Gray “The Bully” Maynard has never lost two fights in a row. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Consider this the final chapter in an unofficial trilogy.
Nate Diaz will look to dodge the first three-fight losing streak of his career when he squares off with Gray Maynard at “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The two lightweights have met twice previously: Diaz submitted “The Bully” with a guillotine choke in an exhibition match as part of Season 5 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” while Maynard exacted a measure of revenge with a split decision over the Cesar Gracie protégé at UFC Fight Night 20.
Maynard last appeared at UFC 160 in May, when he was knocked out by surging Canadian contender T.J. Grant in a little more than two minutes at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The 34-year-old American Kickboxing Academy export was a three-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Michigan State University, where he ranks 14th on the school’s all-time list for career wins with 106. Maynard owns a 9-2-1 record in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
A six-time “Submission of the Night” and five-time “Fight of the Night” winner, Diaz has not competed since UFC on Fox 7 in April, when he succumbed to a second-round head kick and follow-up punches from former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. The 28-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt had never before been stopped by strikes. Diaz has compiled an 11-7 mark since arriving in the UFC in June 2007.
“The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale lineup provides plenty of water cooler fodder. We discuss some of it here:
Knapp: How much did the last two bouts in the Frankie Edgar trilogy take out of Maynard? Was his performance against Grant at UFC 160 an aberration or a sign of things to come?
Whitman: As is most often the case, it is impossible to answer that question with certainty until we see a larger sample size. Perhaps in 10 years we will be able to look back at the career of “The Bully” and point to his last two bouts with Edgar as watershed moments that signaled the end of Maynard’s prime; or perhaps Maynard will win five straight fights and earn himself another title shot. We just don’t know. What I do know is that Grant is one bad dude who was breaking people into tiny little pieces before running into his concussion issues. If I had to guess at this moment, I would say that Maynard’s loss to the Canadian is more a consequence of Grant hitting his stride than Maynard falling off the map.
Knapp: Diaz is only a few fights removed from fighting for the UFC lightweight title, but he followed his loss to Benson Henderson with another one-sided defeat to Thomson. What would a third straight setback mean for Diaz’s career?
Whitman: I think it would be a significant setback, but it will not be the end of the world. The competition he has lost to has been stellar, and even with three consecutive defeats under his belt, I find it hard to believe the UFC would cut a fighter like Diaz. The man’s fighting style is made for television, and he is still a top-tier talent, even if his physical limitations get in the way of him beating certain fighters in the top 10.
Knapp: What are the chances that Season 18 coaches Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate ever bury the old hatchet?
Whitman: I think this largely depends on what happens in their UFC 168 rematch. If it is a clean fight and Rousey wins, I think you will see the champion walk across the cage and shake whichever of Tate’s hands is not connected to a dislocated elbow. This is because that rivalry will have reached its climax, at least for the time being. A definitive Rousey victory will bring finality to the battle, and I think both fighters will recognize that Rousey’s list of challengers is only growing larger. Should Tate triumph, however, you had better believe that the well-documented hate stew will continue to simmer until they meet in a rubber match. Regardless of how it all shakes out, I do hope that when we reach a definitive ending that the women will feel enough mutual respect to shake on it and enjoy that they were part of something groundbreaking.
Knapp: When we look back 10, 15 or 20 years from now, will the crowning of the first-ever women’s “Ultimate Fighter” be looked at as a significant event for women’s MMA?
Whitman: I think the women of “The Ultimate Fighter 18” will be placed in the same category as the men of Season 1 in terms of cultural impact for the UFC. Plenty of excellent women were left off the Season 18 roster, but that isn’t the point. The female competitors on this season will be remembered for expanding the knowledge and awareness of casual fans and showing them just how exciting women can be when they get in the cage. Yes, many women have already shown that, and some of the women on the show have had fine careers before signing up for this: Shayna Baszler and Roxanne Modafferi come to mine. However, that was also true for the Season 1 cast. What matters is the stage they are standing on and the fact that it was documented over the course of 12 original episodes. Like we became attached to Diego Sanchez, Chris Leben, Josh Koscheck, Kenny Florian, Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin, I think the stories of the Season 18 women will continue resonate with us through the years. Regardless of who wins the competition, these women represent something important: the UFC recognizing that women deserve to fight on the sport’s largest platform.
Knapp: Maximo Blanco has spun his wheels a bit since arriving in the UFC. What do you expect out of the former King of Pancrase when he faces Akira Corassani?
Whitman: What I do not expect to see is another impromptu gymnastics display after his fight. If you have that much energy after 15 minutes of fighting, I’m sorry, but you did not fight hard enough. While I was pleased to see Blanco open up more in his most recent fight, it is rather hard to keep from doing that against a fighter like Sam Sicilia, who seems to enter the cage with the same mindset as a barbarian preparing to sack a village. I’m quite interested to see how the 30-year-old Venezuelan performs against Corassani, who also possess the power to finish a fight but is slightly more technical in his approach. If “Maxi” can find a rhythm in the cage, I still believe he could be a force at 145 pounds given his power and explosiveness.