Gray Maynard: Back to Basics and Looking for Redemption at UFC Fight Night 47

Duane Finley@duanefinleymmaContributor IAugust 5, 2014

USA Today

The past three years have been anything but stable for Gray Maynard.

The former No. 1 contender to the lightweight crown went from being inches away from grabbing the 155-pound strap from Frankie Edgar at UFC 125 back in January of 2011 to his current position of being in jeopardy of losing his elite-level status in the highly competitive lightweight fold.

That turn is due in large part to the former three-time All-American wrestling standout having dropped three of his last four showings inside the Octagon, with each of those losses coming by way of referee stoppage.

Throughout this stretch, the Ultimate Fighter alum has hardly resembled the ox-strong powerhouse that went from undefeated prospect to title challenger in less than four years as a professional.

Where he was once able to find his rhythm and impose his will with ease inside the cage, the 35-year-old has struggled to find his footing under the bright lights as of late. Things just haven't been firing on all cylinders for Maynard, and those issues haven't been limited to his life inside the Octagon.

While Maynard had spent the first part of his career as one of the staples at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, problems began to surface on the road to his trilogy bout with Edgar in late 2011.

With the fight being pushed back five months due to both champion and challenger suffering injuries, there was plenty of real estate for simmering tensions within the camp to surface on the road to UFC 136.

Maynard would eventually step in for another go at "The Answer," but where their second tilt resulted in a draw, the final meeting would see Edgar dash Maynard's hopes for a championship with a knockout in the fourth round.

Eric Jamison/Associated Press

Immediately following the fight, Maynard parted ways with the Las Vegas-based outfit and set adrift for his training.

He would spend time in Brazil with Jose Aldo and Renan Barao at Nova Uniao, as well as getting gym time with various teams in Northern California.

In addition to needing a change of scenery in his fighting life, Maynard and longtime girlfriend Jessica Wheeler—who was pregnant with the couple's first child—decided the same thing needed to happen in their personal life as well. Maynard and his family settled down in the sleepy harbor town of Santa Cruz as he sought out a fresh start across the board.

While Maynard continued to spread his training around in different gyms, the majority of the work he put in happened at the American Kickboxing Academy.

The San Jose-based facility is home to some of the top talent in the sport, and Maynard once again set about trying to find his rhythm.

However, where training alongside other top-ranked lightweights such as Josh Thomson and Khabib Nurmagomedov helped get him back in fighting shape, life outside the cage continued to be a roller coaster.

The couple was in the process of a top-to-bottom renovation on the home it purchased, and Maynard's full-time training schedule kept everything in flux. He was burning the candle at both ends but hoped he would have time to get all orders of business in line following his rematch with Nate Diaz at The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale in November.

The bout with Diaz would prove to be the roughest showing his professional career and provide a stark reality check that the changes he tried to make just weren't working.

With that in mind, Maynard found himself at a critical juncture of his career, and his management offered what it believed to be the ideal solution.

May 25, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Gray Maynard squares off against TJ Grant during UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

"The last three bouts have all felt rushed to me," Maynard told Bleacher Report. "I remember talking to my agent and just feeling like I didn't have enough time. I was never sure how my training was going to be set up and I had a lot of personal things that I had to attend to. I got down here to Phoenix and I was fight-ready in a month. I trained hard and I didn't have those personal things to distract me. I was ready to go ASAP.

"Power MMA reminds of a college program the way they run things. Everything is done under one roof and all the coaches communicate with one another. They all get together and plan out the individual camps for all the fighters here and it is really organized."

While Maynard had relocated his family to Northern California, manager Dave Martin urged his client to take his training to the Phoenix-based Power MMA camp alongside his stablemates Ryan Bader and C.B. Dollaway.

Recently retired MMA veteran Aaron Simpson was running a solid ship as the team's head coach, and the environment would be perfect for Maynard to dig his feet in and get back to basics.

A few days after the initial conversation, Maynard was making his way to Phoenix, and it didn't take long for him to realize he had made the right decision.

"This transition really started with a conversation I had with my brother and agent Randel Aleman," Maynard said. "We had a heart-to-heart about my career and he said he knew Power MMA was the place I needed to be. I got down here on May 1st and knew right away I had made the right choice. I've known Ryan [Bader], C.B. [Dollaway] and Aaron [Simpson] for a long time, and I knew it was going to be a great environment for me. My manager Dave Martin took care of finding me an apartment and I was able to get to work right away.

"Since I got down there before I had a fight booked, I was able to ease into the gym and get in a lot of specific training with my new coaches. Working with boxing coach Jose Benavidez Sr. has been amazing. Jose has really pushed me to improve and his methods really translate well into this sport. Jason Kamens has me on a great strength and conditioning program too.

"I've known Aaron Simpson for a long time. He tried to recruit me to come to Arizona State back in college, so working with him was great from the get-go. He does an excellent job coaching the team, and the extended time I've had to prepare really gave me time to settle in and become a part of the team here."

Personal photo

With an organized training agenda and no distractions to jolt him off course, Maynard dove headlong into a strict training regimen.

He had spent the past three years trying to remain and find ways to get back to within striking distance of the lightweight title that so narrowly eluded him, but now his focus was the furthest thing from championship gold.

The only thing on his mind was putting in work inside the gym, and he found what he was searching for at Power MMA. The "gym rat" lifestyle had once served to make him one of the best 155-pound fighters in the world, and Maynard immediately found the flow and rhythm he had been missing for the past few years.

"Getting to where I could focus on taking one step at a time was really the main goal," Maynard said. "I had to get back to being the gym rat I used to be who was constantly in the gym working. For years, I was the guy who would be in the gym training in the morning, come home, grab something to eat and a nap, then be right back in there in the afternoon. It was eat, sleep and train, and I've gotten back to that. 

"I needed to get back to that flow. For a very long time, it hasn't been that way. I was in this on-again, off-again pattern, and it has just been crazy. I don't regret the move to Santa Cruz because if we didn't do it, that would be something I would always wonder about. We have our house there, but I had no idea how much work would have to go into that house. It was just a crazy amount of work, and with trying to train and get our family settled, it just turned into chaos.

"But now I am down here, my training is going great and it's a completely different situation."

As Maynard set about establishing himself as part of the Power MMA team, and his coaches chiseled him into fighting form, the doors to his next challenge opened up. The UFC tapped him to face veteran Fabricio Camoes when the organization returned to Los Angeles for UFC 176.

While the matchup against the savvy Brazilian would not catapult him back into title contention, the bout would have the potential to put him back into the win column and further establish the stability he had long been lacking.

With that said, Camoes would not be the only thing he would be facing.

Since his loss to Edgar back in 2011, Maynard has been in somewhat of a free-fall down the divisional rankings. Where a victory over Camoes would be a breath of fresh air, a third consecutive loss would be disastrous.

That situation undoubtedly comes with pressure, but Maynard believes those elements are always going to be there in the professional realm.

"There is going to be pressure with every fight you take in this sport," Maynard said. "In order to take another step up the ladder, you have to beat this guy or that guy. You have to go through this guy to get the belt or put yourself in a position to get the belt down the road. That is just how it is. That's life in this sport. You have to learn how to control the way you handle that pressure and flow with it."

While Maynard recognized his back would be against the wall going into UFC 176, there would be a handful of added twists and turns en route to his next showing.

When the headlining bout between Aldo and Chad Mendes was scrapped due to the champion suffering an injury, the organization decided to break up the entire card and reassign the bouts to other events on the docket.

Fortunately for Maynard, his matchup with Camoes was only bumped two additional weeks to the Fight Night 47 card in Bangor, Maine, which gave him some extra time to hone his skills in final preparation.

May 24, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC light heavyweight Gray Maynard during the weight-in for UFC 160 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

But with only a week and change remaining in his training camp, another shake-up would hit. The co-main event on the card between Abel Trujillo and Ross Pearson fell out due to the Team Blackzilians fighter suffering an injury, which left an opening across from the British slugger.

Maynard and his team saw the bout as the perfect opportunity to jump up on the card, and MMA Junkie reports he agreed to face the Team Alliance member on the Aug. 16 card.

Now, with a new opponent and a different set of challenges on the table, Maynard will have to adjust to what Pearson will bring on fight night. However, he's found what he believes he's been missing for the past three years and is ready to prove himself once again inside the Octagon.

"I had been preparing to fight Fabricio Camoes for months, but when the opportunity to fight Ross Pearson opened up, I jumped on it," Maynard said.

"Ross is a tough fighter who comes to scrap every time out and that's what I love. I want to get in there with guys who are looking to throw down, and that is the type of fighter he is. This is the kind of fight that could go everywhere but will be two guys getting after it the entire time. Not to mention Pearson is a bigger name than Camoes, and that is an added benefit of the matchup.

"There was a time when I got caught up thinking about a ton of other things, but the only thing on my mind right now is the next step. I'm focused on putting in time at the gym, learning and working to become a better fighter. That was my goal the moment I arrived down here, and then Camoes came into play and it was all about him.

"Now, my focus has shifted to Pearson and he's the guy standing in my way. I'm happy with my training and will be fully prepared for this fight. When those things happen, I'm dangerous."

Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.


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