It’s the ultimate opportunity for Cole Harbour’s T.J. Grant, and the mixed martial artist doesn’t want to waste it.
The 25-year-old makes his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut against Japan’s Ryo Chonan on Saturday night at UFC 97: Redemption at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“I was given a tough fight for my first fight,” said Grant, a five-foot-10, 170-pound welterweight. “Chonan’s got a lot of experience and a lot of credentials behind him. I feel like I need to win this fight and I feel like I will win this fight.”
Grant, whose career started in 2006 with a win in the inaugural Extreme Cage Combat event in Halifax, signed a four-fight contract with UFC in January. But the contract is no sure thing, and UFC can cut him loose after any loss.
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The Bell Centre is sold out for the event, meaning more than 20,000 fans will be on hand for Grant’s debut. Friday’s weigh-in alone could attract as many as 8,000.
“It’s just going to be ridiculous,” said Grant, who is used to crowds of 5,000. “There are going to be 20,000 people there, screaming. I’ve got to be ready for the bright lights.”
Grant has a 13-2 career record and vaulted onto the sport’s biggest stage with victories over UFC veterans Chad Reiner and Forrest Petz in the past year. Chonan is 15-9 and has lost two out of three UFC appearances in the past 17 months.
Grant has 12 submission wins; Chonan has five knockout wins.
“He’s a striker, but he can grapple; I’m a grappler, but I can strike,” Grant said.
“I’ve got to fight the fight no matter where it’s at. I feel like I have the skills to do that.”
Grant said he has more than 100 friends and family members travelling from Halifax to watch Saturday’s card. His fans are not used to going away disappointed, and now that he’s made it this far, Grant doesn’t want that to change.
“You’ve got to step it up,” Grant said. “This is the big leagues. I want to be here. I want to make a career of it.”
New Glasgow’s Jason MacDonald (22-11) is also on Saturday’s card. He faces Nate Quarry (16-3).