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Canadian contender Grant on slow road back from concussion

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The Canadian Press
10/2/2013 2:34:26 PM
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TORONTO -- A star athlete from Cole Harbour, N.S., sidelined by a concussion at the peak of his game.

It's not a new story, but this time the athlete in question is UFC lightweight contender T.J. Grant rather than hockey superstar Sidney Crosby.

The 29-year-old mixed martial arts fighter missed out on an August title shot and has had to pass on another slated for December while he waits to feel normal.

Ask Grant these days how he is feeling and the answer is not simple.

"Not too bad. Feeling all right," he said in a recent interview. "It could be better ... I'm a lot better now than I was, that's for sure."

Some days, it feels like one step forward, two steps back. But despite the occasional setback, the hard-nosed fighter says he is still on the road to recovery.

"Progress is getting a little slower again. But it was going pretty good," he said.

He says he does some "light activity ... to keep myself from going crazy."

Grant (21-5) was riding a high after knocking out Gray (The Bully) Maynard two minutes seven seconds into their May 25 showdown at UFC 160. That earned the Canadian a shot at then-champion Ben (Smooth) Henderson.

But two weeks later, Grant was hit in the head by his training partner's foot during a jiu-jitsu session. Later in the session, he used his head to stop a sweep and was hit again.

"I don't know which one it was," he said of the head blows. "All I know is just when I was done training, I didn't feel right."

He saw a doctor and was diagnosed with a concussion -- his first.

"I took my time hoping it would just heal up and I could get back at it. It just took longer than I expected. So that's kind of where I am now."

For those who have not had one, it's hard to imagine the disruption of a concussion.

"Especially earlier on, I had difficulty concentrating, just carrying on a conversation with somebody. Just simple things that you do every day that are a lot more difficult," said Grant, ranked third among 155-pound contenders.

The proud father of a five-month-old daughter, Grant's symptoms were set off early on by the baby crying.

Motion also made him nauseous.

"I'm getting past a lot of that stuff. Now I just have a little bit of a headache ... The worst is definitely behind me."

But there are still limits to what he can do. He came to Toronto recently to do some TV work and appearances around UFC 165.

"After the weekend I was a little bit worn out," he acknowledged.

Grant says time is what's needed.

He's happy with the team he has helping him, with physiotherapy to work on his balance and regular visits to a chiropractor to have work done on his neck.

The UFC has offered help and paid for an MRI, that came back clean. But inactivity must feel strange after years in a sport built around complex layers of training.

And the lightweight merry-go-round continues in his absence.

Replacement challenger Anthony (Showtime) Pettis submitted Henderson in the first round of UFC 164 on Aug. 31 to win the championship belt.

The UFC had hoped Pettis would make his first title defence in December against Grant in Sacramento. But Grant said he would not be ready.

"It's one of those unfortunate things that can happen in a contact sport," UFC president Dana White said when asked about Grant. "We're not going anywhere. The kid's just got to take his time, heal up, and relax and we'll see what happens."

There's never a good time to be injured in the UFC, given inactivity equals no paycheque. But this timing particularly sucks.

Grant, ranked third among lightweight contenders, was on a roll having won five straight since dropping down to 155 pounds from welterweight.

"The belt's going to be there no matter who has the belt," White said. "It will be there and we'll figure the T.J. Grant thing out when T.J. Grant's healthy."

In the meantime, the December title shot has been given to No. 4 Josh Thompson.

Even talk of title shots has consequences for Grant.

"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself," he said. "Being offered fights and stuff like that was definitely putting more pressure (on me) which causes you to stress out and make things worse.

"Man, I'm just worrying about just getting better, taking it slow. No real pressure. When I feel 100 per cent and I'm able to return to training and all that stuff, then I'll start looking for a fight.

"For now, I'm not really too much worried about it."

White says concussions are monitored closely in that the sport is regulated by government agencies, with mandatory suspensions after knockouts. Often fighters have to be cleared by a doctor before they can step back into the cage after a bad loss.

Injuries in training are tougher to monitor, he acknowledged.

"We can't baby-sit everybody. We can't police grown men," White said prior to UFC 165. "We can lay down the rules.

"If you are on a three month suspension because you were hit in the head or whatever your deal is in a fight and you go back into the gym and start sparring again, first of all you're a moron. No 2, the people who handle you probably don't care about you."

Grant has been healthy the majority of his career, missing just two previous fights through injury or sickness in his 7.5-year pro career.

He says he has known other fighters who had concussions.

"Some guys try to hide it and keep going. They think it's like any other injury. But I don't want to be that guy. So I want to do it as safely as possible. I want to enjoy my life, that's for sure."

Grant has plenty of motivation on that front.

He married wife Belinda on the weekend. They planned to slip away for a few days but with a young daughter the focus of attention, a real honeymoon will likely have to wait a while.

As for Crosby, Grant says he does not know the Penguins star so has not been able to share war stories.

It would make for an interesting conversation.

"No doubt," Grant said with a chuckle.

TJ Grant (Photo: Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images)
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