The quest of a prize fighter or mixed martial artist ultimately lies in the final goal of attaining a championship, or at the very least a crack at one. The belt becomes the holy grail.
Establishing the legacy necessary to realistically chase a title can become more of a test than actually winning the title fight itself. This quest is where champions are truly made.
One mixed martial artist in particular has established a reputation in the UFC lightweight division that is undeniable. Fight fans that have any knowledge of the LW standings are more than familiar with the man known as “The Bully” Gray Maynard.
Maynard has established a long legacy of dedication to one on one competition and success in that forum, be it within the wrestling or MMA platform.
His history is entwined with his experience training with and around champions for as long as he can remember. Simply put, Gray is a new school fighter raised amongst the old school of the sport.
Maynard was kind enough to speak with Hurtsbad.com about his upcoming bout with Kenny Florian for number one contender status to the UFC LW throne, James Toney, how he got his start in MMA, and working with a living legend in Randy Couture.
Gray trains out of the world renowned Xtreme Couture facility in the fight capital of the world Las Vegas NV. He spoke about the atmosphere and the constant action regarding other competitors under that flag.
“There’s actually a lot of guys on a lot of cards coming up. Me and Couture on the 28th of August on the UFC card in Boston. Ryan Couture is on a Strikeforce card. Mike Pyle is getting back into camp, Martin Kampmann is going to be in camp here soon. There is just a lot of guys so it’s always tough. Everybody is on their game.”
It is no secret that a big match pitting a boxing star against an MMA star is upon fight fans. While Gray is a mixed martial artist, he was sure to mention his respect for the sweet science but also acknowledge the differences.
“I love that sport, I love it, I watch it all the time. But the game changes when there are kicks, there are a bunch of elbows, Jiu Jitsu, take downs, the game changes.”
Maynard voiced his opinion on James Toney’s preparation or lack there of with regard to his true roots in boxing. Depending on what rumors one might buy into, they might wonder how he is preparing for his MMA debut against a legend.
“He has slowed down in a sport where he was the top dog. He wasn't doing much. I heard from a lot of people that he didn't even train, and that he would just spar and that's it. Now you're going to try a brand new sport, you better be training your ass off.”
Maynard was sure to give Toney the credit he was due regardless. “James Toney has a chance if he connects. He has got the crack, dude is accurate, but it’s a whole different game.”
Gray went on to discuss his own training for what seems to him like a familiar trend in opponents that helps him remain comfortable. “Training is great, I’ve had south paws for the last four, so he will be number five, another one.”
When asked if he feels anxious about fighting in front of Florian’s home crowd Maynard had this to say.
“Nah, it’s a fight man, the crowd is the crowd, and if they cheer that's great, if they boo that's cool too. When the cage door closes, I’ve got him, that's the only crowd I'm worried about.”
Maynard was very confident discussing what problems he poses for a fighter like Ken Flo.
“Problems? Me, I’ll keep going. I know he broke a lot of the guys, but to be honest he hasn't fought a lot of guys like me yet. He beat Din Thomas who is tough, Joe “Daddy”, but other than that he had to work the win.”
Gray has found himself on the winning end of two split decisions in a row. But the close nature of those fights doesn't concern him enough to force a change in game plan. He prepares for his fights to be wars that go the distance, a true grinder.
“The last two , I couldn't even tell that they were splits, I was like what the hell. I’ve always asked for the top guys, like Nate, I asked for Jim Miller, I asked for Edgar. All kinds of guys. It would be great to have the knockout, but those are top guys. You've got to be prepared for a tough scrap, so I always prepare for that.”
He went on to say, “These guys are tough, you have to be prepared to go the whole fight. I'm confident. We can do this quick, or we can go the whole way, that’s fine. I’m confident in everything I do so whatever you want to do, lets do it.”
Gray has a decorated high school and collegiate wrestling background and discussed the highs and lows of competing for so long.
“I love that sport. It’s a great sport. I started when I was about three. When I was around twelve, that's all I cared about. Everything was geared towards that sport, I didn't care about any other sports, that was it.”
Yet after a lifetime of gruelling preparation and competition, the fire started to fade a bit.
“I needed to stop a little bit. I wanted to stop cutting weight, just live like a normal person. Then you do that for about a year and you start itching to have that again.”
The competition of MMA sparked the embers of his wrestling roots back into a full on flame.
“I was drawn to this sport, I was like ‘wow I can fight’. It’s the same exact thing, you train hard and that’s it, you will keep going.”
It is the individual aspect that really appeals to Gray. “There is no team, I'm not good with teams. I want to go out there and I want to do it. Not ‘if this guy does good we all do good’, no, I want it to be me. I want to control it.”
How did The Bully get his start in MMA?
“I ended up going to a gym out here, Cobra Kai. Jay Hieron was there, Phil Baroni, Kendall Grove, Mayhem, Troy Mandaloniz. It was just a bunch of guys, we are talking a long time ago.”
It was the desire to train calling him. “I was just itching to train, I wasn't going to fight. I was like ‘I don't even know what this is but it’s good to train’. I loved it. This was before anyone got going, I think Baroni was the only one in the UFC at the time.”
From there his reputation as a stand out LW training partner got him attention from a man who would go on to become a true legend in the sport and even a potential future opponent for Maynard.
“I trained there and that was cool. Then I ended up getting a call from B.J. Penn wanting me to come down and help him for his one with Rodrigo Gracie. So I went down there for about two or three weeks and helped him out.”
Training with Penn was the second step in his young MMA aspirations that prepared him for the third.
“It was cool because I was clicking a little bit more. Then I came home and ended up getting with Randy Couture. He was training for Chuck Liddell.” The rest folks is what led him to become the fighter he is today.
It was not easy, Gray still had a long way to go, but his heart and perseverance left an impression. “So I jumped in there, I didn't have any hands or anything. It was just me getting beat up by all these guys. But I kept coming back, and kept coming back.”
He hung in there with the guys in camp and made his mark. “We would jump around from gym to gym. It was a good core group and I just kept coming back and they were like ‘I don't think this kid is going to stop coming’.”
The light at the end of that tunnel came when Randy took the next steps of his own career to broaden his horizons beyond fighting in a cage and becoming a mentor as well as a competitor.
“Couture ended up doing the gym (Xtreme Couture) and it was a home, it felt great. We were all just hungry, and he was the coach. We would just go in there and fight.”
When discussing the strongest influences on his career, Xtreme Couture and Randy became the foundation for his success. “It was great to have the gym. He is a great guy, Couture. He has helped us out a lot and he has been awesome.”
And surely it has been quite a ride. His competitive background mixed with his experiences around world class fighters like Penn, combined with evolving under the tutelage of a legend like Randy have become the ingredients for undeniable success at the highest levels of the sport.
Gray Maynard and his experiences are the blueprint for triumph in the realm of mixed martial arts. Watching his career thus far has been quite compelling, even more exciting is the thought of what the future may bring for The Bully.
Good luck to him in the biggest fight of his career against Ken Flo this weekend. Something tells us though, luck has nothing to do with it.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad.com where the audio interview in its entirety can be found on the hurtsbad radio link.