Twelve months ago it might have looked like Mike Grundy’s dream of breaking onto the biggest stage in MMA was out of reach.
He’d not fought for six months and was wrapped-up after having shoulder surgery. Four fights into his career, the potential roadblock looked as if it had come at a bad time.
But not to Grundy, who a year on is on the path to breaking into the UFC.
Later this month, the Wiganer and 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist in wrestling will fly out to Japan for his first MMA bout promoted by Shooto.
But more importantly, the fight with Japan’s Yutaka Saito will be screened on UFC fightpass, a live service for watching mixed martial arts.
And Grundy, who has made no secret of his aim to appear on the bill when UFC comes to London in March, hopes a fifth straight win will be his ticket to the big time.
“It’s a massive show in Japan and it’s franchised all over the world,” the 29-year-old told the Evening Post.
“It will be streamed live on UFC fight pass – so hopefully they will make the call from London in March.”
Grundy won all three of his fights in 2016, beating Marley Swindells with a unanimous decision in his comeback fight in May before taking care of Zsolt Fenyes and Daniel Vasquez, both by first round submissions.
And looking back to this time last year, Grundy is satisfied, if not surprised with, his progress.
“Even though I was injured I never took my eyes off the goal and I was always focused,” he said.
“I was doing something straight away after the op, one handed pads and leg work.
“I never took my eye off it.”
This year, the Team Kaobon fighter doesn’t have to wait long to climb back into the octagon, and he hopes the Japan fight on January 29 will be the first of a packed schedule.
“It’s an important one looking towards UFC,” he explained.
“We wanted the fight early so that if they do make the call on UFC I will be ready and will have six weeks to prepare.
“I’m on a four-fight streak, I want it to be five and only one went to decision and the rest were all first round submissions. I’ve made a statement.
“I’m right there and it’s very close.
“People are saying it and this is the most important fight of my career but there will be no extra pressure from me.
“Training has been very tough this last week but I will be as relaxed as I ever am.
“It’s a different territory and I usually have a lot of fans with me. This time I will just have my dad, coach and two mates. But the Japanese fans are very respectful.”
Although now looking to carve out the next chapter of his career in the octagon, Grundy’s foundations are in wrestling, a sport with a strong heritage in Wigan.
A coach at Team Kaobon across multiple disciples, Grundy credits his wrestling roots with equipping him with the tools to succeed in his next chapter. “I did three fights in six months last year which is a lot, but I’m used to that because wrestling is non-stop,” he said.
“Wrestling also gives you the work ethic and makes you mentally strong because it’s such a tough sport. It helps you bring all that to MMA and this is what people don’t understand. It’s a disciplined sport so it helps you in life.”