Turbulent doesn’t even begin to describe Gray Maynard’s unpredictable UFC tenure.
From lightweight title contender to divisional dud, the now 36-year-old has lived a promotional life fighters only imagine in nightmares. It’s like owning the fastest Ferrari on the block, only to wake up the next day and find yourself sputtering around town in a Toyota Camry.
But at this point, Maynard may not even be as reliable as an old beat-up four door sedan. “The Bully” hasn’t been able to out-muscle even the weakest nerds on the playground over the past few years. It’s tough to instill fear in even the lowest of bottom feeders when you’ve lost four in a row.
Fortunately for the former contender, mixed martial arts is as forgiven as any competitive sport in the world. One day you can be Gray Maynard, the next you can be Gray Maynard circa 2010.
People tend to forget that the once dominant NCAA Division I wrestling product ruled the land at 155 pounds. He had knocked off the likes of Kenny Florian, Nate Diaz, Roger Huerta in his prime, and Jim Miller, in succession. He was 10-0 before his initial title tilt opposite Frankie Edgar.
And if it wasn’t for an unstoppable heartbeat keeping the champion standing at UFC 125, Maynard would have become the new UFC lightweight king by finishing Edgar for the first time in his career (that stands to this day). Instead, his gas tank ran thin after landing nearly 100 strikes in Round 1, allowing “The Answer” to battle back and earn a draw.
Maynard’s efforts landed him another shot at the New Jersey gnat at UFC 136, and rightfully so. But Edgar’s evolution in the sport was too prominent to match, leaving Maynard looking up at pretty constellations by the end of the fourth frame.
With such a crushing reality to call his own, the Edgar rivalry had taken its toll on Maynard. He went on to win only one out of his next five UFC appearances, eking out a split decision opposite Clay Guida at UFC on FX 4 in arguably the most boring main event fight in the history of the organization (trust me, I was there).
And even though his proceeding defeats came at the hands of finishers like T.J. Grant, Nate Diaz, and Ross Pearson, Maynard’s most recent loss on UFC Fight Night 63’s preliminary card to Alexander Yakovlev, a struggling welterweight defector, led us to believe the aging veteran was officially overcooked.
But as was mentioned before, MMA is a sport that can offer redemption in the sweetest possible way. We’ve seen plenty of fighters dissolve on the grandest of stages, only to rebuild, reboot and reinvent their approach to fighting.
While Maynard is at a point in his career in which one more crushing defeat will land him on the UFC’s revolving chopping block, his recent decision to drop down to featherweight could end up serving as a career resurgence. The only issue for the former lightweight stud is that he has now entered the most dangerous waters in all of MMA. Traversing the UFC’s 145-pound division is like crawling through an avalanche.
But with elite wrestling fueling his new found confidence, Maynard may actually have some worth as a featherweight. His ability to secure takedowns, implement ground-and-pound, and grind away an opponent like an old river eroding a mountain side, notable strikers like Max Holloway, Cub Swanson, Jeremy Stephens, Diego Sanchez, and Dennis Siver could have trouble warding off a determined “Bully.”
Suggesting for one second that Maynard possesses title potential when superstars like Jose Aldo, Conor McGregor, Chad Mendes, and Edgar rule the roost, is means for permanent annihilation. But there’s no reason why the experienced doyen can’t win more fights than he loses in his new role, while taking on recognizable names on the roster.
His aspirations are appreciated, especially when it comes to the UFC. There is no way they want Maynard to give them a reason to cut him his last check, but he needs to show up and impress on arrival to silence the doubters.