Gray Maynard was in attendance for this weekend's UFC on Fox 7. The former title challenger was looking forward to the lightweight title fight in the main event between champion Benson Henderson and the last man to hold the Strikeforce 155-pound title, Gilbert Melendez.
The two men were set to determine who would leave San Jose as the UFC champion, and Maynard figured it best to keep his eye on the situation in light of the title hunt he's looking to revamp next month at UFC 160.
But before Henderson and Melendez could set about throwing fisticuffs in the HP Pavilion, Maynard's newly minted fatherhood duties came to call. When his five-month-old daughter found the crowd to be overwhelming, "The Bully" turned on daddy mode, and the former No. 1 contender to the lightweight crown walked out of the arena without knowing who was going to lay claim to the 155-pound title.
The three-time All-American wrestler from Michigan State would hear the outcome of the main event at UFC on Fox 7 later on in the evening, but that isn't what stoked the fires of motivation. That element came when UFC president Dana White told the media in the post-fight press conference that the winner of Maynard's bout with T.J. Grant next month at UFC 160 would determine who gets the next opportunity to fight for the lightweight title.
Maynard has been looking to get back into the title hunt since coming up short in his classic series of battles with Frankie Edgar. Now, the road ahead is set, but before he can put Henderson in his sights, there is a scrap with a surging contender in Grant he has to deal with—one that White's announcement provided extra motivation for.
"Hearing about the chance to get the title shot fired me up," Maynard told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "I'm right at that point in my camp where the work is the hardest and the fight still seems so far away. But hearing that I can earn a title shot by beating Grant provides that extra bit of kick and I'm pumped up about it. I was looking forward to fighting T.J. already but now the fight means just a little bit more. It's perfect timing, man. It's a great opportunity and I'm hungry to get back to that belt."
His opponent next month at UFC 160 has been on a tear since dropping down into the lightweight division. Grant has collected four consecutive victories as he's made his way up the divisional rankings, with his most impressive victory coming against Maynard's Ultimate Fighter Season 5 housemate Matt Wiman back in January at UFC on Fox 6.
In the fight, the scrappy Canadian bullied Wiman around the Octagon before dropping him with a brutal series of standing elbows against the cage. The victory carved out Grant's place as one of the top fighters in the weight class and guaranteed him a high-profile opponent in his next outing. That challenge will come against Maynard, who is a staple in the upper tier of the division, and will now prove who is the next worthy opponent to square off with Henderson later this year.
"I think Grant is a tough kid," Maynard said. "He's big and strong and comes to brawl. I've noticed with his fights he adds a few new things every time out, but he always seems to get better at the things he does well. We are looking at a few of the holes in his game and looking to capitalize on them.
"He sticks to his game. If you look at his last fight—I like Wiman a lot—but it doesn't look like he put a ton of effort into his planning for the T.J. bout. Matt is a tough kid and tends to go off that a lot. He went in there and got into a brawl and you have to be prepared for everything when you are facing an opponent like Grant.
"I think Grant really believes he has good stand-up. He's good on the ground, but he likes to stand and strike. He believes in that aspect of his game and that's OK. Training at AKA has added a few more tools to my game, but I truly believe I'm one of the hardest hitters—if not the hardest—in the lightweight division. I like to go everywhere in a fight, but if he wants to scrap it out on the feet, I don't have a problem with that.
"I'm hungry, man," Maynard added. "It's been a long layoff. These past two years have been off and on, but I have been traveling and in the gym learning new things. I'm coming back hungry to get back to the top of this division and go after that title. Grant is a tough opponent and I'm training hard for him. I'm hungry and people are going to see that next month in Las Vegas."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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