This is a guest feature by Duane Finley.
UFC number one lightweight contender Gray Maynard is a quiet storm. A force of nature, fierce, violent and despite every opponent's preparation there has yet to be one who has figured out how to stop him. An elite list of victims line his resume and while every fighter takes a different road, Maynard has cut his path through rock and bone taking on the division's best while keeping his perfect record intact. His most recent victory came over perennial contender Kenny Florian as Maynard battered and punished "Kenflo" in front of his hometown crowd at UFC 118.
Known as one of the most successful finishers in the sport, Florian was left trigger shy when facing Maynard's versatility as Gray kept him consistently off balance and out of range. The victory in Boston earned Gray Maynard the right to fight for a title he has envisioned for years and when he steps in for his chance he will see a familiar face across the octagon in current champion Frankie Edgar.
"The Answer" has felt the power of Gray Maynard's relentless will and determination and in their first meeting Maynard over powered the previously unbeaten Edgar to win a unanimous decision victory. Now...after both men have continued to forge ahead towards the top of the division ultimately their paths will cross again at UFC 125 on January 1st in Las Vegas Nevada. For Gray Maynard that night will culminate countless hours of tireless dedication and with the fight less than two months away Maynard patiently awaits his opportunity. In his first interview since signing the championship bout Gray Maynard sat down with Duane Finley and in this Bloody Elbow Exclusive discusses what the opportunity to fight for the title means to him.
"I have been in camp going on six weeks. I hired a coach named Luke and he's the head strength coach for Jacksonville Jaguars. He also helps out (Jean) Pascal, who just defeated Chad Dawson. What he does is organize the camp and puts together a great plan for you as far as strength, conditioning and cardio. He helps bring it all into a solid camp and that's a big help. On paper it looks easy, jumping from camp to camp to do certain aspects of your training but it isn't. He took the reigns and made sure all of that was taken care of. Of course I have Gil Martinez as my coach so I have kept it pretty much all the same but I did add Luke and I think it'll pay off."
After a strong showing on the fifth season of "The Ultimate Fighter" Gray stormed onto the UFC scene in proper fashion with a lighting quick knockout of Joe Verdes. His momentum has not slowed as he has consistently faced the toughest in his division and with the title now in his sights everything is coming into focus.
"Obviously it means a lot. Mainly it's one step closer to the ultimate goal which is getting that belt and holding onto it. That's my goal. Maybe some people are happy just to have a chance at it but I'm here to win and here to hold onto it," Maynard said.
When Frankie Edgar upset B.J. Penn, who at the time was considered to be the best lightweight fighter in the world, the ranks of the division were shaken up. Edgar's repeat performance in Boston in addition to Maynard sending Florian back down the ladder further proved a changing of the guard was in process and a new era of lightweight was breaking through. When Edgar and Maynard meet again at UFC 125 the winner will not only emerge as the champion but may also carry the flag for the future of the division.
"I think it's going to be the new breed of fighter that emerges," Maynard replied. "It is a weight class that is more stacked than any division in the world...hands down guaranteed. The way I put it is that if you want to see a good fight watch us. Watch all of the top guys who are in this class. It is going to be the small things that will win because everybody is good in every area. It isn't like a group of the top four who are good it is the top twenty who are unbelievable. I think it's going to open people's eyes when they see us go in there for a three or five round war and there are a lot of talented guys. I welcome that...I appreciate that. It is what keeps me going everyday just knowing that there is competition. I'm pumped for it all, bring it on, come one come all and let's find out."
Every fighter gets to the top in a different fashion and for Gray Maynard he has certainly taken the path less traveled by. Amongst his ten victories he has defeated a Murderer's Row of contenders with names like Jim Miller, Kenny Florian, Frankie Edgar and Nate Diaz. Along the way and he has managed to do what few fighters have but some MMA critics have chosen to focus on the number of times he has gone the distance rather than the overall quality of the wins he has amassed.
"I catch a lot of flack because I have gone to decisions," Maynard stated. "They say "oh he doesn't have any knockouts or he doesn't' do this or that" but people who I have fought and beaten have all been in the top ten and nobody has really been cut and are still fighting. They bring up Kenny Florian and if you go through his past opponents a lot of guys have been cut and are not with the UFC anymore. Again...Kenny did a great job but I think I've been through the hit list and I did take on all the tough guys they could find. There's a lot of guys who have the KO's and tap outs but they are not in the Top 10. Once you get up to the top guys it is going to be a battle. I'm prepared for that. I enjoy that and of course I'm going for the KO or the submission but you have to stick to the game plan and just have to appreciate the war...and I do."
More from Gray Maynard in the full entry.
"I hope it is...I really do. I think deep down people appreciate that. You have the guys that want to hear the smack talk but a lot of people appreciate two athletes, who have given up a lot and have just worked their asses of to get where they are at. There is no trash talk that we have to do. It's already there, the blood, sweat and tears and it's an awesome thing. They (UFC) do a great job at promotion and that makes my job preparing for a tough scrap easier because I can concentrate on being the best that I can be come January 1st and not have to worry about hyping a fight."
In their first meeting Maynard overpowered Edgar with a superior wrestling game. Since suffering the only loss of his professional career Edgar has bounced back with a vengeance winning five straight with two of those coming against B.J. Penn. Maynard has been on a similar trajectory and while both men look similar on paper the outcome may be determined by intangibles.
"He's a little bit quicker, crisper but he hasn't changed up who he is," Maynard answered. "He hasn't changed how he scraps but he is more accurate and his movement is better. He has had tough fights against Penn, Hermes Franca, a lot of tough fights...and in the process you change up a little bit but he's still him and I'm still me. We are still the same and I plan on coming out of there with the win just like the last time. We are going to throw hands, go for what we can and I really think the fight is going to go all over the place. If it goes the distance I plan on every round going to me. If it happens to where there is an opening I'm going to take it. Whether it is the knockout or tap out I'm going to take it if it's there. I'm planning on a good fight but I will come out of there with the belt."
Maynard has never been a fighter to squander opportunity and all roads now lead to Frankie Edgar and the UFC Lightweight title on January 1st. A fighter who appreciates the intricacies of warfare and has a love for the scrap, Maynard took the final moments of the interview to thank a close knit group that has been with him every step of the way.
"I've had a group that has been with me on this long journey and I appreciate everyone. We are almost there but we still have a long way to go. I'm going to take that belt and hold onto it. I have a group that has stuck close for a long time and that means a lot. We have been through ups and downs but we stick together. I train hard and it's because of them. The gym, the people who surround me are what keeps me going because I do appreciate everything and it makes it a team thing. From the corners to the coaches it's all there with me in the cage and I can feel them with me when I'm in there. Right now the only thing that pops up is his face when I think about a fight. We are almost there and I'm getting that belt on January 1st."