TJ Grant: Why His Long Absence Is Good for Him and the UFC

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2014

September 22, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; UFC fighter T.J. Grant fights against UFC fighter Evan Dunham (left) in the lightweight bout during UFC 152 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone enjoys a fight.

At least that's the theory, the idea that the entire MMA industry has been predicated on for a while now.

We've all heard Dana White in front of cameras rambling on about liking fighting, getting it and having it in our DNA. As far as the boss is concerned, we're basically cavemen dying for a couple of dudes to break out into a brawl over a scrap of mammoth meat.

And actually, he's kind of right.

The heart and skill of MMA is great, and it's a sport that provides the type of memorable moments few others can match, but at the end of the day it's two people bludgeoning each other in a cage.

Those who watch love it and those who compete in it love it too, but that's what it is. It's the type of finely tuned, visceral chaos that serves unpredictability in spades and offers violent ends for those who don't enter it properly prepared.

But there's a market for that. Without an element of danger, where's the fun? It might as well be ice dancing. People like a little danger.

Here's the thing, though: That acceptance of—nay, attraction to—violence has made us awfully dismissive of the effects of the game on its agents. Specifically, we've all become a little too okay with watching people get concussed on live television after they spent two months rattling battle ropes and eating kale.

That's why the long layoff of UFC lightweight TJ Grant is a good thing for the sport.

Make no mistake, the fact that Grant has been sidelined for a year isn't good at all. It's horrible, actually. It cost him a title shot and a chance at fame and fortune, things any athlete would die for.

But the fact that he's taking the time to heal, that he's giving his brain plenty of time to recalibrate itself, is the type of progress that other sports have taken literal decades to see.

The fact of the matter is that brain injuries are a serious issue and they're that much more serious in contact sports. When your sport of choice is centered around having your brain kicked and punched for 15 minutes or so a few times a year, the risk is exponentially higher.

Some of the best in the world have already pieced together the stakes of that, and have adjusted their training to compensate. Now, following that lead, you see Grant taking the time to recover properly once an injury has happened.

That's a good sign.

It's a sign of risk management, of understanding that 12-14 months sidelined in one's prime might be worth it to avoid 12-14 years of trembles or dementia long after the roar of the crowd has ended.

If more combat athletes (or contact athletes, for that matter) begin to implement that kind of care, everyone wins. The sports themselves get less heat from outside sources and the athletes competing in them are able to do it more safely and more consistently.

Head injuries are no joke. Just because you don't see a bone sticking out or pints of blood gushing from an open wound it doesn't mean there aren't long-term effects. The idea that one could be seriously concussed and barely miss time in training camp is absurd, not to mention dangerous.

That's why Grant is to be lauded for doing it the right way. Sure he's on the sidelines now, but on his 80th birthday he's a lot more likely to remember what day it is when he wakes up.

The cage will always be there when he's ready to come back and the fans will still be cheering on the regulated violence that's become such an enjoyable part of the sporting landscape.

But when he does, at least everyone involved will know that he won a little battle for safety in contact sport by coming back the right way.


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