(Now that we’ve seen Gray’s sparring partners, his boast about having never lost a round in training seems a little less impressive.)
By Elias Cepeda for CagePotato.com
When Gray Maynard (9-0-1) got matched up with Roger Huerta last September, many picked the former Michigan State Wrestler to steamroll the cover boy and aspiring movie actor. And though Maynard clearly and cleanly won, it was a tough-fought decision victory.
Fortunately for the Xtreme Couture team member, he fully expected a hard fight from Huerta, even if others did not. “He can scramble really well, he’s good inside and he can box,” Maynard says. “You’ve got to give him more credit. He doesn’t quit so you know it’s going to be a tough one.”
The win was the undefeated lightweight’s sixth consecutive in the UFC and observers wonder how close Maynard is to getting a title shot. Despite one of the most impressive runs in the division and wins over other top guys like Frankie Edgar, the timing hasn’t quite worked out for Maynard yet and he’s yet to be booked for a championship bout.
He will, however, share top billing with Nate Diaz (11-4) Monday night as the main event of the latest UFC Fight Night on Spike. The fight is a rematch – sort of.
As members of the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter reality fighting series the two faced one another in an exhibition match not listed on their official records and Diaz beat Maynard. At the time, Maynard was new to MMA and essentially still just a wrestler.
He feels that both he and Diaz are entirely different fighters now, over two years later. “The TV show is a reality show but its anything but,” Maynard explains. “Who lives and trains with the guys that you are going to be going up against? Its weird. I don’t think that was the best Nate and the best me. It was maybe a blessing just because I knew where I had to go and what I had to do afterwards.”
What Maynard did was work on his weaknesses with some of the best trainers and fighters in the world in Las Vegas. His progress as a fighter has been evident, with improved submission defense and boxing skills.
Losing to Diaz spurred him on and helped Maynard work off of his self-appointed underdog role. “I always tell myself I’m the underdog; ‘you’ve got to train harder you’ve got to do more.’”
For a former wrestler nicknamed “The Bully,” Maynard has an ironically soft-spoken and humble way of talking about himself and fighting. Case in point is his constant deferential way of answering questions about his deserving a title shot.
When pressed, he admits that should he get past Diaz on Monday, he could be considered deserving of a date with champion BJ Penn. But the workman-like fighter only concedes that with a caveat.
“Yeah. I mean if Diego [Sanchez] had it in two then I could. But again, I gotta get past Nate. He’s a tough guy and whatever happens will happen. And I’m the type of guy where the boss is the boss and I kind of do what he tells me to. I just [know] that if I do what I need to, when it comes I’ll be prepared. That’s up to them. All I can do is my job, and that’s get ready to fight.”
Maynard is a company man and doesn’t want to seem demanding of his employers, but he also knows that Nate Diaz is damn good and a threat all fight long. All Maynard has to do is look at Diaz’s last fight where he was losing for two rounds against Melvin Guillard when the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ace snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a last minute submission.
“I see him as very tricky,” Maynard assesses. “He’s got good Jiu Jitsu. He’s a tough kid, has good cardio and he recovers quickly. He got dropped before but he recovered quickly. He’s just a dangerous guy. You have to have a good game plan and that goes for all of the top guys. You’ve got to have a good camp, a good game plan and be on point the night of. And you’ve got to be prepared to go three hard rounds.”
Maynard also has to be mentally prepared to put his friendly acquaintance with Diaz aside. The two got along on the TUF show and stayed in touch occasionally afterwards. Unsurprisingly, Maynard says that he’s up to that task, that he’s a pro and will do his job on fight night.
And if he beats Diaz Maynard may have to do that all over again right away. One of Maynard’s first MMA experiences came when he was brought in to help with a BJ Penn fight camp. Penn then coached Maynard on TUF 5 and the two have always seemed to be on good terms.
If and when Maynard’s title shot comes, and if Penn is still the man with the belt at that time, the contender says he won’t hesitate to fight tooth and nail to make his championship dreams come true. “I started wrestling when I was 3. You train with whoever but ultimately you owe it to yourself to achieve the ultimate goals. You just can’t step back and say, ‘well I knew him for a bit and we trained and whoever it is, so I’m not going to have the chance to achieve the ultimate goal that I’ve been training for my whole life,’” Maynard says.
“It’s a job and we’ve got to do our job.”