LAS VEGAS — MMA fans are known for their extraordinary passion. And if it weren’t for one of them, Grant Dawson may not be a contender for the UFC’s lightweight championship.
Dawson faces Bobby Green on Saturday at Apex in the main event of UFC Vegas 80. Dawson, who is ranked 10th at lightweight, is 20-1-1 overall and 11-0-1 in his last 12 outings. A couple more wins will put him squarely in the title mix.
Dawson was 16 when he watched his first MMA fight — a light heavyweight bout at UFC 114 on May 29, 2010, between former champions Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson — and decided that like both Evans and Jackson, he’d become a world champion, as well.
“That was the first fight I ever saw and I knew that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Dawson told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday. “My Dad was always like, ‘If you’re going to do something, you have to be the best at it. If you’re going to be a mailman, you have to be the best dang mailman you can be.’ So getting into this sport, the only option was being the best in the world.”
Dawson said at the time, he was watching some of UFC Hall of Famer Bas Rutten’s self-defense videos, so when he first saw MMA, he quickly took to it.
But it was the passion he saw in a friend’s father that really sealed the deal.
Asked why Evans and Jackson resonated so significantly with him, he shrugged.
“I don’t know, but I think the biggest part of it might have been that I went to my buddy’s house to watch it and my buddy’s dad was just freaking out about Rampage Jackson,” Dawson said. “He was just screaming his head off for Rampage and his whole face and his bald head was so red. I was like, ‘Holy crap, this is what I want.’ He was so into it that he was just screaming like crazy at the TV.”
He got into the sport not long after and he’s never looked back. He’s been successful ever since he began. As a pro, he began his career 9-0 under coach James Krause at Glory MMA in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. But Dawson is candid in admitting that until he switched to American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, he really didn’t take off.
He referred to coach Mike Brown and the staff at ATT as “NFL level” coaches and said his recent improvement is tied directly to both the training partners available to him as well as the high-level coaches.
“My success, it’s got to be my team, 100 percent, training at American Top Team and getting my butt kicked by the best fighters in the world every day,” Dawson said. “In my weight class alone, we have five of the top 15 guys in the world training there. The amount of talent that walks through those doors on a daily basis is incredible, not to mention the coaches. They’re absolutely phenomenal. That’s what has pushed me to the next level.”
He was content at Glory, but said his eyes were opened when he went to ATT. The way he was coached and the training partners he rolled with all made him feel he was at another level.
Krause has a reputation as one of the best coaches, but he’s no longer permitted to work as he’s being investigated in a sports betting probe. Dawson, though, said there is a big difference that has made him who he is now.
“I’m going to be honest with you: I thought, at first, that it was James,” Dawson said. “I thought, ‘He is a great coach and I just don’t have the right training partners.’ And then when I got to American Top Team, I realized what an actual high-level gym is supposed to be run like and supposed to look like. James is a good coach; I’m not taking that away from him.
“But to make an analogy, I’d say the coaches we have at American Top Team are NFL level. I would put James and Glory more like a college level. This is NFL level, the top of the top.”
Whatever it is, Dawson’s reached a point where he can legitimately harbor championship dreams, fulfilling his father’s demand to be the best at whatever he does.
He’s not thinking of that and instead focusing on Green because he said the rankings change so much.
“I’m not in this to make a living for my family and to be a world champion,” Dawson said. “I’m in this to be a world champion. The fact that I can make a living for my family is a nice bonus. But I want to be a world champion more than anything else. And so when you say you want to be a world champion, you’ve got to be able to beat everybody they put in front of you.
“Thinking of it that way kind of takes a little load off of my shoulders because I don’t worry about what’s next. This is who I’ve got and I have to beat him. And then after that, what comes next will be what comes. And I know he’ll be worse than I am because I am the best.”