It's hard to believe almost four years have passed since Gray Maynard's epic championship feud with Frankie Edgar. In 2011, Maynard and Edgar captivated the MMA world with their gripping back-and-forth two-part lightweight title skirmish. Since concluding their trilogy, Frankie Edgar has remained one of the top fighters in the world, while Maynard's UFC stock has nosedived into prelim territory.
Despite "The Bully's" fall from grace, the wrestling powerhouse looks to make amends and set things right in his preliminary clash with Alexander Yakovlev at UFC Fight Night 63 on April 4. The 35-year-old Maynard discussed his mindset with ESPN's Brett Okamoto heading into Saturday evening's contest:
I don't want to be the person that stayed too late, but also, as an athlete, I feel like I'm still there. Let's start putting it together. I've literally never given myself a chance. I want to give myself a chance."
Despite the competitor in Gray obviously yearning for the former glory of his prize-fighting championship days, Maynard's words portray a rather dejected athlete unsure of his fighting future. That's no surprise given the 155 lb'er is struggling to stay afloat the UFC's shark-tank of a lightweight division with three consecutive knockout losses.
Maynard is acutely aware of the brain and body traumas associated with prolonged exposure to the brutalities of mixed martial arts combat:
"There's life after this, and I've always known that," Maynard said. "I'm a realist that this isn't forever. People aren't going to be running up to me 20 years from now, asking for my autograph. That's not going to be making me money. You've got the pro athletes who are aware of that -- who know, 'I have to take care of my body and brain because I have to produce after this.' Then you've got the guys who say, 'F--- it.'
"The Bully" also reflected back on his departure from Xtreme Couture (which saw his plummet from stardom) and describes his indecisiveness of finding a new permanent home gym:
"When I go through it in my head, one thing that actually drove me out of Xtreme Couture was Edgar. His camp was so tight and organized. That week before we fought to a draw, I watched them the whole time. Everything was about him. I was talking to his boxing coach and he said, 'I'd die for Frankie.' I thought, 'Damn, that's a pretty tight team.' I guess I was in search of that. It was a lot of, 'I want to try this out, I want to try that out,'" Maynard said. "I wanted to try a sprint coach. I wanted to try a kickboxing coach. I was more of a guinea pig than anything, just trying a little bit of everything."
The NCAA Division I wrestling standout now returns to Xtreme Couture under the tutelage of longtime training figure Robert Follis in preparation for his UFC Fight Night tilt.
Perhaps we'll see the Gray of old stamp his authority in the Octagon on Saturday night, or perhaps Maynard's excessive fight mileage will mark the end of an honored UFC career.
(Transcripts via Brett Okamoto)