“I really love to win and that’s the time that I don’t care who you are. We can be close as hell, but when it’s time to train, I’m coming after you. I take that stuff personally. I’m a competitor. Whatever I have to do, I want to win, no matter what it takes.”
An undefeated record can be a burden for many fighters. It can make them cautious or paranoid, or make them fight not to lose as opposed to fighting to win, Gray Maynard, unbeaten in 11 pro mixed martial arts bouts (10 wins and 1 no contest), is not one of those fighters.
“I don’t really keep up with that stuff,” he says with a laugh. “I get asked what my record is and I couldn’t even tell you. I don’t know how many wins I had in college, I don’t know how many wins I had in high school, but I can tell you every one that I lost because that eats me up. I expect to win, so I’m not counting them. I’m not here to have a chance to win or to hope I win, I’m going into fights expecting to win.”
And that’s when things get serious, when Maynard – one of the most affable fighters in the game – becomes ‘The Bully.’ Because if you agree to compete against him in anything – fighting, wrestling, checkers, etc – it’s on.
“I really love to win and that’s the time that I don’t care who you are,” he said. “We can be close as hell, but when it’s time to train, I’m coming after you. I take that stuff personally. I’m a competitor. Whatever I have to do, I want to win, no matter what it takes.”
Hence the nickname, which he got not just because he owns two bull terriers, but because of the way he approaches competition.
“When I got with (Xtreme) Couture, it was a group of like eight of us and I came in and I didn’t have hands or jiu-jitsu, so I just tried to take everybody down, take a couple punches, and just trying to be a bully,” he recalls. “I always try to change the gears once I start to train, and it’s a whole new man.”
That frame of mind took him through years of wrestling, including a stint at Michigan State University that saw him earn All-American honors three times, and a similarly impressive run in MMA that now has him one win over Kenny Florian away from earning a shot at the lightweight title. Not that he’s looking that far ahead.
“I’m really concentrating on Florian, and it’s hard for me to look past anyone,” he said. “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.”
But before looking forward to Saturday’s bout in Boston, Maynard’s career to this point bears a second glance, especially considering that his last five wins have come over a Murderer’s Row of 155 pounders, including Jim Miller, Nate Diaz, Roger Huerta, and the man who currently owns the belt, Frankie Edgar. And though the 31-year old Las Vegan hasn’t finished an opponent since he knocked out Joe Veres in nine seconds back in 2007, Maynard insists that it’s not from a lack of trying. Instead, he points to the durability of his opposition.
“You want to do that (finish the fight) every time, but I’m asking for the toughest guys and I have to put in a plan and apply that plan,” he said. “If it (a finish) happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, then you’ve got to get the win. This sport is evolving every day and the top guys are getting closer and closer. (Welterweight champ) GSP (Georges St-Pierre), he’s got his hands full with everybody. I don’t see him knocking out guys. I don’t see (BJ) Penn knocking out the top guys. I see it getting closer and closer, and you’ve got to be prepared for that. If you look back at who I’ve had, you’ve got Nate and he’s only been tapped out once and that was against Hermes (Franca). Miller has only had two losses, to Edgar and me, and both were by decision. Huerta has never been stopped. Edgar has never been stopped. (Rich) Clementi has had a ton of pro fights and he’s only been stopped a couple times. Dennis Siver is a tough guy and durable. So you’ve got to have a plan and you’ve got to count on fighting these guys at their best. I’ve had the top guys all the way through, and that’s fine with me.”
And what is impressive about Maynard’s development as a fighter is that he – like Edgar – has become a solid standup fighter, not always the case with those who come from different disciplines. Maynard is quick to credit his coaches with his continued growth.
“I couldn’t have added it all without Gil Martinez and Neil Melanson to help adjust,” he said. “Before, you had the guys who would just do takedown, takedown, takedown, but now you have to have it all, and if you just apply what you’ve learned from wrestling, which is to work hard – then it’s a lot easier to apply it all. We come from a sport where you have to use every part of your body – your hands, your feet, legs, arms, neck – and if you’re doing that for a long period of time, then you know how to apply and to change.”
Maynard has also seen the change in Florian’s fighting style over the years, and while he commends him for such an evolution, he certainly doesn’t see the two-time title challenger as unbeatable.
“He’s a well-rounded guy,” said Maynard of Florian. “He’s been in the UFC a long time, he’s a smart guy, he learns, evolves, and changes a little bit. But he’s definitely beatable and there’s no excuse to not beat him.”
Needless to say, Maynard believes he’s just the man to do the job, and while fellow wrestler Sean Sherk provided a decent blueprint in 2006 for taking Florian out of his game, it’s not what he’s particularly looking at heading into Saturday night’s bout.
“I’m not that guy,” he said. “I’ve got a lot more tools and I think (BJ) Penn did a good job, Clay (Guida) was actually doing a good job for a little bit, and I’ve got a lot more tools than most of the guys he (Florian) has fought. If you look at it, the guys that he’s beaten, I’ll tell you Clay is good, but he’s an almost .500 fighter for the last 10 or 12; Joe Daddy (Stevenson) was a good win, Huerta was a really close fight, (Takanori) Gomi was just a good matchup; he’s a pretty good name, but I haven’t seen him look great in the last two, three years. Din Thomas was a good win, but he was hurt even before the fight. Florian’s tough and he’s a good guy, but he hasn’t beaten a guy like me.”
And “The Bully” doesn’t plan on letting him be the first to do the job.