Gray Maynard (left) | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Every prizefighter, regardless of experience, age or ability, covets the opportunity to fight for a world championship. Young kids in the fetal stages of training dream of it, between thousands of hours of studying and honing their craft and building enough strength and courage needed to put themselves in position to put a belt around their waist. Yes, all fighters dream of becoming champions, and Bradley Gray Maynard is no exception.
A semi-finalist on Season 5 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, the undefeated lightweight finds himself on the verge of realizing his ultimate aspiration.
Maynard hopes to break in 2011 by wresting the 155-pound title from defending champion Frankie Edgar in the UFC 125 main event on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. He will enter the match with the valuable knowledge that he has already beaten Edgar once. Nearly three years ago, Maynard dominated “The Answer” at UFC Fight Night 13 and won a lopsided unanimous decision. It remains the only blemish on Edgar’s resume.
Neither man has lost since, and Edgar has emerged as the world’s top fighter at 155 pounds, dethroning B.J. Penn in a controversial decision in April and then outshining the Hawaiian in their rematch four months later. Maynard, despite his unbeaten record, has been left out of the title picture until now.
Like rival outlaws in an old Western, they seemed destined to meet again. Maynard expects to see a far different Edgar in their second encounter.
“Edgar is really good,” Maynard says. “He is a better fighter now. It might be more high-paced, because he moves around a lot. I don’t know how the fight will unfold, so we’ll have to see.”
Maynard anticipates dealing with the elusive striking game that has come to define Edgar and admits his constant, almost frantic, movements can prove confounding. Still, he believes Edgar’s approach will not differ much from the first time the two met.
“He doesn’t really change up his style that much; he just moves more and is quick,” Maynard says. “He adds a little bit to his style, but he hasn’t really changed his style since we fought. I don’t really know what to think, other than I’ll kick his ass again.”
Confident though Maynard may be entering his first title fight, he understands toppling Edgar a second time will be no easy task. He will have to work for the belt. Edgar has evolved into a well-rounded mixed martial artist, as evidenced by his victories over Penn, a man against whom few gave him a legitimate chance.
Maynard has grown accustomed to going the distance, as his last seven fights, all wins, have reached the judges. Still, the 31-year-old Xtreme Couture rep has never gone five rounds in his career.
“I’m not worried about going five,” Maynard says. “I train all the time with the best guys in the world. I’m doing more cardio and stuff like that, so, no, I can go the full five rounds if I have to.”
Edgar figures to hold the advantage on the feet, both in terms of speed and skill, which means Maynard will almost certainly need to rely on his wrestling chops. A three-time collegiate All-American at Michigan State University, he took down Edgar at will the first time the two faced one another. On the strength of that performance and his one-sided win over two-time title contender Kenny Florian in August, Maynard will enter the rematch as the favorite.
“When I checked out the tapes of [Florian], he just had his way with all types of guys like Clay Guida and such,” he says. “Guys who really didn’t have much of a plan besides to just go out there and try to turn it into a brawl, he beat them. Kenny’s good at backing out [away from danger], and he’s good at the in-and-out stuff, but with the angles, he’s not that good.
“I kind of knew that when people had been talking him up about how he’s unbelievable. I’m like, ‘Who is he fighting? What kind of guys are coming in with a plan?’ I knew that if I fought a smart fight, he’d be in trouble,” Maynard adds. “Kenny kind of fights like Frankie [in that] he moves a lot, but they are two different fighters. I’ve just got to be smart and patient against Frankie.”
Maynard has envisioned becoming a world champion from day one. Often criticized for a lack of killer instinct, it seems almost fitting that he will have to go through Edgar -- another elite fighter who does not garner the attention many feel he deserves -- to reach his goal.
“Edgar is really overlooked by everybody,” Maynard says in a frustrated tone. “People believe what they hear. If it’s B.J. Penn we’re talking about, he’s had a lot of hype. People just jump on the hottest new guy, and they all thought he was unbelievable and unbeatable. But Edgar is really overlooked. Nobody really believes how good he is. He’s the champion for a reason.”
Maynard believes that, in time, he will be given his just due, as well. He admits he feels slighted by media and fans but understands his style may not lend itself to popularity. Still, the lack of respect drives him as he approaches the most significant opportunity of his career.
“Now,” he says, “it’s my turn.”