Professional prizefighters are not, typically, morning people. They conduct their business at night, whether in glitzy casinos, Indian reservations or National Guard armories. Fighters prepare their bodies to be at peak efficiency in the evenings—mornings are not the best time to reach a man who fights in the cage for a living.
But at 5 a.m. Sunday morning, roughly 10 hours after his 23rd MMA contest at The Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale, former UFC title contender Gray Maynard reached out. His loss to Ryan Hall, jiu-jitsu artist and professional flopper, rankled. He hadn't slept, not a wink, and wanted to talk with somebody, anybody, who is willing to do a post-mortem on the most frustrating bout of his career.
"I've just been going over it in my head," Maynard told Bleacher Report. "I checked it out on tape. It's definitely frustrating. I get that you want to play keep away. But every time a guy gets within two feet, you can't just sprint away or just drop to the floor. He literally just dropped down to the floor. To the f--king floor. I've never seen that in my life."
When Maynard says he hasn't seen something in the cage, that carries weight. He's fought a collection of the sport's best fighters, including top strikers, wrestlers and jiu-jitsu players. Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz and Kenny Florian have all fallen to his potent combination of NCAA All-American wrestling and heavy hands.
Hall, however, is a different beast entirely.
A proponent of the 50-50 position in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, an esoteric leglock-heavy style that has earned him a bevy of wins in grappling contests, Hall is a fearsome submission artist. In his world, one spent on the mat in front of light crowds at grappling contests streamed on the internet for a niche audience, he's as good as they come.
While some of Hall's gymnastics were meant to be offensive in nature—something Maynard trained for with Wolfgang Steel at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas—there were nearly as many somersaults with no discernible purpose other than avoiding contact. At times, he even sprinted across the cage to avoid a standing exchange.
According to MMAjunkie's Steven Marrocco, Hall's unorthodox style made it clear he wasn't looking for a conventional fight: "Hall made no effort to hide his desire to get the fight to the mat, repeatedly somersaulting to the ground as Maynard got within spitting distance of a punch...The dance wasn’t the most entertaining to watch; the audience certainly wasn’t amused after more than two rounds of it."
Seven times in the first round alone Hall dropped to the mat when he sensed danger. On two other occasions, he turned his back and ran from the action. The rest of the fight played out in similar fashion, with Hall throwing kicks from long distance and then avoiding the fight entirely when Maynard closed in on him.
The tactics cost Maynard precious opportunities and, purposely or not, drained minutes off the clock, allowing Hall to cruise to an uneventful unanimous decision without ever really coming under fire. Fans booed him mercilessly, both in the arena and virtually on Twitter.
"Everyone who knew him told us that he was scared to death of getting punched in the face. But this is MMA. You're bound to get punched a couple of times," Maynard said. "I understand he's good at jiu-jitsu. Here's a job for him—he has to learn how to take me down. You can't just drop to your butt. He'll keep doing that as long as he can. But where are the rules at? Who is enforcing the rules?"
The team at Xtreme Couture had doubts when the UFC first offered the fight. Watching Hall on video, Maynard knew right away that "it's going to be a f--king boring, awful fight." They had seen him pull similar stunts in previous fights, though not to this extreme, and were afraid it was going to be the kind of fight that left audiences bored out of their skulls.
"We asked the ref (Chris Tognoni) in the locker room before the fight, what he was going to do," Maynard said. "If he's on his butt, how many times do you have to tell him to get up before you start taking action? And he told us there were rules against timidity, and that if he [Hall] avoided fighting, he was going to ding a point. Well, what was happening? The referee had no control."
With the power of hindsight, Maynard says he would probably defy his coaches and common sense and leap into Hall's guard. The few times Hall managed to get in on his ankles and the two engaged on the mat, Maynard didn't feel like the jiu-jitsu ace felt all that strong.
"I should have seen if he was everything he claims to be," he said. "I would have played the game a little bit more. We were going to test him. The plan was to push him up against the cage, get the double and test him in half guard. But I couldn't get near him without him dropping to his back or running away. I was f--king tripping, wondering, 'Is he really doing this?'"
If he had played Hall's game, at least they would have been playing something. But Maynard maintains he shouldn't have been forced to make that decision. The referee, instead, should have required Hall to engage as the Unified Rules require.
"I understand that he wants to avoid punishment," Maynard said. "But we signed the dotted line to give the people a fight. They came to see a fight. If you want to do jiu-jitsu, that's fine. Take me to the mat—if you can. There has to be rules in place to stop that from happening."
Usually, after a tough loss, a fighter craves nothing more than getting back in the cage with the man who vanquished him. But Maynard has no interest in another Hall fight. For the 37-year-old, it was a waste of precious time in a career that is winding down.
"This was terrible. We didn't give the people a good look. We didn't give the sport a good look," Maynard said. "I don't want to fight that guy again. That was the most annoying bulls--t."
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.