By “Filthy” Tom Lawlor
Due to unfortunate circumstances, I have decided not to fight on November 7th against Fabio Maldonado in Sao Paulo, Brasil, as part of a UFC Fight Night event. During a training session Saturday, I suffered a small cut over my left eye after a head-to-head clash after a takedown. The cut suffered was deep, though not deep enough to jeopardize my ability to fight in November. I returned home to spend time with my newborn son and watch some of my teammates compete in a World Series of Fighting event later that night.
While watching the fights and a Boston College football game, it became increasingly harder to focus on what was in front of me. I have very good eyesight. However, it was taking longer for the blurs and lights to go away as I watched on TV. As time passed, I became more mindful of the vision problems I was experiencing and I began to think about the fortunes of a fighter I share the same initials with: TJ (Thomas Joseph) Grant. Once a former top lightweight contender, TJ now works in potash mines in Saskatchewan, Canada. While working a “real” job is a fine way to make a living, I long ago decided that I have no desire to go back to that world.
I grew up as a fervent professional wrestling fan, and my UFC introduction was as a 10-year-old watching UFC 2 on a VHS tape at a friend’s house. As I grew older, I was more than an avid fan. I was in high school and my spare time was filled with activities that no teenage male likes to admit in public: playing wrestling video games and competing in E-feds. But it wasn’t just the easily accessible WWE, WCW, and ECW stuff I was watching. At the time, UFC was hardly a household name. Not easily found on PPV and relegated to tape trading, the UFC had a future that was uncertain at best.
But in Japan, the stakes were just raising and I was ordering events like RINGS Kings of Kings ’99 and Pride 8 through Internet websites. As if that wasn’t enough, I would even go to such great lengths as staying up until 4 AM to read people type results in ICQ chat rooms as they watched the events live!
I’ve had what some would say is a successful career in the UFC. As of today, I hold a UFC record of 6-4. Two of those losses are somewhat controversial split decisions, I lost to a grizzled veteran in his home country, and I was soundly defeated by the current 185-pound champion in minutes. But to me, I am both a success and a failure. The young boy that I once was, the onne that still resides in me, is happy and ecstatic for me every time I get to drive to the gym to twist, wrench, and wreck my body for the next two hours.
But the adult who has just watched the birth of his first child can’t help but feel as if there isn’t enough money for the future.
Fortunately (and I truly do thank them for this), the UFC has been generous to me with performance bonus money which has allowed me to continue living this dream for the past seven years. Like most dream sequences that seem too good to be true, now is not the time that I want to wake up and live in the “real” world. Unfortunately for now, there is a constant headache that has woken me up long enough to be advised not to compete due to a concussion suffered from the previously-mentioned head crash.
There is no doubt in my mind that three weeks ago, whoever votes in the UFC rankings finally had it right, and I was listed amongst the top fighters in the world. I also realize that by fighting in this state, I risk my future ability to continue climbing those ranks, which would finally serve both masters (my young and adult selves) adequately. With more wins comes greater compensation, and the birth of my son has finally given my adult self the motivation that was needed to turn that sense of failure into one of success.
I just traveled a long two years off to come back, score a win over a top 15 fighter, and earn a Performance of the Night award on July 25th in Chicago, IL. But that was never the goal; the goal was always to keep living that young boy’s dream. To raise my hands, hear the roar of the crowd, and become intoxicated in the moment. It is a moment that it is unforgettable, surpassed only by the unexplainable joy that seeing your son or daughter for the first time can provide. It seems as if now my life revolves around the dreams about this sport that I had as a young boy and the dreams that I possess for one’s future. And that is absolutely okay with me.
Next year will mark another return for me on the way to a longer and more productive career because of this decision. My motivation for fighting will continue to grow, as will my skillset and understanding of life. It has to. I’d hate for my son to grow up and dare to live a dream because I set an example that resulted in having to stop living mine.
So in 2016, look for me to be back in the Top 15, beating Top 10 opponents, and proving to every young boy who has to watch the UFC behind his parent’s back and every adult that worries about their family that dreams can and do come true.