The second fight for UFC 160 happens to be a bout with title shot implications at 155. A few years ago, these would not have been names you'd picture on a list of challengers.
Gray has led an interesting career, starting with a very limited skillset, only to become a title contender without really developing his all around game. It's quite amazing to think he only has one real loss, his guillotine defeat to Nate Diaz on season 5 of the Ultimate Fighter notwithstanding.
It certainly feels like Gray has lost more than he's won lately. In his last three fights, he's drawn with Frankie Edgar, lost to Frankie Edgar, and was awarded a decision more people would likely have a problem with if Clay Guida didn't suddenly start winning fights with a style that wouldn't be violent enough in a mosh pit.
And so that's the last memory fans and observers have of Maynard: with his hands down, egging Guida to punch him in the face because nothing is manlier, only to sprawl with his arms still down, showing us what a nesting doll looks like defending a takedown. It was the single best moment of the fight, unfortunately, but a nice gesture to the fans that Gray really does want to be loved in the end.
On the other side is the silent killer. Grant was always a solid fighter. At welterweight. At lightweight, he's managed to polish an already durable, versatile style into a war machine.
His last bout ended in a singularly brutal, systematic destruction against the very capable Matt Wiman with elbows that were just plain disgusting. And I don't mean "disgusting" as in "awesome". I mean disgusting, as in watching Wiman get torched like that made me physically nauseous. Just brutal.
With that said, how do these two match up?
What both men can do: Safe to say, elbows are one thing Grant does extremely well. He's a very well rounded fighter to say the absolutely minimum. He throws pretty swift punches, and obviously excels in close, where his elbows and knees have become his bread and butter.
Though he hasn't showed much on the ground during his UFC tenure, he's a skilled grappler. There's not much to say about Grant that hasn't already been said.
Same for Maynard. Gray is still a bruising wrestler. He doesn't have a unique, swift, or crafty shot, but what he lacks in agility he makes up for in sheer power. The reason Gray has stayed relevant despite still being fairly limited, is that he has improved his game on the ground. Nowadays you'll see him actively pass guard. Few remember how close he was to ripping Roger Huerta's shoulder off...though that probably had something to do with the fact being otherwise lackluster.
In addition, he's done a good job of getting comfortable with the fact that he has excellent raw power in his fists. He still mostly just throws an overhand right, but he's mixing in just enough strikes these days
What both men can't do: To that end, Gray still needs to sharpen his standup. It's a little telling that he's the only man to be knocked out by Frankie Edgar (though I feel like Edgar was always accurate enough to deserve at least one KO in his career, regardless of opponent). He still relies on his wrestling when he's not comfortable on his feet, and that make for predictability, which you don't want to be a habit against a cerebral fighter like Grant.
However, Grant's losses have traditionally come against fighters with stifling top control. He's shown himself to be somewhat susceptible to the overhand right, and he's not near as effective on the feet from a distance. This is why I lean towards Maynard. It's not the sexy pick I know, but Grant will be most effective in close, and Gray will have a much easier time getting takedowns if Grant decides that's his only mode of offense.
Not that this won't be nip and tuck. In fact, I'm expecting a controversial decision. But as much as I like Grant, I don't expect him to be as effective inside, which leaves Gray to stay in top control.
Prediction: Gray Maynard by Decision.