Itís hard not to root for TJ Grant. Hereís a guy who reached the highest level of the sport through talent and hard work alone. He never trash-talked his way into big fights. He wasnít a good-looking poster boy who was given an easy road by promoters. Heís not known for flashy kicks and sharp grooming. He entered what is arguably the most competitive division in all of mixed martial arts, beat the crap out of five consecutive opponents, and managed to stay humble.
Following his savage first-round TKO of Gray Maynard at UFC 160, Grant was promised a lightweight title shot against then-champ Benson Henderson, but withdrew from the fight due to a concussion suffered during a grappling session, of all things. Anthony Pettis took his spot and made the most of the opportunity. And though we all assumed that Grant would get the first crack at Pettisís belt, Grant couldnít commit to a fight because of lingering concussion symptoms.
So here we are in November, four months after Grant first made his concussion public, and he still hasnít completely cleared the cobwebs. As reported on last nightís episode of UFC Tonight, Grantís health remains less than 100%, and heís unsure when heíll be able to return to competition. MMAFighting passes along more details:
Grant is targeting a tentative date of Christmas, after which he hopes to resume training, although that timetable is far from certain. Of late Grant has focused on increasing his heart rate when exercising and not exerting himself too farÖ
While Grant admits that the uncertainty of his situation has been frustrating, he believes itís only a matter of time before he fights again. Though when he does, itís likely heíll have to re-earn his spot at the front of the line.
ďHeís in limbo,Ē UFC President Dana White recently said of Grant. ďHe might come back and have to fight another fight. Weíve got to keep this thing rolling.Ē
Iím sure some fans will see this news and lament the fact that the greatest opportunity of Grantís life was robbed from him by a training injury. But I think Grantís situation raises a different, more important point: How long should a fighter suffer symptoms of a concussion before he retires out of concern for his health? Iím sure that he doesnít want to admit it, and the UFC wonít want to make a big deal of it, but TJ Grant has suffered serious brain trauma. Itís not the kind of thing where heíll wake up one day and be 100% recovered. For now on, every sparring session and every fight will put his long-term health further at risk.
Maybe itís the job of the athletic commissions, and maybe its the responsibility of the UFC, but somebody should step in and tell Grant that continuing an MMA career is not in his best interest. The reality is, Grant himself probably wonít walk away willingly. Heís a proud competitor who climbed and climbed until he was one rung away from the top of the ladder. Heís not going to quit now.
As fans, we want to see the good guy get rewarded for his hard work and sacrifice. But throwing support behind TJ Grantís comeback makes me feel uneasy. If Grant eventually returns to the cage and wins a few fights, is that a triumph? Is that a feel-good story, when it flies in the face of all medical and allegorical evidence that itís a terrible idea?
TJ Grant has spent four months dealing with the fallout from a concussion. That should be of far greater concern to fans, the media, the UFC ó and Grant himself ó than the date of his next fight.