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Exclusive: Losses Haunt and Drive Gray Maynard Toward UFC Title


("I’ve been doing this too long to take things for granted. I’ve seen it happen too often where a guy loses and then comes back and wins." Photo courtesy of UFC.com)

By CagePotato.com contributor Elias Cepeda

There’s a fun game you can play with undefeated UFC lightweight Gray Maynard: Ask him to name, let alone talk about, someone he’s beaten. He can’t do it.

It should be easy for the #1 title contender — he’s had just eleven fights in his four-and-a-half year MMA career, and hasn’t lost a single one. He has many more wins to choose from if you include his entire amateur wrestling career that dates back to his childhood.

Still, as he sits during some downtime between training on the Saturday exactly two weeks before he will face UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar at UFC 125 in Las Vegas, Maynard’s brain freezes when asked about his wins. Gray isn’t difficult to speak with, and his mind is sound. It just works a bit differently than most of ours.

Ask Maynard who he’s lost to and he can rattle ten names off in a row. “People say, ‘oh, you’ve never lost.’ Sure I have. I’ve been in combat sports since I was a kid and have lost lots of times from when I was three all the way through college.”

Gray seems to remember every time he’s come up short on the mats — recalling even grade-school losses with gritted teeth. “They still irk me today,” he says.


Edgar and Maynard have already fought once before, in April of 2008, when “The Bully” dominated the now champion for three rounds, earning a unanimous decision victory. It’s an interesting balance that elite athletes like Maynard have to strike.

On the one hand, he counts simple confidence in oneself as even more important than strategy. “You can adjust a couple small things but you just have to be real confident in what you can do. That’s the best you can do,” he explains. On the other hand, Maynard’s got the obsession with losing and is never content to think of himself as a satisfied winner.

Edgar has looked sharp in shocking the world twice in his last two fights, back to back wins over all-time great BJ Penn, but it is still hard to imagine as an outside observer that he can avoid losing to Maynard in the same way he did last time. If Edgar has improved his footwork, jiu jitsu, wrestling and boxing, Maynard has certainly not appeared to remain stagnant in his development either.

Because of this, it can be easy to take for granted that after the first of January, Gray Maynard will be the new UFC lightweight champion. Maynard himself doesn’t sound worried about his chances against Edgar in talking matter-of-factly about his preparation. That’s the confidence, based on a life revolved around doing the little things every day correctly.

However, Maynard refuses to believe that he’ll have anything other than a brand new fight on his hands at UFC 125 against Edgar. Maynard brushes off the possibility of his being complacent going into the rematch.

“As far as that win, I did get that but it was two and a half years ago. That was over three days after it happened. I know it’s a new fight and I’ve prepared for a new fight. I’ve been doing this too long to take things for granted. I’ve seen it happen too often where a guy loses and then comes back and wins,” Maynard says.

It is clear that Gray sees himself as a blue-collar worker. “I love the challenge, I love to compete,” he says. “I didn’t get into this sport because I saw Chuck Liddell in a club with all kinds of crazy girls around him and thought that looked cool. I saw Matt Hughes with a belt and thought, ‘I can beat that guy, and I’ve never even done it before.’ Then I said to myself,’ who are you? Are you that guy who talks or are you going to try it out and put your money where your mouth is?’ That’s why I’m in this sport. I’ve never asked for an easy fight and I’ve never got one.”

It has been about two years since fans and observers began asking when Maynard would get a title shot. And it has been over a year and about two fights since he became the consensus number one contender.

But despite wins over Edgar, Roger Huerta and Nate Diaz, Maynard had to watch Edgar get the shot before him. Time and again in conversations over the last two years, Maynard has told me that he was content to train and fight and that someday the title shot would come, and that he would be ready then.

But what if it hadn’t? Fighting top-level fighters like Diaz and Kenny Florian is about the biggest risk to one’s status as the top contender as one can take. Maynard admits to getting nervous at times about the prospect of losing one of those fights, and then losing his title shot.

“I mean, stuff pops into your head — we’re all human. The key for me is thinking that it’ll happen and to just keep the goal, what I have to do today instead of what if I win or lose this one. That is thinking too far ahead. I’ve got to focus on every day,” Gray says.

Not living, thinking and training in the moment is the reason for what he seems to consider his biggest failure — not winning an NCAA national title. Maynard stepped on to the wrestling mats with his father Jan, a former Ohio state wrestling champion, at age three.

As he got older Maynard looked up to the mean and brutally effective styles of Tom and Terry Brands. Maynard dedicated himself to wrestling and knew, just knew, that one day he’d become a collegiate national champion.

And though he would become an All-American at Michigan State, Maynard never achieved the singular honor being a national champ. “In college I just concentrated on the NCAA championship — ‘ I’m going to get that.’ And days would fly by where I wasn’t concentrating on making the most of that day. After it all happened, to not have at least one national title…” Gray trails off before continuing.

“It was devastating. I mean, devastating. After that I thought to myself that I needed to re-evaluate what did to see what I did wrong, what happened. Obviously, there were lots of things but that was the main deal — I looked ahead way too far and so didn’t make the most of every day.”

That paradigm shift is how Maynard has stayed focused and improved every day and every fight moving, finally, to a lightweight world title shot. He isn’t exhaling yet, however, at simply being in a world championship fight.

As can be expected for a guy who is upset that he didn’t win “at least one national title,” not even becoming a world champion will satisfy Maynard. “My whole goal isn’t to just have a chance at [the title]. I want to get and I want to hold onto it for a long time,” he says. “I will not be happy until I have [the title] for a couple years.”

Maynard says that he still has about a week of very tough training left before tapering, making weight and resting momentarily before his fight against Edgar. The type of discipline world champion fighters have to keep is without peer.

Fighters have to oscillate between babying themselves — going to bed early, naps, icing injuries and getting sore spots massaged — and tearing their bodies down while pushing themselves to the brink of collapse and worse in training and bouts. Gray, the harsh self-critic, says that one positive characteristic he does have is his “will to win.”

However, as he expands on that trait it becomes clear that his motivation isn’t positive. “To go through a camp, eat smart, lose weight, to do all that and then just not go in there counting on a win, I don’t get it. I expect to win. I don’t understand going through all of this and losing,” he says.

“I love to win. I really hate to lose. The hate is probably more than the love.”

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northandclark- December 28, 2010 at 5:39 am
Good story.
Ruke Doufus- December 21, 2010 at 1:17 pm
Kali Maa....Kali MAA...KALI MAA!
Crackgibson- December 21, 2010 at 10:02 am
Holy schnikes - are those Mick Jagger's lips peeking out of the top of Maynard's shorts??
Dagnut- December 21, 2010 at 4:23 am
@ Big DaddyCane...how many amercian champs or contenders will you have with old Pride rules?
Get Off Me- December 20, 2010 at 2:44 pm
Caption Contest entry:
"Lay and Pray meets State of Play"

Alsp Diaz did beat that guy twice in my books. If Gray beats Edgar, I will put my house up that Pettis finishes him when they fight.

I miss Skelator's take on Elias's articles too.
BigDaddyCane- December 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm
Sorry to burst everyones bubble including grey and the writers but........................................ wen grey said he hasnt lost since college or whatever he is wrong. I seem to remember him get FINISHED on TUF by nate diaz, then i watched him get outboxed by nate diaz when they fought last time. He got handed a split decision because dana and the ufc brass want to promote this "blue collar" randy coture type guy because thats what sells. i understand that and its a smart business move in that regard. BUT nate diaz OWNS maynard and maynard knows that its written all over his face every time nates name is mentioned. What the ufc should do though is get rida these athletes and re in state the old pride rules. Everyone says why arent the ufc fights or any promotion as good and violent of fights as the ol PRIDE days?????????...............hmmmmmm thats not hard to answer, they MADE U FIGHT there was no stalling and just being okay with grinding out a decision by laying on top content with not doing much. And beleive me its not their fault, they just wanna win and make money. Its on the UFC to make that decision and give us fans some real fights. If DANA white ever gets this comment or anyone forwards it to him, hey dana im calling you out, you dont think the real people that have fought before dont notice your antics, the way you guide certain fighters up the ranks and the FAKE fights, if you cant notice some fights are FIXED either you never fought before or your very NAIVE. Watch the last WEC event, the pettis henderson fight was obviously fixed and i knew that was gunna happen before the fight started based on his MTV popularity. Then wen i watched it, it was even worse to watch, if you dont beleive me watch it again SLOWLY and notice how they never "WENT FOR IT". It looked like a sparring match to me. Same with the CRUZ fight, watch it slowly! That goes for alot of ufc fights to, i would say one in every ten fights in the ufc is fixed. Anyways com on DANA let us see some real fights not just athletes laying and roling around with eachoteher, REINSTATE THE OLD PRIDE RULES PLEASE!
just some dong- December 20, 2010 at 10:43 am
Fuck he's ripping his heart out! Shouldn't have chugged all that mushroom tea.
Goog- December 20, 2010 at 9:41 am
The Bully has what looks like a pretty puffy camel-toe at the top of his lat. Hope that doesn't hinder him come fight night.
RSparrow- December 20, 2010 at 9:29 am
Bro, do you know what he's gone through to get that surfboard?
BalkanToni- December 20, 2010 at 9:20 am
"Gray, the harsh self-critic, says that one positive characteristic he does have is his willingness to help insomniacs like myself find peace in sleep's gentle arms."
Dagnut- December 20, 2010 at 9:12 am
It maybe boring but it's up too other fighters to overcome his style....until we get a 155'er who can really throw hands I don't see either him being beaten..I think he'll handle Edgar
Anhonestmoose- December 20, 2010 at 8:59 am
"kiss my ring"
Elias- December 20, 2010 at 8:48 am
It is captivating, Dan
danomite- December 20, 2010 at 8:41 am
Elias, I can't think of anything funny for this picture as I am too busy staring at that tattoo of a Panther riding a surfboard on Edgar's back.
Elias- December 20, 2010 at 8:36 am
danomite, don't talk about it, be about it! Get an unofficial alternative caption contest going started, homie
eatSHITdie- December 20, 2010 at 8:35 am
So it's Monday morning and all the faithful CP readers are tuning in to see what they have in store for us to start off our week. Elias Cepeda on Gray Maynard? What the fuck! As boring as this guys writing style is (and CP knows how we feel about him) you would really assign him Gray Maynard? You guys are enablers and just as much to blame as Elian Gonzales himself.
danomite- December 20, 2010 at 8:25 am
This article is as boring as a Gray Maynard fight.



(just kidding, but we're already 5 comments in to a Elias Cepeda article and no one's busting his balls yet. Someone had to do it)


Also,
Worst.
Caption.
Ever.
LOKI- December 20, 2010 at 8:22 am
You dont actually expect me to read all that shit do you? For fuksakes man its Gray Maynard.

He makes the 'Master Weight' boring.
mahlbawlz- December 20, 2010 at 8:17 am
it makes sense ruke. anderson had his terrible facial hair for the sonnen fight too.
Fried Taco- December 20, 2010 at 8:16 am
What about the hair down there?
Ruke Doufus- December 20, 2010 at 8:01 am
less hair = more better!

Reverse Sampson effect. Clay Guida - will never get the strap. GSP - best 170'er of "all times". Brock Lesnar grows a beard = chin being exposed. I could go on...

Gray Maynard wins by manscaping!
Negativecreep0- December 20, 2010 at 7:57 am
these two guys are like watching kids fight in a school yard, they are boring whoever wins this fight we the fans lose..... bj was a better more exciting champion..... and I enjoy drinking coke 0.... i mean come on zero calories!
mahlbawlz- December 20, 2010 at 7:36 am
I love kittens!
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