There are few fighters in MMA who have more momentum right now than T.J. Grant.
Since dropping down from the welterweight division into the 155-pound weight class in late 2011, the 29-year-old Canadian has buzz-sawed his way to the top of a talent-rich lightweight division. This past weekend at UFC 160, Grant picked up his fifth consecutive victory as he earned a first-round TKO stoppage over perennial contender Gray Maynard.
Defeating "The Bully" earned the Nova Scotia-based fighter the opportunity to compete for lightweight champion Benson's Henderson's strap later this year.
While there is yet to be an official date set for the fight, the championship tilt could take place as early as August of this year, with Boston or Milwaukee being considered as potential options.
Regardless of when the title fight goes down, Grant is on a collision course with the lightweight champion and will be looking to complete his impressive run with a UFC title. Nevertheless, for the next few days, he's enjoying the fruits of his labor before turning 100 percent of his focus to Henderson.
"Yesterday and today, I'm hanging out with my family, and there is nothing," Grant told Bleacher Report. "I'm chilling out, doing interviews and enjoying it. I really think you have to enjoy it. If what I'm hearing is true—and I haven't heard anything from the UFC and only know what you guys know—they are talking about Boston, and that is a quick turnaround.
"There isn't going to be much time for a vacation or anything like that. I'm jumping right back into it, man. I'm healthy. I didn't break any bones or get any cuts in this last fight. I'm ready to go right back into training.
"Taking a couple of days to get your mind clear is great. I had a pretty good week of rest last week as well. I didn't really do anything except getting ready for the fight. My body is incredibly rested, and I'm ready for the next challenge.
"It's not even really in the brain yet," Grant added about earning the title shot. "I just met Mike Tyson this weekend and all that other stuff. It's like, 'What's going on right now?' I've been fighting and training a long time. I've had 31 fights in my career, and that is a lot more than most people. I've done it at a high level, and it feels good to see everything I've put in, all the sacrifices I've made, everything is right in front of me right now.
"I'm not the type of guy who got to this point at the end of his career. I worked my butt off, but I'm still in my prime. I'm the best I've ever been, and I'm not slowing it down at all. I like my chances against anyone, and I like where I'm at."
For Grant, all the hard work has brought him to the top of the food chain in the lightweight division.
But defeating Henderson will be a sizable task.
Since claiming the title in early 2012, "Bendo" has successfully defended the strap on three occasions. The most recent came by way of a razor-thin and controversial split-decision against Gilbert Melendez at UFC on Fox 7, but, nevertheless, Henderson left San Jose with his championship status intact.
The bout between Henderson and Grant will also present interesting stylistic challenges for both fighters. The MMA Lab-trained fighter has found success using an attack based on movement and a relentless gas tank, while Grant's forward pressure has been unstoppable lately.
The surging Canadian believes his style will be difficult for anyone he faces and intends to bring the fight directly to Henderson.
"I'm not ready to make any bold statements, but I feel like I can beat anyone in the world," Grant said. "My style works for me. I'm aggressive and push the fight. I make it happen, and I don't think there is any way you can get in the cage with me and make me look bad. More so, I've never had anyone look good against me.
"I can tell you right now I'm going to go out there and I'm going to fight Benson the way I always fight. I'm going to make him work every second he's in there, and it's going to be a good one."
With the victory over Maynard and the title shot against Henderson set, Grant's ascension up the divisional hierarchy is nearly complete. UFC commentator Joe Rogan called him the "dark horse in the lightweight division" during the UFC 160 broadcast, but that isn't a mantle Grant is necessarily willing to wear.
Grant knows he's put in the hard work to get where he is. If that progress has been overlooked by some along the way, then so be it. The newly minted No. 1 contender is confident in what he brings to the table and believes everything in his career is firing on all cylinders.
"If no one saw me coming, and now I'm a contender, I guess so," Grant replied when asked about being the dark horse in the division. "I always take it one fight at a time. I don't look at everybody out there because I know there are a lot of tough guys at 155, and they all pose problems for me in different ways. Everybody is good in this weight class. But when it's on to the next guy, then it's on to the next guy.
"I put all of my focus and effort into beating who I'm facing next. I always try to add something new to my game. I'm just getting better and starting to put everything together. I feel confident and comfortable with everything. The progression of my career has just been perfect."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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