"Everybody’s well-rounded, everybody’s tough, and everybody’s getting paid pretty good so they can train smart, and the sport’s evolving. And you’ve got to want the sport to evolve, and you’ve got to evolve too. That’s important.”
Your mother always told you that you will be judged by the company you keep. If that’s true in mixed martial arts, then the resume of Gray Maynard keeps looking better and better.
Frankie Edgar, Maynard’s opponent in Saturday’s UFC 125 main event, is a world champion. Nate Diaz is 2-0 with two finishes at 170 pounds since their January 2010 bout. Kenny Florian is a two-time title challenger. Dennis Siver has gone 6-2 after a defeat to Maynard. And Jim Miller has run off a six fight winning streak after losing to “The Bully.”
That’s a number one contender for you, and when you consider his slate contains a host of top-notch pros, does it really matter that he’s defeated them all by decision?
“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,” said Maynard, unbeaten in 12 pro fights. “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.”
Maynard has become more than adept at mastering those intricacies. Whether it’s standing or on the mat, the former Michigan State University wrestling standout has become a well-rounded MMA fighter who can beat anyone not only at his game, but at theirs. But at the same time, he’s heard the criticism for not having scored a finish since he took out Joe Veres in nine seconds back in September of 2007.
“I’ve never tried to pad my record with who I choose to have for a scrap, so that could have hurt me in the aspect of not having the stuff where it’s ‘he ran through that guy, oh my God, he’s unbelievable because he tapped a guy who was in the UFC for the first time,’” he chuckles. “I don’t know what people are looking at at times. And I can understand, you’re a fan and you want drama where one guy’s knocked out almost, he pops back up, and comes back. That’s what makes TV and movies great – the drama. But for me, I’m not trying to create any drama in a fight; I’m trying to beat this guy’s ass, and that’s it.”
It’s the same dilemma posed by the current reign of welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who hasn’t lost a round, let alone a fight, since 2007.
“He’s dominating,” said Maynard of GSP. “He’s doing a great job and he’s at the top of his game. People aren’t quitting, people don’t have the holes that they had before where you could say I’m gonna exploit that because it’s a huge gap and I know it’s there. Now everybody’s well-rounded, everybody’s tough, and everybody’s getting paid pretty good so they can train smart, and the sport’s evolving. And you’ve got to want the sport to evolve, and you’ve got to evolve too. That’s important.”
When it comes down to it, Maynard is going to be Maynard, and if the Arizona native is one thing, he’s a winner, and until you can pin a loss on his record, you’re going to have to deal with him. And you don’t hear his peers complaining about him; they’re just trying to figure out the puzzle he’s presented thus far. Currently working on that formula is New Jersey’s Edgar, who Maynard defeated via unanimous decision in April of 2008. Ask Maynard about that fight and whether he thought he would be meeting “The Answer” again, and he’s honest in his reply.
“I knew he was good, but I just don’t try to look that far ahead,” said Maynard. “I just try to concentrate on who I have next, and until I did have him again, I didn’t care.”
Maynard did have some painful memories of the fight though.
“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,’” he said. “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.”
Looking back, the first Edgar bout wasn’t the toughest of Maynard’s UFC tenure. That honor would go to his split decision win over Nate Diaz last January, but since it happened nearly a year ago, it doesn’t really register to Maynard anymore. What matters to him is what has always been on the top of his priority list – today. What happened yesterday is in the past and what will happen tomorrow may be contingent on how he performs today. He’s lived this way since he was barely out of diapers, and at 31, it’s obvious that such a mindset has served him well.
“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,” he said. “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.”
And don’t ask him about Saturday night on Sunday. He will have already moved on.