidelined from late 2013 to early 2016. He promptly missed another two years from late 2016 to the summer of 2018 because of an arm injury, but he’s made up for lost time since, competing seven times in the UFC over the last four years.

Yet despite his roller-coaster road, even when his fortunes were their bleakest, Grant said he never once allowed himself to consider quitting on the dream he’s had since childhood.

“Honestly, it never crossed my mind, because I’d done all the hard work to get there,” Grant said. “Like my dream was always to fight in the UFC. Well, my dream was to get on The Ultimate Fighter and then fight in the UFC, and I’d managed to do both. And it wasn’t ideal. It was like, ‘Look, you haven’t worked this hard to get there and then to go out and call it a day now.’ It was just more the mental side of just getting through things and still, in between the injuries, still trying to get in the gym, still trying to keep positive, and still trying to get better. It was there, but I never thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be it.’

“I always knew that once I got back there, I was going to start trying to make waves.”

That tenacity paid off. In the aftermath of UFC Vegas 54, Grant has been celebrated as not only a tremendous comeback story, but also one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC’s bantamweight division. And with the UFC set to make another trip to London on July 23, it may be time for “Dangerous” to get the homecoming he lost out on all those years ago.

“If that’s the case, then yeah I’ll be ready, no problem,” Grant said. “I’m not dealing with any injuries. I can get straight back in the gym, just happy to be back in this world.

“I’m just ready to fight wherever and whenever the UFC wants.”