Many of us started 2020 with New Year’s resolutions, and Grant Dawson is no different.
“I want to fight at least four times this year. My goal is to be ranked in the top 15 by the end of 2020, to be ranked in the top 5 by the end of 2021, and be UFC champion by the end of 2022. You heard it here first.”
Those are lofty resolutions to be sure, particularly in the UFC’s talent-rich featherweight division. But when Dawson surveys the landscape, he doesn’t seem intimidated by his other prospect peers.
“I feel like these guys are getting a little more attention than me. I don’t think that’s the UFC’s fault, I don’t think that’s anybody’s fault, but I think that these guys are getting easy matchups and looking just okay in them. Take Hakeem Dawodu. He’s had five fights in the UFC and he lost one of them. He’s gone to two split decisions and one of the guys he beat isn’t even in the UFC anymore, and everybody thinks he (Dawodu) is the next big thing. It’s just kind of ridiculous to me. I’m fighting guys with 11 fights in the UFC (Chas Skelly), guys with a lot of experience. I fought that guy that was undefeated who won the TUF Finale (Michael Trizano). If you look at the competition, I’m fighting the tough guys and I’m finishing people, and these guys are going to split decisions with guys who aren’t on that level.”
If the former KCFA featherweight champion feels like he’s been overlooked to this point, however, he recognizes the potential for all of that to change on January 18. Sharing the Octagon on a Conor McGregor pay-per-view card, there is perhaps no better moment for Dawson to make his statement.
“I’ve been telling people since day one: the more pressure that’s on me—the bigger the card, the bigger the show—the better I’m going do. If I’m fighting on a little card with only 100 people watching in Nowhere, Missouri, I’m not going to do as good as when the lights are on and people are expecting me to lose. There’s a lot hype behind me, so the more pressure I have, the better I do. I’m excited to show that. I’m really excited to fight in front of the Irish fans and it’s going to be awesome.”
He’ll need to be awesome to make that statement when he runs into perennial danger Chas Skelly, a fighter Dawson holds in higher regard than most other featherweights.
“I think I match up great against Chas. I do have a lot of respect for him, and there’s not a whole lot of people I do respect. But I do respect what he’s done. His only losses are to really good guys and Bobby Moffett. But I just think with his experience level and how much people know him, a win over him really shoots me at the top of the up-and-comers list. I’m really excited to put on a good show.”
A “good show” is almost inevitable with Dawson, who was last spotted in the Octagon submitting the previously undefeated Michael Trizano at 2019’s UFC Rochester event. The win over Trizano put Dawson back in his comfort zone, back to his well-earned reputation as a finisher of fights. Over the course of 14 professional wins, only one, his UFC debut against Julian Erosa last March, went to the judge’s scorecards. Even in victory, that stat still eats at him.
“I don’t get paid for overtime. Careers can be long or short. The faster you get in, get on and get off, the better. So being able to pick up a finish against a really good guy, a guy who won The Ultimate Fighter, who’s undefeated, and not just beat him, but finish him? That was really big for me and it really pushed me in the right direction. It also just built my confidence even more.”
That confidence has also grown in no small part from UFC welterweight James Krause, his coach and mentor from the burgeoning Glory MMA in Kansas City.
“He’s great. I think he’s a fantastic fighter, and I think he’s an even better coach. If you look at the guys Glory is producing…in 2020 I believe we’ll have at least four more people in the UFC if not more, and I think they’re all going to be a lot like me with the hype train behind them and the show that they put on. James is the leader, and he’s leading by example. He shows us these moves, and then he goes out and does them. His fight IQ is through the roof; I’ve never met anyone with more fight IQ than him. It’s just really nice to have him there supporting you in the corner. It’s been amazing, I don’t think I’d be where I am without him.”
And where he is, with the eyeballs of the MMA world upon him next Saturday, is simply the next step in fulfilling his immense set of resolutions.
“I’m ready for all of them. I’ve got a list in my head of who I want to mess up after Chas Skelly. Especially the younger up and comers like myself. I just think I’m so much better than them. And after I derail their hype train, mine is just going to get bigger and bigger.”