Already an outstanding wrestler, Gray "The Bully" Maynard has developed into a well-rounded mixed martial artist since his time on the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter. He speaks with MMARising.com about his career and upcoming fight.
From first serving as a training partner of current UFC Lightweight Champion BJ Penn to now working as one of the trainers at the renowned Xtreme Couture gym, Maynard has grown as a mixed martial artist at every step of the way. Using his wrestling to "bully" his opponents around the cage, Maynard has yet to taste defeat in his MMA career and is currently one of the top lightweight prospects in the UFC. He is next set to face the returning Roger Huerta in a fight that could put Maynard one step closer to a clash with former ally BJ Penn.
MMARising.com: Thank you very much for taking the time for this interview, Gray. To begin, can you talk a bit about when you first took an interest in wrestling and which accomplishments you were most proud of in the sport?
Gray Maynard: My Dad was a wrestler, so he got me going at an early age. I was able to go to the best high school wrestling program in the nation, St. Edwards High School. I accomplished many of my goals there. It was a great experience. In college, I didn't get to reach a lot of my goals and I think that's why I still have competition left inside of me.
MMARising.com: Many may not be aware that you actually tried out for the U.S. Olympic wrestling team in 2004, but became a training partner of BJ Penn's after you didn't make the team. Had you not joined up with BJ's camp at the time, would you have ever pursued a career as a mixed martial artist?
Gray: I was working towards making the Olympic team while I was living in Arizona after college. I was caught between two weight classes, 145.5 and 163. I was too big for 145.5 and a little too small for 163 at the time. It started to get hard to make ends meet. I moved back to Las Vegas, NV, which was where I grew up and my family still lived there. MMA was pretty big in the area, so I started to work out at a jiu-jitsu gym.
I guess word got back to BJ that I could help him with his wrestling for his upcoming fight with Rodrigo Gracie. I went to Hilo for three weeks and trained with him. It definitely opened my eyes to the sport. I got back home and eventually started training with Randy Couture and a small group of guys. That's when I really decided that I wanted to train and fight full-time.
MMARising.com: What was it like in training with Penn at the time, and what were the main things that you gained from the experience?
Gray: BJ is an exceptional athlete and a great guy. He already had a solid base and knowledge in wrestling. I was very surprised how much he knew in all aspects of the game. Before I went down there, I didn't even know who he was. I was so wrapped up in wrestling for so long that I really didn't know anything about MMA. Again, I think the experience just opened my eyes to the sport and got me very interested in it.
MMARising.com: Later, you began training with your current team, the renowned Xtreme Couture camp in Las Vegas, and have since become one of the top talents at the gym. How much of an impact has training with the others at Xtreme Couture had on your career?
Gray: Before Xtreme Couture opened, it was a group of us working out and jumping around from gym to gym. It was Randy Couture, Mike Pyle, Jay Hieron, Forrest Griffin, John Wood and Alex Schoenauer. Tyson Griffin, Mac Danzig and John Alessio would also come in from time to time to train with us for their fights until they moved out permanently. We all learned off of each other and pushed ourselves pretty hard. It was a great group of guys to train with. I was the one who knew the least about the sport at the time, so I definitely took my beatings every day. That's where it all really started for me and I'm still going to this day.
MMARising.com: UFC fans first became familiar with you after your time on The Ultimate Fighter 5. What was that experience like, and would you ever consider putting yourself through anything like that again?
Gray: I'm happy that I got the opportunity to be a part of the show. It gave me a foot in the door with the UFC. I'm not going to lie; it was definitely not a fun experience to be in the house. If I had a choice in the matter, I wouldn't ever do it again.
MMARising.com: Aside from UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre, you are arguably the most dominant wrestler in the UFC right now and you have used your wrestling base to completely nullify the offence of your opponents. How crucial is your background in wrestling in your MMA career?
Gray: I mean, that's where I started. It gave me my work ethic, competitiveness, athletic ability and discipline. Coming to MMA, you have to change a lot of things to make wrestling apply to the sport, but I'm really trying to become well-rounded, like a Georges St. Pierre. That takes time and hard work, which is something that I'm definitely willing to do.
MMARising.com: Your three most recent UFC bouts, against Frankie Edgar, Rich Clementi and Jim Miller, respectively, have been your most impressive to date. You remain as the only person to have defeated Edgar and you've made all three wins look fairly easy. Do you feel that you grow as a fighter with each passing fight, especially when the level of competition is this high?
Gray: That's always my main goal, to improve with every fight. I evaluate every fight with my coaches and then work on my mistakes and make everything a little better. This sport evolves every day and there's a lot of tough competition. As an athlete, I've got to try to stay ahead of the game.
MMARising.com: Some fans were critical of your style in your early UFC bouts and felt that you didn't do enough to try to finish fights, but you have clearly taken the initiative to improve upon all areas of your game and that has been evident in your recent bouts. Is it more important to you to put on exciting fights for the fans or to walk away as the victor?
Gray: At the end of the day, you want the fights to be exciting, but you also have to be responsible to yourself and do what you need to do to win. Early in my career, I don't think that I had the tools to finish a lot of fights. It takes time to learn and perfect your craft. As you start climbing the ladder and going up against tougher competition, it gets even harder to finish fights. That is especially true if it's a three rounder. Finishing the fight is always a goal, of course, but you can't get wrapped up in that mindset. Just keep to the game plan and it should happen. If not, just get the win.
MMARising.com: In your fight with Jim Miller, particularly, Miller looked to be at a complete loss when you used your wrestling to keep the fight standing for much of the duration. He is an extremely talented submission fighter, but you prevented him from doing anything at all and picked up a lopsided decision win in the process by showcasing improved striking. How much of this would you attribute to your training and coaches and how much is solely your decision in the fight?
Gray: I've been training with Gil Martinez at Las Vegas Elite Boxing for about a year and a half. When it comes to striking, I owe him everything. Like I said before, it doesn't happen overnight and it's still a work in progress. That was the game plan, though, to let my hands go and keep off the bottom.
MMARising.com: As you remain undefeated and have scored victories over many of the other top challengers in the lightweight division, most see you as just one impressive win away from a title shot. Would you agree that that is an accurate representation of your standing in the UFC?
Gray: Right now, I'm just focused on Roger Huerta. It's up to the UFC, but as long as I keep winning and improving, it will come. Until then, I'm just concentrating on improving and taking it one fight at a time.
MMARising.com: As you mentioned, you will have a chance to pick up a big victory in your next fight when you take on the returning Roger Huerta. What are your thoughts on that fight and how do you see it playing out?
Gray: Roger is a really good opponent with a big name. He has a lot of heart and pushes the pace. I'm thankful for the opportunity to fight him. I've had a great training camp and I'll be ready for September 16th.
MMARising.com: Huerta is known for his exciting, action-packed fights, and will surely do everything that he can to test you. If the fight goes the distance, do you foresee any problems with keeping up the frenetic pace that is typical of Huerta's fights or will you be looking for an early knockout?
Gray: I've had a great camp and I knew that I needed to be prepared for a very tough opponent. I don't like to predict fights, I just fight.
MMARising.com: If you are able to get past Huerta and BJ Penn successfully defends his title against Diego Sanchez, would you hesitate to fight Penn, a friend, or would it be all about the title for you?
Gray: Right now, I've got my mind set on Huerta alone. We will see how everything plays out. Of course I would fight BJ for a title if I get the opportunity. That's what everyone works for their whole life.
MMARising.com: With regards to Penn, Georges St. Pierre showed that the most effective way to defeat Penn is by outmuscling him and using wrestling to nullify his striking and submissions. Kenny Florian seemed to attempt to employ a similar tactic, but lacked the strength to pull it off. You, however, have the tools to duplicate St. Pierre's success. Would a game plan of takedowns and ground and pound seem to be the best way for you to defeat Penn?
Gray: I think GSP did a great job in that fight. He definitely left a good blueprint of how to fight BJ. Again, I'm not going to get ahead of myself and start planning for how I would fight BJ Penn. He has Diego in front of him and I have Huerta. I'll cross that bridge when it comes.
MMARising.com: Looking ahead, where do you see yourself one year from now and what are some goals that you would like to achieve along the way?
Gray: I really do concentrate on every day and what I need to do better that day. In college, I think I focused more on the outcomes and championships rather than the small details of day-to-day training, and it hurt me in the long run. Like I said before, my main focus is to improve and be the best fighter I can be and let everything else work itself out. I've learned that the only things that I can control are myself and my preparation.
MMARising.com: If you had the opportunity to compete against a lightweight opponent who is not currently a member of the UFC roster, who would it be and why?
Gray: There are some very good fighters around the world. Eddie Alvarez, Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Gilbert Melendez and Joachim Hansen are just a few that come to mind. Hopefully, someday, they will come to the UFC, but everyone has their reasons for what they are doing. If it happens, great, but if not, I just fight the opponent that the UFC puts in front of me.
MMARising.com: Do you have any final thoughts or shout-outs to friends, family or sponsors?
Gray: I want to thank Everlast, Cage Fighter, Desert Volkswagen, Elite Boxing, Robert Drysdale Jiu-Jitsu, Xtreme Couture and all the friends, family and fans who support this sport!!
MMARising.com: Thank you very much for your time, and best of luck against Roger Huerta.
MMARising.com sincerely thanks Gray for his time for this interview and looks forward to his upcoming fight with the returning Roger "El Matador" Huerta.
Click here for an exclusive interview with Gray's teammate, Martin "The Hitman" Kampmann.