By Raphael Garcia
This Saturday, fight fans around the world will get their fix of mixed martial arts when UFC 152 comes to us live from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Jon Jones makes his first appearance in front of the combat sports world since the UFC 151 debacle, defending his light heavyweight title against former champion Vitor Belfort. Below that fight is a very strong card that features a number of interesting matchups. However, looking at the card, one particular fight stands out as a sleeper among the rest of the night’s planned contests.
Lightweights TJ Grant and Evan Dunham are due to square off on the FX preliminary card, in a pivotal fight for both of these fighters. Both individuals are riding two-fight win streaks at a time when it is important to be on a consistent run in the division. As the lightweight title picture becomes more and more clear after each fight, these athletes will need to stay on the winning path if they hope to secure a title shot in 2013.
Go back to 2010, when Dunham was a fighter that many people were eyeing as a future title contender. Undefeated in his career, which included four UFC fights, the Oregon native was matched against former champion Sean Sherk. After being cut badly during the first round, Dunham fought his way back, and in the eyes of most fans, won the last two rounds of the fight. However, the judges saw the outcome differently, and gave the bout to Sherk. Dunham was unable to rebound in his next fight, as he was stopped in dramatic fashion thanks to the heavy hands of Melvin Guillard. Just that quickly, he went from being in line for a title shot to completely out of the picture.
After missing time due to injury, he has rebounded well with two victories, but in his time away, the lightweight division has become more stacked, with some of the more fighters than ever vying for a position at the top. And in order for him to return to the title picture, he has to get past a fighter who has reinvented himself in the lightweight division.
Grant was struggling to stay relevant in the welterweight division. After losing to Ricardo Almeida at UFC 124, Grant suffered an illness that forced him out of another welterweight bout. However, instead of returning to the Octagon at 170 pounds, he decided to drop down to 155, and so far the move has been right for him.
He defeated Shane Roller by armbar after dominating much of the fight. While the finish was questionable, as Roller never tapped, the decision was strongly in Grant’s favor, as he was winning much of the bout. He also defeated Carlo Prater by unanimous decision this past May.
Going into this bout, it is easy to see that this is a grappler’s battle, as both Grant and Dunham have proven to be very well-versed on the mat. They have a combined 19 submission victories between them, although Grant has secured more than double that of Dunham, notching 13 to Dunham's 6. If this fight goes to the ground, we can expect to see the kinds of positional scrambles that will hold the attention of anyone who enjoys the grappling aspect of MMA.
On the feet, it will be interesting to see if Dunham can control the bout in that area, as he should. His striking has steadily developed over the years. He was able to dominate Sherk in the later rounds of their fight and has continued to do so in subsequent fights, most recently against both Shamar Bailey and Nik Lentz. While both fighters are tall for the division, and Grant will have the reach advantage, Dunham has shown more diversity in his striking, which should open up his game against his opponent. The action on the feet will be important for both competitors, as those points will be very valuable in the eyes of the judges if much of the contest is even on the mat.
UFC 152 is packed with a number of bouts that hold positional implications within their respective divisions. The contest between Evan Dunham and TJ Grant is one that fans should keep their eyes on, along with the fighters who rank towards the top of the 155-pound weight class.
September 20, 2012
By Raphael Garcia