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UFC newcomer T.J. Grant welcomes challenge against veteran Japanese fighter

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MONTREAL - There are seven Canadians on the UFC 97 card but only one, T.J. Grant, is making his Octagon debut.

The 25-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., isn't too concerned about being the new kid on the block, however.

"I get nervous before but when it's go time I usually don't have a problem, so I'm hoping I can shake the Octagon jitters," he said.

Grant's more immediate concern is Ryo (Piranha) Chonan, the man who will be standing across the cage Saturday night.

Chonan (15-9) is a hard-nosed welterweight whose claims to fame are a 2004 submission of Anderson Silva and some pretty colourful hairdos. His 1-2 UFC resume is less stellar but the 32-year-old Japanese fighter remains hard to put away. All three UFC bouts - he won a split decision over Roan Carneiro and lost to Brad Blackburn and Karo Parisyan - went to a decision, as have 14 of his 24 fights.

Grant (13-2) has a track record of ending fights. The purple belt in jiu-jitsu under Jorge Gurgel has won 12 times by submissions, including seven of his last eight.

"I wouldn't say like I'm a world-class jiu-jitsu guy but I push the pace of the fight and usually an arm gets struck out there and I just take it," he explained.

Chonan is a hard ask when he comes to submissions, however. Only Paulo Filho, at Pride's Bushido 12 in August 2006, has finished him that way - via armbar.

Chonan has fought elite opposition, losing to most of them. Still losses to the likes of Filho, Dan Henderson, Phil Baroni, and Ricardo Almeida mean he has faced a lot.

Still Grant was jazzed when he heard the matchup.

"It's a huge opportunity. It's what I've been working for," he said.

"It's obviously my toughest fight but I think the eyes will be on it and a win here could catapult me farther than a lot of other people."

Unlike Chonan, Grant has fought at the Bell Centre before, competing on the now-defunct TKO circuit.

"It's going to be a familiar setting, I mean there's going to be a few more people this time, probably 15,000 more people."

Grant was 15 when he got into Brazilian jiu-jitsu through his brother.

"I really looked up to the UFC back then, I was a little kid but I was really into this stuff," he said. "So I decided to start wrestling to help my jiu-jitsu and then I started really liking wrestling.

"So I did wrestling through high school, didn't do too much jiu-jitsu. And then after high school, I just kind of got back into it and started picking away at my standup as well."

Grant was a provincial wrestling champion and represented Nova Scotia at the 2001 Canada Games in London, Ont.

He fell in love with mixed martial arts after winning his first fight, three years ago against Craig Skinner.

"A lot of work and nerves go into this, but after my first fight, just the feeling of winning was huge," he said. "That's kind of what pushed me."

After high school, he did everything from working construction to delivering pizza to pay the bills so he could train. Now he does it full time.

"I'm not always rolling in the dough but I'm able to do it and get by and hopefully (with) some success in the UFC, I'll be doing good."

Grant, whose given names are Timothy Jerome, is serious about his craft. He has travelled to Thailand the last three years to work on his standup. The last two times, he spent time at the Kaewsamrit gym in Bangkok.

"You get to submerge yourself in nothing but Muay Thai for three weeks to a month, it's awesome," he said.

Standup may have been the last piece of his puzzle, but the five-foot-11 Grant, who normally walks around at about 185 pounds, says he can handle himself on his feet.

Grant trains at Fitness Plus in Dartmouth, which is affiliated with Gurgel. He has also gone to Cincinnati to work out with Gurgel, Rich Franklin, Dustin Hazlett and others.

He's bullish on the Halifax MMA scene.

"It's got a lot of up and comers," he said. "I think in the next few years, you're going to see a lot more guys coming from here.

"We've got a good gym and Titans, they have a gym. There's a few gyms and they're all building up. Hopefully more fighters can get their big shots."

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