(What no one told Gray Maynard about the UFC’s locker room bonuses is that if you win in spectacular fashion, you get a big check. But every time you notch a plodding decision, you get stuck with another orphan.)
A Gray Maynard fight is a little but like a Michael Bay movie. You always know exactly what you’re going to get, and even though it isn’t anything that’s going to change your life, it’s still not a terrible way to spend a Wednesday night if you go into it with the right attitude. What Maynard showed once again against a game Roger Huerta is that he’s patient. He said his plan was to move in and throw no more than two punches at a time before getting out, and that’s what he did. He wanted to avoid getting into a shootout with Huerta, and he was successful. In short, Maynard fought the smartest fight he could in order to guarantee victory. So why does the possibility of him getting a title shot seem more like a threat than a hopeful promise?
It’s simple, really, and the answer lies with Nate Quarry, who also won a decision on last night’s Fight Night card, pocketing a Fight of the Night bonus in the process. As Quarry said in his pre-fight comments, you don’t become a legend by winning decisions. Unless, as was the case in his bout with Credeur, those decisions come at the end of a back-and-forth slugfest. The point is, nobody likes to see a fighter play it safe. Limiting yourself to two-punch combos may be a great way to limit the possibility of being caught with a good counter, but it’s a horrible way to make fans excited about seeing you fight, which is exactly what Maynard himself said is standing in between him and a potential title shot.
See, there’s a disconnect between the two mentalities that UFC competition breeds. On one hand, there’s always a spot for an exciting fighter, and it’s the exciting guys who tend to get the title shots even if they haven’t strung together more than a handful of wins in a row. But being exciting means taking chances, which means gambling with your job and your win bonus. That’s guaranteed money, don’t forget. Just like it’s guaranteed that the UFC won’t cut you after a loss.
To understand why Maynard fights so conservatively, go back and listen to Tim Credeur’s post-fight speech. He put on a hell of a show, was one half of the Fight of the Night, and lost his first UFC fight, in part because he continued to open himself up for counters when he had Quarry in trouble. So why did he spend much of his interview time with Kenny Florian practically begging not to be cut?
To his credit, last night Maynard came about as close to finishing an opponent as he has in several fights. If it wasn’t for Huerta’s freakish flexibility or pain tolerance (after seeing his shoulder blade poke out of his back like a bad Hollywood special effect I’m still not sure which played the greater role), that kimura would have put him away and broke Maynard’s decision streak.
But the fact that Maynard goes into a fight looking to avoid a “crazy war,” while Quarry shows up looking to avoid a boring decision, that should tell us something about the difficult balance between two entirely separate fighter mentalities. Both have their drawbacks, which anyone who saw Quarry’s face or Maynard’s wallet after last night should know. You can fight to avoid risk or you can fight to entertain, but it’s very difficult to do both.
Maynard’s tried one. If he wants to be a champion and a legend of the sport – both of which he has the talent and the drive to be some day – he’s going to need to give the other a shot, and soon.