Gray Maynard, without a doubt, deserves his lightweight title shot against Frankie Edgar at UFC 136.
Putting the title aside, Maynard may have more of a claim to being the No. 1 lightweight in the world then the champion, Edgar, does. Aside from an unofficial loss to Nate Diaz on TUF Five, Maynard is undefeated through 12 professional fights (10-0-1-1). Perhaps even more importantly, he represents the only two blemishes on Edgar's record.
In their first bout, at UFC Fight Night 13, Gray dominated Frankie on route to a unanimous 30-27 rout. He used superior wrestling and completely overpowered the future champion in a clear upset. To this day, that is Edgar's only loss.
Immediately following the bout, the true colors of UFC President Dana White began to show. Although Maynard won the fight decisively, comparisons of each fighter's next few matchups would seem to tell a different story. The always exciting Edgar went on to defeat former title challenger Hermes Franca and former champion Sean Sherk while Maynard was left picking apart middle-of-the-packers such as Rich Clementi, Jim Miller, Roger Huerta, and Nate Diaz.
Edgar, after following his two name victories with a tune-up win over Matt Veach, was granted a title shot against BJ Penn. On the other hand, it took Maynard four more wins—stretching his record to 7-0 in the UFC—to earn even a number one contender fight against Kenny Florian at UFC 118.
When Gray Maynard dominated a two-time title challenger to earn his first crack at the UFC belt, one would logically expect Dana White to praise him, instead White spent the entire post-fight press conference calling Florian a choker. While Florian being a choke-artist is a different discussion for a different time, this behavior by the promoter may have signaled more about Maynard than it did about Ken-Flo.
As Jon Fitch can attest to, Dana White hates fighters who do not finish fights. Further evidence in support of this sentiment came out recently when news broke that the consensus No. 2 170 pound fighter in the world will attempt to extend his current unbeaten streak to seven consecutive fights at UFC 141 against Johnny Hendricks. While Hendricks is by no means a scrub, he is nowhere close to being a top-15 fighter. This type of fight has become the norm for Fitch (13-1-1 UFC).
Fitch may be the No. 2 welterweight in the world. He also may be unbeaten since 2002 save for a gutsy loss to pound-for-pound king Georges St-Pierre at UFC 87. He is probably the most deserving fighter for a title shot. That being said, do not expect Fitch to see another opportunity for the gold anytime soon if White has his druthers. Of Fitch's 13 UFC victories, nine have gone the distance (including his last seven straight). More than anything else in the world (besides Loretta Hunt), Dana White hates guys who don't finish fights. It is that last piece of information that has, and will continue, to keep Jon Fitch out of the title picture and fighting against no-name guys.
Make no mistake about it, Gray Maynard sees what Jon Fitch has gone through and will do anything to avoid a similar purgatory. While Fitch may be the poster-boy for grinding out decisions, Maynard is the real king. Much like Fitch, Maynard's last seven victories inside the Octagon have all come by way of decision. Unlike Fitch, Maynard only has one UFC stoppage on his resume. It cannot be a good thing for Maynard when a large portion of fans refer to a grind-it-out strategy as "Gray and Pray."
All of this information points towards something that many people already knew, when Dana White repeatedly called Kenny Florian a choker after Maynard's UFC 118 victory, what he was really saying was, "Thanks Kenny. You were supposed to relegate this Jon Fitch-wannabe back down the ladder for good. Now what am I going to do."
White was most certainly worried. He knew that Maynard deserved a title shot. He probably knew that Maynard deserved one way before Edgar ever did. The thought of a boring, grind-it-out fighter becoming champion seemed to be a nightmare. Now it may come true? Oh, no!
When Edgar and Maynard met for a second time on New Years' Day 2011 at UFC 125 for the UFC Lightweight Championship, they put on the fight of the century. After Maynard put one of the worst beatings in MMA history on Edgar during round one, almost ending the fight on multiple occasions, the champion staged one of the greatest comebacks you will ever see to force a split-decision draw.
While fans, writers, and even the two fighters were all clamoring for an immediate rematch, White instead claimed that the next title shot would instead go to number-one contender Anthony Pettis. Eventually, after countless complaints from all sides, White changed the plan and set up a trilogy fight between Edgar and Maynard. He claimed that he simply wanted to put on fights that the fans want to see.
Truthfully, before the public outcry became too much to bear, White was simply trying to avoid giving Maynard another opportunity at all costs. He had avoided the bullet. The "boring fighter" had blown his opportunity. Here was Dana's excuse to give him the Jon Fitch treatment and avoid the inevitable; Gray Maynard is quite probably the next UFC Lightweight Champion.
In a purely opinionated debate, you could argue that Frankie Edgar might finally best Gray Maynard on October 8. From a factual standpoint, such would be a difficult case to make. In their first fight, Edgar was completely manhandled. This outcome was unquestionable. While he certainly showed a champion's heart in the second matchup, if not for Gray Maynard's clear decrease in energy, it is unlikely that Frankie would still be the champ.
Admittedly, this is all an opinion. None if it is meant to come off as perceived fact. That being said, if Clay Guida defeats Ben Henderson in their number-one contender fight at UFC on FOX 1, and Maynard once again bests Edgar to become the new champion, somebody please call the authorities because the impending Guida-Maynard grinder may force Dana White to off himself.