Martin Grandmont – Waiting for the Hammer to Fall
On the evening of September 28th, 2007, Martin Grandmont confidently stepped into the cage for TKO 30’s main event. Standing across from him was the reigning champ Sam Stout, whose perfect 10-0 promotional record had already gotten him a few fights in the UFC. Coming off a loss, Stout returned to Canada to defend his belt.
Despite being a mediocre 5-3, Grandmont was on a two-fight win streak at the time, having quickly established himself as one of Canada’s premier Lightweight strikers.
With feverish anticipation, Quebec and Ontario MMA fans awaited a stand-up war between the popular kick-boxers. The two had already met as amateurs, Stout coming away with a close decision.
More than a belt was on the line here. The winner was virtually guaranteed a ticket to the UFC. Would the rising Drummondville prospect prevail, or would it be the Team Tompkins prodigy?
From the opening horn, the lanky Grandmont put his reach advantage to work, repeatedly landing bombs on the counter as Stout attempted to close the distance. His game plan was working. While Stout’s famously granite chin kept him in the game, Grandmont’s offense was openings cuts under his eyes. The Bell Centre crowd, 7000 strong, was soon chanting the hometown favourite’s name.
With momentum on his side, Grandmont got careless. Over-confident even, his coach would later say. Abandoning the script, he came forward to throw a left. Sensing an opening, Stout leaned in, and unleashed his signature ‘hands of stone’ with a powerful overhand right.
In the blink of an eye, the fight was over. Connecting squarely with Grandmont’s jaw, the punch sent the challenger crashing to the ground – a knockout, three minutes into round one.
In that moment, more than Grandmont’s shot at the UFC flew out the window. “I have no memory of the 15 minutes after he hit me,” he now admits. Stout returned to the big leagues a few months later and never looked back.
Four years on, Grandmont (11-5) still sounds haunted by the loss. Asked about the effect it had on him, he sighs wearily before beginning to answer. “I was depressed,” he says. “It was a huge disappointment to have put that much energy into preparation for the result I got. I had trouble training as hard again for fights after that.”
This Friday, Grandmont returns on Instinct MMA’s main card near Montreal to face off against William Sriyapai (12-5), a 39 year-old muay thai specialist from California. It’s Grandmont’s first bout in over a year. He’s one of a handful of fighters banking on the hope that a reunion with former TKO promoter Stéphane Patry will get their careers back on track.
Over the last few years, Grandmont has been drifting. His last six fights have been spread across an equal number of promotions. PFP, W-1, UGC, Ringside, MFL, Wreck – nothing has stuck. But for the ‘Hammer’, lack of direction is nothing new.
Growing up an hour-and-a-half east of Montreal, Quebec, Grandmont had a rough go of it. “I fought a lot as a kid,” he says. “I was in foster homes from six until ten, then in a juvenile detention centre from about 14 to 17.” Soon after he got out, kick-boxing came to him.
“I was managing a bar back then,” recalls Yanick Bergeron, his long-time coach in Drummondville. “Martin would come in with his friends and I noticed he seemed more serious than the rest of them. I got to know him and hired him to work security. Soon after, I began training him.”
A natural on his feet, Grandmont compiled an amateur record of 10-5, finishing that portion of his career with six straight wins and a Canadian kick-boxing title. It was during that time that Bergeron christened him the Hammer, for his powerful fighting style.
Making his pro MMA debut in 2005, he started out going 3-3. A pair of submission losses and a Chris Clements ground-and-pound finish pointed Grandmont to the fact that his ground game was lacking. At the time, Drummondville was still mostly a kick-boxing town. The importance of wrestling and jiu-jitsu was only gradually coming.
Nonetheless, Grandmont’s popularity was growing. Bergeron knew why. “Martin has great stand-up,” he says. “He’s heavy-handed, and he’s never afraid to go to war. Opponents usually want to stay back, because they know they’ll have to suffer to hurt him.”
In 2007, things finally began coming together for the Hammer. “It was a year where I had the means to dedicate myself one-hundred per cent to the sport,” he says. Wins against Dave Pariseau and Tyler Jackson in the TKO promotion led him to the Stout fight.
The devastating loss necessitated time off. “I got in my car and just drove off,” he says. “I visited towns across Canada. It helped me lighten up a bit when I got back to training, so I could try to have a bit more fun and find my motivation again.”
He returned for one more fight with TKO, but the promotion soon after closed in late 2008. It was then that the instability began. Taking fights on short notice became the norm.
“After TKO, there weren’t really any serious promotions to offer me long term contracts,” explains Grandmont. “I sat down with a few of them, but I was always waiting for a fight here, a fight there. When it’s like that, it’s hard to keep your routine.”
It was a frustrating situation. “What happens is, you’re not really prepared, then suddenly you get called with an offer,” he says. “You need money, so you want to accept it, but you’ve only got three-four weeks to prepare. So you try to do it at an accelerated rate, but then you often end up injuring yourself, or overstressing about the quality of your training and preparation. The result is your quality of performance varies quite a bit.”
Despite the difficulties, Grandmont won six of his seven post-Stout match-ups. Most significant was a March 2009 finish of future UFC fighter Mark Holst at W-1’s first event. Though he faced difficulty early in the fight, Grandmont soon adjusted. “I realized he was getting the better of me,” he says. “The second time he took me down, I was a little shocked. So I had to break out of character. My kicks weren’t fast enough, so I decided to utilize my boxing.”
Four minutes into the fight, during an exchange, Grandmont flattened Holst with a left, sending him straight to the mat. Sensing the finish, Grandmont lived up to his name, raining down a huge hammer fist from his feet to emphasize the point, before the referee stepped in.
His next big fight, as a late replacement against Kurt Southern at Ringside 5, came ten months later on less than two weeks’ notice. The Saskatchewan fighter made quick work of Grandmont, choking him out in less than three minutes. “I’ve had losses, where I at least knew I’d tried,” says Grandmont. “I think that was the worst performance of my career. It was bad preparation. I feel like I just took the fight to get paid.”
A hard-fought win the following month against Sebastien Guargier would be his last attempt to fight at Lightweight. “I missed weight on that one, came in at 158,” he says. “I’m getting older. Cutting 25-30 pounds was getting unpleasant enough for it not to be worth it. No question, my opponents are bigger when I show up now at Welterweight. I try to compensate with speed. I’m stuck between weight classes, but I can at least fight now without being drained.”
His last fight came at Wreck MMA, in August 2010, where he decisioned Toronto’s Markhaile Wedderburn. A bout the following month at MFL 3 fell through at literally the last moment, when opponent Jesse Liaudin pulled out due to sickness. “I was about to enter the cage when they told me,” says Grandmont. “I’d been hospitalized for my tonsils before the fight, but I was ready to go.” The pull-out was another disappointment for Grandmont, who lost a chance to face a UFC veteran.
Fed up with the inconsistency, Grandmont decided to step back. “I took a year off to go back to school and study stonecutting,” he says. “I was looking for something I could do after fighting. Trying to earn a living off of MMA in Quebec is very hard.”
“All the contractual and promotional nonsense finally caught up with me,” he adds. Money was a key issue. “I wanted to be paid a certain amount, and I wasn’t going to fight for less. I had to work and study, so with bouts, I would have to take time off to prepare. I was at a point where I’d probably be losing money if I took a bout.”
A possible Canadian superfight at Wreck against Jordan Mein in 2011 fell through for familiar reasons. “I pulled out of it,” says Grandmont. “I wasn’t ready. I took that one on two weeks’ notice.”
A chance for a bigger showcase at Casino Rama’s Bellator 47 event in July again didn’t work out. “They offered me a really good contract to face Ben Saunders,” says Grandmont. “A week after I signed it, they called to tell me he was injured. They offered me another fight, but at half the money. I didn’t think it was cool, so I said no.”
Today, Grandmont realizes what’s been missing for much of the time. “My problem has been finding people capable of structuring my career, taking care of it, promoting me,” he says. “Basically a manager, who could find me sponsors and get my name out. As a fighter, I don’t have time to be responsible for all of that myself, on top of working and studying. I still don’t have a manager, so I’ll only earn my salary this fight. It’s frustrating that no one wants to advertise with me at this point. Hopefully if I re-establish my presence on the scene it’ll help.”
Bergeron agrees that it’s been hard for Grandmont. “Martin was always ready to go,” he says. “We were all over. He never signed an exclusive contract. He probably would have liked that, if an organization had taken him under their wing and pushed him upwards.
Grandmont is now hoping to finally get back to where he was that fateful night in September 2007. “I have the motivation to give it another shot,” he says. He now also puts in time at Tristar.
The three-fight offer from Instinct MMA felt right for Grandmont. “Patry’s giving me good visibility, paying me what I’d wanted, and already has future dates set for the next events,” he says. “I now have a contract, I know when my fights are, and so I can prepare myself accordingly.”
Bergeron, who’s helped prepare him for Friday, says things have been going well. “He’s really serious now,” says the coach. “He knows he’s got a good opportunity here. We’ve been training intensively for a few months now. We’ve rarely been able to do that in the past. He knows he has to give everything.”
Now 29, Grandmont realizes he doesn’t have forever. “My dream is to fight at least once in the UFC, before the end of my career,” he says. “I want to be able to tell myself that all this work over the years hasn’t been for nothing.”
*** All photos by Mike Fischl