“What happened to Davey Grant?”
That’s the first non-social media, non-UFC Fighter Profile result that comes up on Google when you type in the name of the Ultimate Fighter Season 18 finalist.
It’s a legitimate question many are probably asking now that Grant’s name is listed on the call sheet for Saturday’s UFC return to London. After all, it has been 27 months since the wiry British bantamweight from Bishop Auckland set foot inside the Octagon.
Grant was close to making his post-TUF debut the last time the UFC took up residence at the O2 Arena, making weight for a preliminary card bout with Roland Delorme. But he did so with a torn up knee, leading to the bout being scrapped and the “Team Rousey” fighter being forced to the sidelines. Another major injury followed, pushing his return back even more and the next thing you know, two years had passed.
“It’s not as if it has just been two years off wallowing; I’ve been constantly trying to improve myself as a professional athlete,” Grant laughed, just days away from finally (knock on wood) crossing the threshold into the Octagon once again on Saturday night against Marlon “Chito” Vera. “Even when I could do anything after surgery, I sat squeezing hand-grips on the couch, trying to improve my grip; that’s how focused I’ve been.”
There is a disconnect when we discuss athletes that have been out for long stretches of time – because they haven’t been competing, we think of their time away as an extended stretch of inactivity, but that’s rarely the case. While fighters can be limited and rehab schedules have to be adhered to, they’re often back training somewhere during that extended hiatus before another injury jumps up and knocks them off course once again.
That’s how Dominick Cruz went nearly three years between fights and why Grant has been out of action since getting submitted by another fighter currently in the midst of an extended break brought on by injuries, Chris Holdsworth, back in November 2013.
But in between surgeries, the 30-year-old father of two has been working hard in the gym, sharpening his skills, confident that this day was going to come.
“The injuries are just a minor bump in the road – things I’ve got to overcome – and I’ve always been focused on getting healthy and getting back into the Octagon,” admitted Grant, who carries a 9-2 record into his return engagement with the 7-2-1 Vera on the preliminary card portion of Saturday’s show. “Obviously, the dream is still alive and the fight is still burning in my belly. I’ve got my family to support and I tried so hard to get to the UFC and this is just the beginning.
“It’s been two years of learning and I feel like I’ve improved in all areas of the game,” he continued. “It’s been like a two-year fight camp to constantly sharpen the tools and get up to where I knew I needed to be. The sport is constantly evolving and can change a lot in two years and I’ve been evolving with it – rolling with the plans, working on new material – and I know for a certain fact that I’m the best fighter I’ve ever been in all my life.”
After being dealt a cruel hand by the MMA gods when he was forced off the last London card at the 11th hour, it’s kind of fitting that following two years dealing with injuries and working to get back in form, Grant gets the opportunity to return to action right where he was supposed to be when things first started to go sideways.
“It’s funny how it has worked and gone round full circle,” Grant said. “It just so happens that when I’m ready to fight again it’s back in London. That was so long ago.”
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And while some fighters would opt to downplay the emotions that accompany reaching the end of such a trying ordeal and getting to do so on home soil, the thoughtful, engaging Brit that never gave up hope has no qualms about expressing just how much returning to action Saturday night in front of what should be a raucous crowd inside the O2 means to him.
“I would fight anywhere, but to fight in my capital and because I felt as if I was so close last time to putting on a performance with Roland that it was as if the rug got stripped away from underneath me when I was right ready, it’s really, really sweet and I’m really looking forward to it.
“To be honest, it’s like a dream come true,” he added. “It has always been my dream to fight for the UFC. Yes, things didn’t go as planned on The Ultimate Fighter and I came off a loss to Chris Holdsworth, but I still managed to work my way into the UFC, and to finally get there and not getting to compete for this long was heartbreaking.
“It makes this so much better. I feel like everything is coming together now and this is just the beginning for me. I’m going to take it one step at a time and try to put on the best performance of my life.”
That’s what happened to Davey Grant.