Yes GSP Is Back, but for a Time It Looked Like Canada Would Be TJ Grant's

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2017

TJ Grant stands before fighting with Matt Wiman during UFC Lightweight Championship on FOX 6 at the United Center in Chicago, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. Grant won the bout. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The biggest star in the history of Canadian MMA—possibly in the history of MMA, period—is back.

After an agonizing back-and-forth, Georges St-Pierre finally hashed things out with the UFC earlier this week and will allegedly return to action later this year.

The world last saw St-Pierre in 2013, broken and dispirited yet somehow declared a winner in one of the more egregious miscarriages of combative justice ever to be doled out from cageside judges. There’s an argument to be made that the victim, Johny Hendricks, has never been the same.

St-Pierre dashed off to retirement like a thief in the night, wisely leaving the game with his welterweight title intact and exchanging expletives with UFC President Dana White on the way out the door, destined to spend the rest of his days enjoying the fruits of his athletic labors.

It was a storybook retirement tale, probably the best combat sports would ever have seen had he not gummed it up with a comeback like so many before him have.

The void without GSP was massive, both in MMA and in his home country. While names like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor emerged to fill the superstar vacuum he left, no one emerged in Canada and the sport suffered as a result.

The UFC tried to bump things with a season of The Ultimate Fighter (a proven recipe to not bump things, if ever there was one) and relied on the offputting Rory MacDonald and old fashioned Canadian gullibility to buy what were, objectively, some very bad pay-per-view offerings.

The results were predictably disastrous. The former Mecca of MMA was left in shambles.

Interestingly, only a few months before the world last saw St-Pierre it also last laid eyes on another Canadian with aspirations of excellence. At UFC 160, TJ Grant obliterated a still-elite Gray Maynard in two minutes to make himself the no-doubt-about-it top contender for the lightweight title. A former welterweight, the Halifax, Nova Scotia native had dropped to 155 pounds in 2011 and hadn’t lost since.

Technically, he still hasn’t.

The reason is that Grant, in preparation for a crack at then-champion Benson Henderson, suffered a concussion and was pulled from his slated UFC 164 title fight. An unknown timeline for return, Anthony Pettis winning the title convincingly in his place, and all of a sudden Grant was an afterthought in the division he had blazed through.

The timeline grew longer and more unknown, and the less heard about or from Grant started to make it seem like he’d never come back. There were rumblings that he still wanted to fight, but that the world of potash mining was more lucrative than a UFC run would be.

Nearly four years later and Grant is gone. There’s no sign of him on the UFC roster or anywhere else in MMA, and aside from the sporadic tweet about the sport there’s no evidence he’s part of it on any meaningful level.

Sunday night the UFC will make its second trip to Grant’s hometown of Halifax, a hub city on Canada’s east coast. It’s a wonderful place with hardworking, friendly people and a Western European feel, a modern throwback to its having been settled by the British in 1749. There’s a boardwalk and a bustling harborfront downtown, a lively nightlife and rich history everywhere one might look.

It was Grant as much as GSP, MacDonald or anyone else who was responsible for it becoming a part of the UFC’s rotation. At a time when martial artists on the east coast of Canada were secretively respected for toughness, durability and grit, there simply were not many who were going to the big show of the UFC.

Most were exhibiting a unique brand of ferocity in regional promotions getting paid anywhere from nothing to almost nothing. Grant was a guy who showed them it was possible to go further and be more, because he was doing it himself—fighting like they fought, winning like they won.

For him to go without recognition for that is a real shame. There are athletes on Sunday’s card like Ryan Janes and Gavin Tucker, east coasters and contemporaries of Grant in terms of career timeline, who have his influence to thank for the UFC opening their eyes to what was happening there.

Fans who’ll have the chance to go enjoy those fights, as well as the bigger names on the card (of which, perhaps ironically, Hendricks is one), owe their hometown boy some thanks for the chance as well.

And yet there’s no word that Grant will be there. He definitely won’t fight there. But when they set up the cage, flick on the lights and get the cameras rolling? His influence will be felt there.

Ask anyone from his neck of the woods who was watching as he was making his run: For a time, it looked like Canada would be TJ Grant’s.

    

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