The most interested observer of UFC 164ís main event between Anthony Pettis and Benson Henderson was probably T.J. Grant - the guy who was supposed to be standing opposite Henderson before getting sidelined with an injury.
Conspiracy theorists remember the circumstances in winking detail: Pettis was to fight for the featherweight belt against Jose Aldo in Brazil on Aug. 3, and Grant was to face Henderson in Pettisís hometown of Milwaukee four weeks later.
Then Pettis hurt his knee, and had to pull out. A couple of weeks later, Grant got severely concussed in training, and Pettis ó who recovered quicker than Vegas specialists could have predicted ó was summonsed to take Grantís spot. The whole thing seemed very tidy, but the UFC was able to put together a highly coveted rematch between Pettis and Henderson.
Now that those coincidences are behind us, and most realize that the circumstances were as real as they were convenient, the question becomes: Does Grant get the next crack at the 155-pound belt? Or is the tidal wave of Sunday morning matchmakers carrying Pettis back towards Aldo?
Grant spoke to MMA Fighting on Sunday and says he heard the immediate rumblings of a potential Aldo/Pettis superfight. Though he can understand the exhilaration that a match-up like that would drum up, he likes to point out that heís an exciting fighter himself.
And, in the world of meritocracies, he deserves his shot.
"Iím pretty sure Aldo is a little banged up as well right now," Grant said. "My opinion - Iím a fan, and I love watching UFC fights. I watch all of them, whether theyíre people Iím potentially fighting or not, I enjoy it. Pettis against Aldo is an exciting fight.
"But, hey, I just won my last fight in two minutes. I knocked the [Gray Maynard] out. I knocked the guy out before that [Matt Wiman]. I feel like Iíve earned it. I feel like Iím the guy. Iíve been in the UFC a long time. Iíve never really gotten the push that I feel like I need but Iíve also built a lot of experience in fighting and havenít been in the spotlight, which is nice too. But Iím ready to be there and Iím ready to go out there. Give me the opportunity man. I feel like Iíve earned it."
Grant got a concussion in mid-July while training for his title bid with Henderson, which he says haunted him all summer long.
"Iíve begun some light workouts and Iíve had no setbacks in that regard," he said. "You know, itís kind of weird, concussions affect a lot more than just having a headache. I couldnít play with my kid for more than a few minutes without being exhausted and being really nauseous. That was early in the summer. I feel like the worst is behind me and Iím just getting better. I know concussions affect your mood, and Iím a lot happier now. Theyíre all good signs."
Though he has begun do light workouts without contact, he thinks he would be ready by UFC 168 in late December, and if not for then, then anytime from January on.
"There was a little bit of contact with Joe Silva in the past week," he said. "Just seeing where Iím at and home Iím feeling. Iím starting to feel a lot healthier. Itís just been a crappy summer not getting to be a normal human being. Watching the fights this weekend, I wasnít that disappointed anymore - Iíve already had that emotion go through me. Iíve already dealt with that. Iím just ready to get out there and start working my way back to get healthy."
And as for fighting Pettis, rather than Henderson, he sees the obvious positives in a clash like that.
"[Pettis]ís a killer - heís a finisher, and he goes for it," he said. "And Iím not saying Benson doesnít either - heís a top dude. I feel like if Pettis came in healthy and his knee wasnít affecting him, I thought heíd win the fight. Iím just excited because thatís the type of guy that I want to fight, the guy whoís willing to go out there and find out whoís better. We donít need two or three rounds to figure that out. Letís go out there and do it. Iím not trying to sound like a [Quinton] Rampage Jackson, but why do you need five rounds when you can sort it out in the first two or three minutes?
"Thatís what Iím all about. Just going out there to fight. Thereís a lot of strategy and everything, but I ainít trying to win rounds punching a guy against the fence."
There are, of course, circumstances. Not only is Aldo/Pettis being looked at as a potential blockbuster, but both guys are hurt. Aldo is out for the rest of 2013 with a broken foot that he suffered in his title defense against Chan Sung Jung, and Pettis heard his knee "pop" on Saturday night against Henderson. He left Milwaukeeís Bradley Center limping on Saturday night.
A lot will be determined upon learning the extent of Pettis's injury. If the news comes back that heís out for an extended period of time, Grant says that would be open to other match-ups in the meantime.
"If itís an ACL or something like that, thatís nine months to a year," he said. "Iíd probably be looking to fight. Iíve been hearing my name a lot. Josh Thomson obviously wants to fight me, and you canít fault the guy for that. And you know what? Thatís another guy Iíd like to fight because heís exciting and he brings it. Weíll see what happens with Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez, too. Iíve been a big fan of Gilbertís for a long time. Heís been fighting since before I ever got in the UFC. Those guys all come to fight. But Pettis is the guy I want. I feel like Iíve earned my position. If heís going to be on the shelf for a while, and Iíve got to fight somebody, it would be those other two guys.
"Again, Iím not specifically calling them out," he said. "I want a healthy Pettis, and I want a healthy me, and I want us to get in there and do battle."