T.J. Grant has won plenty of fights in his mixed martial arts career, but Saturday night’s was his biggest yet.
The Cole Harbour native passed his first test on the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit, earning a debut victory over Ryo Chonan in a welterweight bout on the undercard of UFC 97 at a sold-out Bell Centre in Montreal.
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The split-decision win (30-27, 28-29, 29-28 on scorecards) improved Grant’s career record to 14-2.
“I didn’t train all this while to get here and lose,” said Grant, who got his start in the sport in the inaugural Extreme Cage Combat event in Halifax in 2006. “I want to stay here, I want to fight in UFC, and it’s huge for me to get a win.”
Although Grant signed a four-fight contract in January, there is little security — UFC can drop a fighter after any loss. For the first Nova Scotian (raised and trained) in UFC, a victory was a critical step toward showing he belongs.
Chonan, now 15-10, was making his fourth UFC appearance.
“I think I was able to win the beginnings and ends of most rounds,” Grant said. “That’s what did it for me. I finished strong every round and I think that won me the decision.”
Grant admitted to being nervous before the fight, but credited his experience in three TKO events at Bell Centre for helping him stay calm when he stepped in front of 20,000 fans.
“There aren’t as many people (for TKO fights) but the setup’s the same, the lights are the same, the music’s the same, so I think it helped me,” Grant said. “But honestly, it just happened so fast. I just got in there and did my thing.
“When it’s go time, it’s go time.”
Grant is vacationing to the Dominican Republic in May but expects to hear from UFC soon.
“I could have to fight on three weeks notice, you never know,” Grant said. “I have to be ready at all times.”
Jason MacDonald, a Red Deer, Alta., resident originally from New Glasgow, lost by technical knockout to Nate Quarry at 2:27 of the first round in another UFC 97 bout.