On November 30, Gray Maynard will meet Nate Diaz for the third time in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter season 18 finale card in Las Vegas. The fight will likely close the chapter between the two longtime lightweight contenders and for the winner, it could kick off another chase for the 155-pound crown in 2014. As we approach fight night, here’s a look at some of Maynard’s most defining battles…
June 23, 2007 - TUF5 Finale – NC2 Rob Emerson
Fresh from The Ultimate Fighter 5, Gray Maynard made it to the semifinals, but fell short against eventual series winner Nate Diaz. A shot to avenge that loss would have to wait, but he did want to make a better impression on fight fans in his UFC debut against Rob Emerson than he did on the show.
What He Said: “To tell you the truth, I thought I looked like crap on the show. The one fight against Brandon (Melendez), I don’t know what happened there, and I just couldn’t wait to get back in the gym and train. I was back in the gym a couple days after the show ended, and it just felt good to be back training right, and I can’t wait to get back in there and prove that I’m a lot better than I was on the TV show.”
What We Said: Gray Maynard saw an apparent victory get snatched away in his bout against TUF5 teammate Rob Emerson, with the lightweight bout being ruled a no contest in the second round.
Maynard dominated the bout with his ground attack, and by the end of the first round, Emerson limped back to his corner with injured ribs. Looking to end things, Maynard jumped right in Emerson’s face early in the second and picked him up for a thunderous slam.
Then things got cloudy, as Maynard put Emerson down hard on the canvas, prompting Emerson to tap out due to an aggravation of his rib injury. But after referee Steve Mazzagatti waved the bout off, apparently due to the tap, the verdict came back as a no contest, with the reasoning being that Maynard was knocked out by his own slam, rendering both fighters unable to continue.
“I know I wasn’t out,” said Maynard. “He tapped and I thought it was over.”
What It Meant: Despite the No Contest, Maynard couldn’t have had a more dominant performance. It was the kind of showing he needed to get the bad taste of the TUF experience out of his mouth, and if not for bad luck, he would have immediately been 1-0 in the UFC.
September 19, 2007 – UFC Fight Night – KO1 Joe Veres
Nearly three months after the Emerson debacle, Maynard was back to face debuting Joe Veres. Veres was no match for him though.
What He Said: “I just want the best guys. I want to see who’s good. Let’s fight.”
What We Said: TUF5 alum Gray Maynard finally got his first UFC win, but he didn’t stay around long to get it, landing his first left hook with a thud that dropped Octagon newcomer Joe Veres. Maynard pounced immediately and after a three punch combination, referee Mario Yamasaki wisely stepped in, halting the lightweight bout after just nine seconds.
What It Meant: It was a victory, Maynard’s first in the UFC, and it marked him as a legit 155-pound prospect. But his success with his fists made the former Michigan State University wrestler want to use them on an exclusive basis. And that’s all well and good, but not when you’re swinging wildly for the fences all the time.
January 23, 2008 – UFC Fight Night – W3 Dennis Siver
Maynard was like a lot of wrestlers turned MMA fighters. Once he got a taste of striking, he loved it so much that he neglected the other parts of his game. Against European standout Dennis Siver, he was about to get a lesson he needed to learn.
What He Said: “After my fight with Siver, I talked with (Randy) Couture, I got a coach – Gil Martinez – and they said ‘hey Gray, you’ve got to be a little more smart.’ So I was like ‘all right, you guys are the bosses. I’ll do it.’”
What We Said: Gray Maynard looked to be coasting to an easy victory in the first round of his lightweight bout with Dennis Siver, but the Germany-based Russian rebounded in the second round and showed a great deal of heart and determination throughout the fight, eventually falling short via a three round unanimous decision.
Maynard flew out of his corner at the opening bell, blitzing Siver with lefts and rights, one of which jarred him and put him on the mat. Maynard pounced, putting his foe in trouble on a number of occasions, but he was unable to finish. In the second, Siver was able to establish his striking from long range and he scored effectively on Maynard. Even when the bout went to the mat, Siver controlled much of the action before Maynard got his bearings and wind back and finished the round strong. The third was controlled by Maynard, who only saw his ground and pound attack interrupted by a choke attempt by Siver, who hung in to the final bell and never stopped trying to win. This was Maynard’s night though, and the scores of 30-27 and 29-28 twice reflected that.
What It Meant: After hurting Siver early, Maynard wasn’t able to finish, and he was tossed into the middle of a dog fight for the remaining two rounds. “The Bully” prevailed, but after the bout he got a talking to from then-coach Randy Couture, who brought in boxing expert Gil Martinez to get Maynard to use his striking in a more refined manner. He did, and it made him an even more dangerous fighter.
April 2, 2008 – UFC Fight Night – W3 Frankie Edgar
It was going to be a war of wills in the high altitude of Colorado, as Maynard met fellow rising star Frankie Edgar. Little did either of them know that they would meet again less than three years later with the world lightweight title on the line.
What He Said: “I ended up with a broken hand in that fight and I got my eye screwed up pretty bad, so it wasn’t a hard one where it was him, it was just me dealing with things and saying ‘okay, this is gut check time. I gotta push through it.’ But again, he’s a tough kid and it was a tough fight. They (the fights) are always good if you have a good opponent.”
What We Said: Unbeaten Gray Maynard pinned the first pro loss on fellow lightweight prospect Frankie Edgar, using his size, strength, and wrestling to earn a hard fought unanimous decision victory.
Scores were 30-27 across the board for Maynard.
Eschewing his usual fast start, Maynard stood in the pocket and boxed with Edgar in the early stages of the fight, with Edgar patiently picking his shots and landing with sharp punches down the middle. With two minutes left in the round, Maynard got his first takedown and tried to capitalize on the mat. Edgar was able to get up without having absorbed too much punishment and by the end of the round he left Maynard with an abrasion over his eye.
Maynard looked to be back to his old self as the second round opened as he aggressively pursued Edgar, who effectively flurried and got out of his opponent’s range. Edgar was continuing to have trouble taking Maynard down, but ‘The Bully’ wasn’t able to fully capitalize on his good fortune, and when he got overaggressive with a little over two minutes left, Edgar greeted him with a throw to the mat. By now, Maynard was bleeding from over the right eye, and it was obvious that Edgar’s quick shots and movement were keeping him off balance. The solution? Try out his luck on the mat, which Maynard did as the round entered its final minute, but he was unable to mount a steady offensive before the bell rang.
Still pushing the pace, Maynard started the third with power shots followed by a takedown, but the speedy Edgar got out of trouble in no time and got back to his feet. Maynard put Edgar back down against the fence, followed with two slams, and was piling up points on the New Jersey native. With the round half over, Edgar escaped and scored with strikes at close range, but again, Maynard was able to close the gap and put his foe on his back for the remainder of the fight, sealing the victory.
What It Meant: The unbeaten Edgar was expected to be the stiffest test of Maynard’s career, but Maynard was just too big and strong for Edgar in this fight. When the two met again at UFC 125, the consensus was that the title fight would be a repeat of this bout, only with two rounds added. It was an assumption that was way off base.
January 11, 2010 – UFC Fight Night – W3 Nate Diaz
Other than a world title fight, there was nothing Maynard wanted more than a rematch with Nate Diaz. After three post-Edgar wins over Rich Clementi, Jim Miller, and Roger Huerta, he got his wish.
What He Said: “I believe that the people who talk about decisions all the time and say that this guy sucks because he wins by decision, they’ve got a rude awakening coming in the future because the gap is getting so close with the top guys. And nobody’s gonna quit and it’s gonna get harder to get knockouts. Everybody knows jiu-jitsu now, and it’s gonna be the small intricacies that are gonna win big fights by close margins.”
What We Said: It probably wasn’t the way lightweight contender Gray Maynard pictured it, but before a sold out crowd at the Patriot Center, he got the “W” he wanted more than any other, as he was awarded a close three round split decision victory over Nate Diaz in the UFC Fight Night main event, a win that avenged his defeat to Diaz on season five of The Ultimate Fighter.
Scores for Maynard were 30-27, 29-28, and 28-29, a verdict that wasn’t greeted warmly by the packed house.
“It feels good,” said Maynard of avenging the TUF5 loss. “Game plan and technique went out the window. I saw that guy and I just wanted to throw. It was stupid, but I hope everybody enjoyed it.”
Diaz stalked Maynard calmly to open the bout, with Maynard responding with the occasional wild haymaker. Diaz began talking to Maynard, who was already bleeding from over the right eye, trying to goad him into a firefight. The shorter Maynard was having trouble getting his range, but Diaz wasn’t piling up the points either as the round entered it’s final two minutes. With the round up for grabs, the two upped the pace in the last 120 seconds, each getting in some punches and kicks before the bell.
Both Diaz and Maynard got a little busier in round two, with Maynard landing the best punch of the fight thus far 90 seconds in when he nailed Diaz with a thudding right hand. Diaz was unmoved by the shot and went back to his unorthodox southpaw attack, but a knee by Maynard dropped the Stockton, California briefly and another right hand knocked him off balance moments later. Neither blow appeared to hurt Diaz, but definitely made an impression on the judges. Diaz went back to showboating in the final minute, and Maynard joined in for a moment, but nothing resulted from their show of bravado, and the crowd let them hear it.
Diaz was the more active fighter in round three, and while Maynard trudged forward, he was not scoring enough to keep Diaz from apparently piling up the points in this pivotal round. Even in the clinch, Diaz was showing no signs of wear, but Maynard did finish strong, apparently doing enough to secure the victory on the judges’ scorecards.
What It Meant: It wasn’t pretty, but sometimes pretty doesn’t always get the win, and if Maynard had learned one thing, it’s that winning moves you up the ladder and keeps you employed. And with the monkey of his only loss off his back, he could refocus and start closing in on the next goal – a world championship.
August 28, 2010 – UFC 118 – W3 Kenny Florian
Kenny Florian had been to the mountaintop twice and after coming up short he did everything necessary to get back to the front of the line. Now all he had to do was get past a hungry Maynard eager to get his first shot at UFC gold.
What He Said: “I’m really concentrating on Florian, and it’s hard for me to look past anyone. That’s the plan of course, to go out there, kick Florian’s ass and get a chance at the belt, but if I look past this fight, Florian’s face just keeps popping up in my head and that’s fine. I’m happy with that because that’s who I’m going up against and that’s just my mindset – who’s next, and that’s all I care about.”
What We Said: Gray Maynard earned a shot at the UFC lightweight crown as he scored a solid, but fairly uneventful, three round unanimous decision win over Brookline, Massachusetts’ Kenny Florian.
Scores were 30-27 twice and 29-28 for Maynard.
The action was sporadic at best for the first three minutes, with Florian the busier of the two as he shot out quick punches and kicks at his foe. With under 90 seconds left, Maynard finally sprung into action as he shot for – and eventually got – the takedown, and proceeded to bull Florian into the fence, where they stayed until the end of the round.
Maynard’s potshots began to land with more frequency in the second round, allowing him to free up another takedown. This time, Maynard had more speed on his fastball as he began landing strikes on his foe, cutting Florian over the left eye in the process.
Florian’s striking game finally started to pay dividends in the third round, but even though he was scoring more, he wasn’t hurting Maynard, who again took “KenFlo” to the mat. And while Maynard’s methodical attack wasn’t winning him any New England fans, it was effective. In response, Florian kept battling from the bottom, looking for a submission, and with less than 30 seconds left he got to his feet and searched for a haymaker as Maynard ran out the clock. But it was not enough for the local hero to pull out the win.
“I tried to make him chase me,” said Maynard. “He doesn’t chase a lot.”
What It Meant: Legendary boxing trainer George Benton said it best: “win today, look good next time.” Maynard got the win, got his title shot, and now he was one fight away from his dream of being a world champion. And if you wanted excitement, he was about to bring it.
January 1, 2011 – UFC 125 – Draw 5 Frankie Edgar
There were those who moaned about Maynard and Frankie Edgar headlining the UFC’s New Year’s show on January 1st. Well, I sure hope they didn’t miss the fight, because they missed a Fight of the Year candidate and one of the best UFC lightweight title fights of All-Time.
What He Said: “I think competing in a combat sport since the time I was three, my whole process of wins, losses, dreams collapsing, achieving goals, the ups and the downs, and the highs and the lows have all come back to just concentrating on today. Don’t look ahead to the belt, what will happen if I lose, what will happen if I win. Just concentrate on today and what I have to take care of today, and that will make you know that ‘hey, I’ve got to be prepared for now.’ And that’s gonna happen for the scrap too; you’re gonna be right there and you’re gonna appreciate it and not try to look ahead of it. You’re gonna concentrate on that fight.”
What We Said: By all rights, Frankie Edgar never should have made it out of the first round of his UFC 125 main event against Gray Maynard. But after surviving multiple knockdowns in the opening frame, the UFC lightweight champion roared back to retain his belt with a five round draw in an exciting bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena that kicked off the 2011 fight year in style.
Scores were 48-46 Maynard, 48-46 Edgar, and 47-47. All three judges scored the first round 10-8 in favor of Maynard.
“It felt like the first round didn’t happen,” said Edgar, who made the second successful defense of his title. “It was a close fight.”
“I kinda punched myself out in the first,” said Maynard. “I thought I won (rounds) 1,3,5. It was a close one, but I thought I won.”
The two took their time getting acclimated to the bout in the opening minute, but Maynard announced his arrival to championship mixed martial arts a little more than a minute in with a left hook that hurt and dropped the champion. Edgar got up, only to be sent back down by a right uppercut. Maynard pounced, but amazingly Edgar weathered the assault. Moments later, with Edgar now bleeding from the nose, Maynard struck with another hard right uppercut, and Edgar, his legs wobbly, once again seemed on the verge of defeat. Yet by the end of the round, Edgar was firing back, and now the question to be asked was whether Maynard had gassed himself out.
Edgar opened the second round with a high kick, and he appeared to have his legs back under him as he moved around the Octagon and poked at the challenger with quick flurries. Maynard calmly strode forward, but his face was beginning to show the wear of battle and of Edgar’s resurgent offense. With less than 90 seconds left and the crowd chanting his name, Edgar responded with a quick flurry that opened a cut under Maynard’s left eye, and he followed up with a thunderous slam the ignited the crowd. By the end of the round, Edgar added a stuffed takedown and a right to the face as he emphatically got back in the fight.
“Just beat him up, you don’t need the knockout,” UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture told Maynard between rounds. “You just gave him that round.” The champion wasn’t about to play along though, as he again used his stick and move strategy to perfection while also keeping Maynard from putting him on his back. Maynard kept stalking, and with less than 90 seconds left, he began to get closer with his power shots as he again brought blood from the New Jersey native’s nose before landing a takedown in the final minute. But even on the mat, Edgar kept battling, locking in a guillotine choke just before the bell.
Edgar went on the offensive with a takedown and guillotine choke attempt to begin the fourth round, and while Maynard got up and escaped, the champion called on his wrestling for another takedown seconds later. After the two rose, Maynard - in the fourth round for the first time in his career – continued to chase Edgar, who made him pay when he got too close as he continued his stirring comeback.
With five minutes to go, each shot carried the weight of the outcome on it, and each of these gutsy lightweights had their moments in the first half of the frame. In the second half, Maynard looked for the takedown but was turned back, and Maynard repaid the favor to Edgar, leaving this bout to be settled on the feet. With less than a minute left, Edgar tagged Maynard, Maynard fired back, and both were bloodied as they went toe-to-toe till the final bell.
What It Meant: A natural for a third fight, Maynard and Edgar fought once more at UFC 136 in October of 2011, and this time, no one was crying about these two lightweights’ headlining status. Maynard would get halted in the fourth round by Edgar, and has since gone 1-1, decisioning Clay Guida and getting stopped by TJ Grant. On November 30, he gets a chance to get back in the win column.