The great Tony D’Amato once said, “When you get old, in life, things get taken away from you…that’s a part of life.” Gray Maynard was once upon a time arguably one of the most dangerous lightweight fighters on the planet. But fighting is a young man’s rumble and time might have taken that rumble away from Gray.
Gray had the opportunity to fight for the lightweight title twice. He even had an opportunity to revive his contender status a year and a half later. Opportunities to lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute.
In August 2014, Gray experienced his third consecutive loss at the hands of Ross Pearson. He also happened to turn 35; an old age in a young man’s sport.
Is that what happened to Gray Maynard?
Gray Maynard got his big break into MMA through wrestling. From when he could remember, he wrestled. Maynard’s father was a two-time Ohio State high school wrestling champion. Wrestling was in his blood. Gray followed in his father’s footsteps and finished high school with a 135-16 record. He was undefeated in his sophomore year and became state champion at 152 pounds. He was also undefeated in his senior year and continued to wrestle at Michigan State University.
At MSU, he met future UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans and was even roommates with him. In his collegiate wrestling career, he was co-captain of the team and earned All-American honours three times. When he graduated, he was ranked 11th all-time in the entire history of Michigan State University wrestling.
In 2004, Gray tried out and failed to make the US Olympic wrestling team. While taking a break from wrestling, Gray attended BJJ classes in Las Vegas and met a couple of fighters from Hilo, Hawaii. Through these fighters, he was introduced to BJ Penn. Gray ended up traveling to Hawaii to help the former UFC Lightweight and Welterweight champion sharpen his wrestling in preparation for a fight against Rodrigo Gracie at K-1. This was the period of time when BJ Penn just won the Welterweight Championship from Matt Hughes and decided to suddenly move to K-1 to fight at middleweight.
This was Gray’s first true introduction to MMA. After training with BJ Penn for a little less than a month, Gray moved back to Las Vegas to train with Randy Couture and help The Natural prepare for his bout against Chuck Liddell.
In 2007, Gray was recruited on to Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter. This season was coached by BJ Penn and Jens Pulver. Gray shared the season with some of the UFCs future most dangerous lightweights including Cole Miller, Joe Lauzon, Manny Gamburyan, Matt Wiman, and Nate Diaz. In TUF, you can see that Gray improved on his MMA and possessed an uncanny mental toughness and love for the fight.
On the show, Gray reached the Semi Finals where he was submitted by Nate Diaz. This was the beginning of a trilogy rivalry with some of the best fights in the UFC. (click here to see Nate Diaz vs Gray Maynard III).
Despite losing The Ultimate Fighter, Gray entered the UFC in 2007 and remained undefeated for the next 3 years. In his wins over Denis Siver, Frankie Edgar, Rick Clementi, Jim Miller, Roger Huerta, Nate Diaz (II), and Kenny Florian, Gray built a reputation for himself as a fighter with incredible strength, incredible wrestling, and an always ready to rumble attitude. Nate Diaz vs Gray Maynard II and Nate Diaz vs Gray Maynard III are incredible fights because both fighters come ready to fight, refusing to lose.
With each win in his 8 fight win steak, Gray elevated himself. Higher and higher away from the rest of the lightweight pack. In 2011, he earned the opportunity to challenge Frankie Edgar for the lightweight belt. Leading up to the fight, Gray was promoted as the only fighter to ever beat Frankie. The resulting contest was nothing short of spectacular. Gray almost knocked Frankie Edgar out in the first round. But the Champion regained his composure and came back. The fight ended in a Draw.
At the pinnacle of his career, Gray refused to let the opportunity to be champion escape him. He challenged Frankie Edgar for the belt again 10 months later. In the first round of the fight, Gray again had Frankie in trouble. An absolutely jaw dropping, seat gripping round with Frankie reaching deep into his magic bag of life potion to survive again! This time, the fight would not end in controversy as Frankie won via TKO in the fourth round and stamped an end to the trilogy.
Many times, after challenging for the title and failing to win, fighters will slowly slip away from the sport. It was almost as if they had the top of the mountain in their sights, unable to climb any further, they have no choice other than to slowly slip away, back to where they came. In failing to reach the summit, Gray went back to his wrestling.
Gray realized he needed to change his approach to MMA…or even perhaps to life. He had met Jose Aldo backstage during UFC 136 when Jose fought and defeated Kenny Florian. In 2011, Jose Aldo invited Gray to Nova Uniao in Brazil to help him sharpen up his wrestling in preparation for his fight against Chad Mendes. (Click here to watch Jose Aldo vs Chad Mendes).
This change temporarily breathed fresh air back into Gray’s career and life. He fought Clay Guida in June of 2012. Gray was ready for an absolute all-out war against the Jackson-Winklejohn product with an undying gas tank. He was disappointed as Clay Guida applied evasive tactics and refused to fully engage. Although Gray earned a split-decision win, he was unsatisfied with the double-u.
In 2013, talks re-emerged of Gray challenging for the lightweight belt. This time Benson Henderson was the lightweight champion. Gray would have another chance at climbing the mountain and reaching his goddamned glorious Pele moment. But before fighting for the title, he needed to get through TJ Grant in the title eliminator bout.
2013 however may have been the worst year of Gray’s career. Personal distractions including the death of his dogs, a knee injury and the birth of his baby (2012) all coincided with his preparation for the title eliminator fight against TJ Grant. Gray was not there 100% mentally and he lost via TKO punches in the first round. His dreams of becoming champion vanishing and him slowly floating back down to humanity.
In November 2013, Gray suffered another TKO loss to Nate Diaz. A fantastic fight for Nate, but a career shaking, life shattering, defeat for Gray.
In 2014, Gray fought perennial lightweight powerhouse Ross Pearson. A loss via TKO punches in the second round.
Fight fans can’t help but ask, what happened to Gray Maynard?
Life, age, time. Family, love, a possible acting career.
Gray Maynard has made his mark in the MMA world. He once brought terror into the hearts of UFC lightweight fighters, squeezing the division in his 195lb grip. But a fighter with his glory days in the past must accept that his life in the cage will one day come to an end. Gray Maynard is turning 36, an old man in the world of fighting. An old man with three consecutive TKO losses. 15 minutes can be a long time in the cage, let alone 25. But it aint the 25 minutes…its what happens in that 25 minutes.