Gray Maynard is set on making 2013 the year he climbs back to title contention.
After a knee injury forced him out of a scheduled bout with Joe Lauzon at UFC 155, "The Bully" is ready to get his run to the top of the lightweight division back on track. The 155-pound weight class is arguably the most competitive under the UFC banner and the former Michigan State wrestling standout is looking to face the best the division has to offer.
With that in mind, Maynard has his sights set on an early summer return and would love nothing more than to mix it up with newly-minted No. 1 contender Anthony Pettis.
Maynard was in attendance this past weekend in Chicago when the former WEC lightweight champion steamrolled Donald Cerrone in their showdown at UFC on Fox 6. The first-round TKO win over "Cowboy" put Pettis in the position to wait for the winner of Henderson versus Melendez at UFC on Fox 7 in April.
While Maynard doesn't discount the importance of having a title shot hanging in the future, he also knows firsthand how much can go wrong in the process. Fighters get injured, rematches happen and if Pettis' shot at the crown is pushed back, Maynard extended the invitation to punch his dance ticket.
"Pettis is the fight I would love to have," Maynard told Bleacher Report. "At the same time, I understand why he would wait for a title shot. That is what we are all working towards and if that is on his plate then I get sitting out. But things rarely go as planned in this game and if something happens as a result of the Henderson vs. Melendez fight and Pettis decides he's tired of waiting then I'd be happy to oblige him. The way I see it, whether it happens now or later, Pettis and I are on a collision course.
"He does some exciting things inside the cage and I think it would be a great challenge trying to solve that puzzle. I watched him beat Cerrone this weekend, but "Cowboy's" style was the perfect matchup for Pettis to do what he does best. Cerrone comes forward with a straight up and down Muay Thai-style and Pettis was able to dictate space and get off on him. That's not the way I fight and I think I would present some difficult challenges for him."
Coming off a win over Clay Guida last June in Atlantic City, Maynard appeared ready to regain his footing in the lightweight division. But following a knee injury suffered during training along with a lengthy recovery time, the 33-year-old once again found himself waiting as the divisional race continued.
Rather than focus on the negatives, Maynard has used the opportunity to heal up additional nagging injuries which have lingered for some time. The TUF alum is now prepared to begin his journey back to the sport's biggest stage and is fully aware of the shark tank he will return to.
"The lightweight division is crazy right now," Maynard said. "You take the top guys and put them in a fight and it's anyone's game on any given day. There is no rankings when it comes to title contention. It is who is winning big fights and making the most noise. Right now that guy is Anthony Pettis and why wouldn't I want to fight him? Check my resume. I've only fought the top guys. I have wins over Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz, Jim Miller, all who are or have been top-level guys in this weight class.
"I'm kind of in Purgatory right now," Maynard added. "I'm not in Heaven and I'm not in Hell. I'm not on the doorstep of a title shot but I'm not out of the picture either. Having to drop out of the Lauzon fight and the time off has been difficult, but I'm choosing to only focus on the positives. I've had a lot of nagging injuries that have lingered over the past and this time away has allowed me to heal them up and become totally healthy for the first time in years. I'm going to come back stronger and better than ever and the I guarantee I'm making a run at that lightweight title."