clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Behind the Scenes: UFC 125 With Gray Maynard, Roy Nelson and Xtreme Couture

They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas...unless we are talking about MMA. Sin City plays host to some of the biggest fights in the world and the New Year's Day event for UFC 125 started out the decade in proper fashion. The card was lined from top to bottom with action packed affairs but the fight that carried the most weight, came in the main event title bout between Gray Maynard and champion Frankie Edgar. Maynard was responsible for the sole loss of Edgar's career and their January 1st collision was supposed to resolve that matter completely. "The Answer" would either avenge the 2008 loss or Gray Maynard would continue his winning ways and exit the octagon as the new UFC lightweight champion.

As a writer who spends the majority of his time speaking with MMA's finest, when the opportunity arose for me to travel to Vegas for UFC 125 I jumped at the chance. Working for Bloody Elbow demands that we bring the most exclusive interviews and access to our faithful readers so when the Maynard camp opened up their doors and granted Bloody Elbow full access, I saw the chance to do just that. Despite a tremendous fear of flying I packed up the luggage and headed off to the desert oasis known as Las Vegas. Flying out of Indianapolis on New Year's Day was a treat unto itself but by the time the plane touched down in Vegas I was rolling full speed MMA. A quick check in confirmed Gray was in top shape and waiting for the fight so I quickly set up shop in my suite and hustled to get ready.

Anyone who has ever been in Vegas during a fight weekend knows the city pulses with pre-fight tension and energy. As the fastest growing sport in the world, mixed martial arts fever is everywhere. T-shirt clad fans wear their allegiance proudly so as I checked in with all necessary parties I drifted through swarms of Tapout and Dethrone wearing crazies, who were chomping at the bit for the action to get under way at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

As the sun tucked beneath the mountains that surround Vegas I received word the time had come for me to head over. When I reached Camp Maynard I found a pleasant surprise waiting for me. In the fight business there are egos and displays of bravado at every turn but I can honestly say amongst the circle of trainers, coaches and family that surround the former three-time All American, genuine hospitality is the one and only concern. I interviewed Gray several weeks back and as a consequence they decided to give Bloody Elbow readers a look inside. In no time at all the hospitality was on display and everyone was both welcoming and inviting. It was in this moment when I realized the very thing had been scratching at my brain. There is no secret that Gray Maynard has been criticized in the past and the only person who will ever change this stigma is Gray himself, but in a sport as complex as MMA, there is far more to the story than simple criticism can summarize. My job, for UFC 125, wasn't to write an article that would change any of these factors but there are a few things about Gray Maynard MMA fans should know.

As stated above, where other fighters are surrounded by business types who are looking for the next opportunity to push their fighter into the next lucrative deal, Maynard's inner circle is only concerned about his safety and happiness. For some this may be throw away information but for me it brought about a realization. Regardless of the billboard icons and divisional rankings that are attached to the fighters, waiting in the wings there are friends and family who only want the best for them. A group of people who are proud of the kid who has gritted his way from humble beginnings...who watched him grow from weekend wrestling tournaments as a boy to the man that was just about to fight for one of the most prestigious titles in the world. It brought a level of humanity to a sport that is often times labeled as barbaric and violent, and it certainly shucked aside any preconceived notions I had coming in. As the clocked ticked down closer to fight time I couldn't help but think at that very moment a group of people where sitting in a room hoping that Frankie Edgar would return safely to them.

By the time the fights got under way it was madness at the MGM. The undercard, while not making much of an impact on television saw the Josh Grispi hype bubble burst and fan favorites Marcus Davis and Phil Baroni take tough losses. As we know now, Baroni was released shortly after the event's conclusion and Davis got his walking papers today.

When the house lights dropped and the Zuffa logo blazed across the teletron the crowd in attendance shook the floor. From the jump the action delivered as fan favorite Clay Guida made a huge statement by defeating Japanese Superstar Takanori Gomi. Guida continued his string of strong performance as certainly rose his stock in the competitive waters of the UFC lightweight division. Up next the crowd turned a bit hostile was Dong Hyun Kim used his wet blanket approach to defeat Stockton bad boy Nate Diaz in a three round decision. I've never been one to critique a fighter's style as my primary function at Bloody Elbow is to bring interviews to the faithful, but every time I've seen Kim in the octagon he seems to make his living off of holding down talented fighters. In his post fight interview he mumbled something about GSP but I don't think Georges will be around the welterweight division by the time the "Stun Gun" re-energizes.

Following the beatings dished out by Thiago Silva and Brian Stann it was finally time for the main event of the evening to take center stage. After Gray made his way to the cage and Edgar completed his mad dash to the octagon there was no going back. We were all about to witness two fighters ready to make their play for the lightweight title. When the first round got under way Frankie immediately attempted to put his movement to use and as Gray stalked him around the ring the crowd held on waiting for that first major exchange. The pre-fight analysis figured the bout between Edgar and Maynard to be one of the most boring fights of the year but after Gray smashed Frankie with a huge punch that sent the champion flailing to the canvas the MGM Grand Garden Arena turned into bedlam. The fans in attendance jumped out of their seats and as Edgar spun and tumbled around the cage looking to survive the cheers deafened my ears. Edgar eventually was able to hold on long enough to survive the round and as Gray stood up to walk back to his corner I immediately saw flashes of Shane Carwin vs. Brock Lesnar in my mind.

In the days after the classic battle I've read every existing critique about how the first round played out and what should and shouldn't have happened. The one thing I can tell you is that Edgar was in limbo on at least two occasions during the melee. People can say what they will about Frankie not being hurt and how there is no way the fight should have been stopped but I watched as Frankie's eyes went blank after two big shots and fighters who are only mildly hurt don't appear to be wearing roller skates. Being a man who always gives credit where it is due: Edgar does posses the heart of a champion as he dug down and somehow found the will to continue deep inside of him.

The next four rounds played out as a back and forth flurry filled with stiff counter punches and powerful takedowns. Going into the fifth round it appeared to be anyone's game and without a clear winner in that final round I knew the judge's were going to have a difficult time making the call. In the back of my mind I wondered if the judge's were going to employ two rarely used aspects of the 10 point must system and issue a 10-7 in the first or a 10-10 for the fifth. Neither is ever utilized but in this current trend of MMA judging fiascos I couldn't help but wonder. Surely the Edgar contingency could make a case for their champion winning rounds two and four while Maynard claimed the first and the third. I looked over to Maynard's corner and they appeared confident a new lightweight champion was going to be crowned and when I shifted over to Edgar's corner, despite their post fight trademarked hoisting celebration, Frankie just didn't look positive he would be taking that belt home with him. When the decision was read and the draw issued I did my best to note the mixed emotions that poured down from the stands. Despite the apparent division between the capacity crowd, I knew they would at least go home knowing they had witnessed one hell of a fight between two men who stepped into the octagon and put it all on the line.

Shortly after the main event ended I ran into MMA veteran Frank Trigg and one of the top striking coaches in the fight game Shawn Tompkins. Trigg is well known for his sharp sense of humor and he lived up to the billing by giving me grief about Bloody Elbow looking for his reaction so quickly after the fight. Once the laughter subsided, Trigg explained he felt Maynard took the fight. He said he could have seen the fight stopped in the first but even though Edgar bounced back Trigg gave Maynard rounds three and five. Trigg has trained with Gray at Xtreme Couture and wanted it known that he was proud of the performance Gray displayed at UFC 125.

Tompkins, on the other hand, held a different opinion. Tompkins gave the fight to the champion Frankie Edgar as he thought Edgar showed tremendous heart by bouncing back from a devastating first round and being able to get back to his game plan. Tompkins felt that Frankie's movement and boxing were the key factors and the fact he was able to get solid takedowns should have been enough to take the bout. Before parting ways I complimented Trigg on his trucker-like endurance as he called the Dream New Year's Eve card in Japan and while Trigg was accepting of the compliment he said the true endurance came in calling the 28 fights they didn't show on HDNet.

After the post-fight presser I caught up with Gray Maynard. While bothered the fight ended in a draw his easy going nature helped him set it to the side for the time being. Despite the original announcement that Pettis would face Edgar, UFC President Dana White called to say the previous announcement was scrapped and that Gray vs. Frankie 3 would be a top priority in 2011. Upon hearing the news Gray, knowing that he would get another chance to claim the title, immediately switched out of fight mode.

I sat down with Gray two hours after the five round battle with Edgar and away from the hustle and bustle of his after party celebration, he discussed his thoughts on the what had taken place just hours before.

"When I caught him with that punch it was one of those feelings," Maynard stated. "Sometimes you land a hard shot just right and it feels like it just goes through your opponent. I saw his face when it happened and I knew he was hurt bad. I thought for sure it was going to be stopped but that's my job, you know? So I just kept punching and honestly kind of punched myself out. I said it before and I'll say it again...Frankie is a tough kid, you know? But if you are asking me if I felt it should have been stopped in the first round I will honestly tell you I think it should have. After it went to the second round I got it out of my mind and got back to work."

Maynard continued, "I thought I took rounds 1, 3, and 5 but I guess they didn't see it that way. I'm happy we are going to get to do it again but for now I'm going to take some time off and then we will get back to it."

When I asked Gray about the bout possibly being the fight of the year he laughed, "Well there are 364 more days left so we'll have to see about that one."


Gray and I sat and conversed for a bit and after Tyson Griffin, Martin Kampmann and Jay Heiron stopped by to congratulate him on a job well done as I watched as Maynard fell back into the comfort of friends and family. Despite coming through a fast paced battle the only visible damage came in the form of a small cut below his right eye and some general soreness. I found it amazing he had sustained such little damage despite the intense output displayed by both fighters. With the clock wearing thin and my jet lag settling I bid the Maynard camp farewell for the evening and once again marveled at Gray's condition after such an exciting fight.

The following day's journey took me far from the glitz and glamour of the Vegas strip as I was invited to attend the post-fight luncheon. Gray and I talked a bit more about the fight and ever the gentleman he took the time to give a full post-fight interview. I was also able to catch some free time with striking coach Gil Martinez and for his post-fight critique and assessment. Just as the night prior many of Gray's friends and teammates showed up to provide their support including Mike "Quicksand" Pyle whose most recent performance resulted in a three round domination of young Brit John Hathaway. Up next for Pyle will be fellow submission ace Ricardo Almeida. Once the party came to a close we loaded up into Gray's car and during out 20 minute drive back to the hotel we discussed "boring vs. exciting" fights. Maynard shook his head in disbelief about how fans like to jump on this notion that he is a boring fighter.

"Every fighter is different and there is something in each fight for every different kind of fan," Maynard stated. "If you are going to go in there and just throw punches then good luck but how many guys win that way? That's why I don't get worked up about it because all I care about is scrapping. Whether it a grinding fight on the canvas or we are boxing it just doesn't matter to me. I'm going to worry about winning fights. That's what I've done and will continue to do."

The following morning my access continued as I was invited out to Xtreme Couture to watch the early workout sessions. After entering the building I exchanged pleasantries with Vitor Belfort who is preparing for one of the year's most anticipated fights when he faces the longest reigning champion in UFC history Anderson Silva at UFC 126. After making my way past "The Phenom" I took a quick stop to watch recent Bellator signee Jay Heiron and Martin Kampmann as they started their warm up. "The Hitman" is preparing for his March 3rd bout against former TUF winner Diego Sanchez so it was no surprise to see two thick necked animals throw Kampmann in the gauntlet and take their turns at trying to take him down.

As I made my way towards the very back of the gym I was once again greeted by Frank Trigg. For my sake I was thankful he was in the middle of a striking workout so he couldn't return to the ribbing he gave at the MGM. After watching "Twinkle Toes" do his thing I made my way back to where UFC Hall of Fame fighter Randy Couture was in the middle of his first striking session since agreeing to face former lightweight champion Lyoto Machida. I watched Couture cut around the ring like young man for several rounds and when the timer sounded it was obvious he could have gone another ten or twelve more. With the work out complete I walked up the cage stairs and popped my head into the octagon. Couture and Martinez were chatting about some last minute details of the day's work out. After the handshakes and well wishes Martinez confirmed that Couture was in his pre-training camp build up. He also added that Randy was still holding the extra mass from his movie role build which has him a bit larger than normal but before parting ways Couture gave his blessing for me to poke my head around the facilities.

After logging several hours at Xtreme Couture I circled back towards civilization in order to make my afternoon date with UFC heavyweight Roy "Big Country" Nelson. I've interviewed Nelson a number of times over the years so when I finally got out to his neck of the woods he offered to give me the five star Vegas tour. As I stood out in the hotel pick-up/drop-off area and exchanged small talk with the valet attendant, the look on his face turned priceless when a huge white Cummings diesel pick up wheeled in. I bid the valet farewell and climbed up into Nelson's truck ready to see what existed outside of the Vegas strip.

On the drive "Big Country" and I discussed the finer points of Saturday night's card. His tone was naturally bittersweet as he was originally slotted to face former Interim champion Shane Carwin in the co-main event slot. An injury to Carwin in addition to the current contractual situation Nelson finds himself in caused the UFC to scratch the fight entirely. As the topic of the contract ordeal popped up Nelson was hopeful that the entire ordeal would be wrapped up in the near future and he could get back to doing what he loves.

Nelson then turned the discussion back to UFC 125 and the main event bout between Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar. Those who follow Nelson on Twitter know that he called the fight a draw before the judge's ever made their announcement and during our discussion Nelson confirmed his excitement for a third bout and said that both fighters proved some of their critics wrong.

With the Vegas strip far behind us Nelson pointed out some of the funnier aspects of "old Vegas" along the way and after a half hour of cutting jokes with one of the funniest characters in the business it was time to go to work. Nelson allowed me to sit in for his training session with two up and coming fighters R.J. Richter and Jose Salgado. While the fighters were warming up Nelson invited me to participate and since I hadn't done an ounce of exercise since leaving home I decided to give it a go. Fast forward 20 minutes and yours truly was locked tightly into an armbar tapping like Sammy Davis Jr. I've never practiced jiu-jitsu a day in my life but I'm familiar with the terminology so when Nelson told me he was going to teach me how to perform several variations of the armbar with your opponent in the guard I was like a kid in a candy store.

After covering several of the basics Nelson taught me how to isolate the arm and use my legs to set up the table. After maneuvering my hips and using my outside leg to chop in I had R.J. where I needed him to be. Nelson then showed me the final step to what he calls the "Las Vegas Slot Machine" where after you use your outside leg to chop and squeeze, your left leg that was holding off his forward pressure gets swung out which uses your opponent's own momentum against him and before he hits the mat he taps without me ever having to lift my hips. After allowing me to do this several times, Roy had me switch places with R.J. so that he could show an advanced variation of the move and being a quick study and strong as an ox, R.J. planted all 220 lbs. of my frame on the mat and once again it was on with the tapping.

For the next hour I watched as Nelson worked the two young fighters into shape. I've heard stories throughout MMA lore about big named fighters choking out up and comers as a rite of passage ala Mike Swick and Frank Shamrock, but watching Nelson educate two young fighters gave me another perspective. After Roy finished with R.J. and Jose he moved on to a few extra drills that focused specifically on his speed and agility. For a heavyweight who is known to have an unorthodox build, Nelson moves like a linebacker. During his fight with Junior Dos Santos, Nelson suffered an injury to his knee that required surgery. After a successful rehabilitation Nelson was able to recover and after the tough work out he assured me that all was well.

When the training session concluded we grabbed a bite to eat where we talked about Overeem vs. Duffee, Junior Dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez and Jean Claude Van Damme movies. While the first two topics went smoothly, when the discussion moved from JDS to JCVD there were several tense moments. Ultimately we agreed to disagree but I'll hold Blood Sport as my personal favorite even in the face of the ever imposing Nelson.

With my flight back to Indianapolis being the red eye, Nelson swung me back down to the glitz and the glamour of the strip. I thanked him for taking the time to show me a few tools of his trade and upon departure I wished him the very best in his current situation. Nelson expressed optimism that everything was going to work out for the best and reconfirmed he was ready for whoever the UFC threw at him in 2011. After jumping down the six feet out of his pick-up truck I bid Roy Nelson farewell and watched as "Big Country's" mullet blew in the wind as he rounded the corner and out of the madness that is the Vegas strip.

With only three hours to get all of my gear packed up I put my priorities in check and decided to sit down and pump out this article. It had been a long four days in Las Vegas but I came out here with a mission: to make sure Bloody Elbow readers would get an inside look at some of the most exclusive content in MMA. So after attending UFC 125, spending two days with Gray "The Bully" Maynard and getting tapped out by Roy Nelson I'm looking forward to a long flight home.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bloody Elbow Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your MMA and UFC news from Bloody Elbow