As the son of a two-time Ohio high school state wrestling champion, Gray Maynard was born and raised on the mats.
At age three, when most children were idolizing fictional comic book characters, Maynard found inspiration from some of the best amateur wrestlers on the planet.
In Maynard’s eyes, wrestlers like Dan Gable, Tom and Terry Brands and his father Jan were real life superheroes.
They weren’t like the characters shown on television and in comic strips though.
They couldn’t fly or talk to sea creatures underwater. They didn’t climb on walls or swing from rooftops either but they had something that motivated a three-year-old kid more than any superpower ever could.
“Just the work ethic, you know? The hard work and just that it’s not glamorous and they’re not trying to be,” Maynard told Bleacher Report.
“They just get in there and could probably outwork anybody in any sport in the world and that is awesome to me. They’re tough as [expletive] and that always inspired me.”
Maynard is now 31 years old, the No. 2 ranked 155-lb. fighter in the world and five days away from competing for the UFC lightweight championship.
His athletic success is, in large part, due to the blue-collar work ethic he acquired in his childhood. Just like Gable and the Brands, Maynard isn’t trying to make it look sensational either.
His upcoming opponent, the current champion Frankie Edgar, is a foe that Maynard already defeated in dominant fashion three years ago.
It was a three round affair that saw Maynard utilize his powerful wrestling base to toss the smaller Edgar around the Octagon for 15 minutes.
Neither fighter has lost a fight since. However, it is Edgar, not Maynard, who sits atop the stacked lightweight division as king.
Edgar shocked the world twice with his wins over BJ Penn to solidify himself as lightweight champion, but Maynard still sees some holes.
“Yeah, I mean even though we evolve and stuff you’re still you. I think he’s had a couple guys in [Sean] Sherk and [BJ] Penn that kind of matched up nice with him,” Maynard said.
“They aren’t the type of guys that would take a step back, they go straight and [Edgar] did a great job moving around and picking them apart.”
Still, Maynard realizes it’s a different bout than the first one with a lot more at stake. It’s a five round contest for the biggest prize in the entire sport.
He’s ready for anything.
“It’s hard to tell [if Edgar will be able to defend my takedowns this time], it has to play out first of course,” Maynard said.
“You know, we both have evolved and it’s a new fight so again I am prepared if we [decide to throw] hands or if it goes to the ground or wherever it goes.”
Some believe Maynard should have received a title shot much earlier but others point to his grinding and decision-based style as the reason he has not fought for the belt sooner.
These fans simply don’t understand how stacked the lightweight division truly is.
It’s nearly impossible to finish on a consistent basis when up against tough competition such as Jim Miller, Edgar and Kenny Florian.
The fact that Maynard won every single round against those three fighters should be just as impressive, if not more so, than if he were to knock them out or submit them.
“I always try [to finish], it’s just that the sport’s evolving really quick and the gap is closing. So there’s going to be a lot of close fights from here on out,” Maynard said.
“I was the kind of guy who chose to take on whoever they put in front of me. There was never a spot [on my record] where I was like ‘alright I’m going to take the easy one here,’ they’re all tough.”
They were all tough indeed but Maynard was tougher. One of the biggest lightweights in the UFC, Maynard is second behind only UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre for having the highest takedown success rate in the organization.
To casual fans, though, he’s not an exciting fighter even outside of the Octagon.
Simply put, Maynard doesn’t like to trash talk. He takes his job very seriously and doesn’t say much leading up to a fight. He just trains extremely hard, shows up to the fight prepared and takes care of business.
Outside of fighting, however, Maynard is one of the coolest human beings you’ll ever come across.
“I like to be outdoors, hit up a couple clubs here and there. You know, just enjoy life and laugh. I like to laugh and that’s best part of life.”
The UFC lightweight contender is always the life of the party, according to his sister Misty. Maynard is a big movie buff and is known to bust out one-liners from comedy films on a regular basis.
Jokingly, Maynard is asked if he would use a quote from the popular 2003 film “Old School” in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan should he defeat Edgar at UFC 125.
The quote comes from an infamously hilarious scene involving Frank “The Tank,” aka Will Farrell, drunkenly running nude down the street.
“Who’s coming? Who’s with me? Running through the MGM buck naked, ‘everybody’s doing it.’ If Dana asks what I’m doing, ‘everybody’s doing it though,’” Maynard laughed.
Joking aside, there seems to be a growing trend of fighters going over the top with trash talking in order to add an increased buzz for their fights.
That’s not Maynard’s style but he doesn’t have a problem with competitors hyping fights so long as they are being themselves.
“Yeah, you’ve got to be you though. I think that’s most important because I mean if that’s you [who is trash talking] then that’s great but if not then whatever but [Edgar] is a cool kid. So there’s nothing to talk about,” Maynard said.
“If he was a dick maybe I would say like ‘hey man this guy’s a [expletive] jerk’ or something. But he’s not so I’m not looking to start something like that. We’re going to fight January 1st and that’s where it counts.”
According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2011 is the year of the rabbit but Maynard has other plans. The Xtreme Couture standout is looking to bite that rabbit’s head off, figuratively speaking of course, and make 2011 the year of “The Bully.”
It all starts January 1st, Maynard is hungry to bring home the UFC lightweight championship and become the greatest lightweight fighter in MMA.
“Well for me, whatever I choose whether it’s a job or a sport I want to be the best in the world. I want to be the top guy at whatever I do so the belt is, you know, it’s that spot, it’s the top guy so that’s where I’m going.”
Mitch Ciccarelli is the sexiest columnist in MMA. A staff writer for Heavy MMA, featured columnist for B/R and host of TUF Crap Radio, Ciccarelli is also a future United States Airman beginning basic training this March. He is also engaged to Eva Mendes and Jessica Simpson. Follow Ciccarelli on twitter, unless you have herpes. @MitchCiccarelli