Maynard mum as UFC 136 title bout nears

BY Reid Forgrave • October 6, 2011

Gray Maynard leaned back and chilled in his ninth-floor hotel suite at the Hilton Americas Hotel, the skyline of downtown Houston gleaming out his window. One of his coaches dozed on a couch. Another coach jumped in the shower.

Considering it was only days before Maynard, the 32-year-old lightweight who is undefeated as a professional, was due to step into the Octagon for his third fight against champion Frankie Edgar, in UFC 136’s main event, he was remarkably relaxed. He had just eaten breakfast: strawberries, blueberries, a banana, oat bran, flaxseed, coconut milk, agave, coffee — and lots and lots of water.

Maynard stood, did a one-two jab combination versus a cot up against the wall, and sat back down. A can of Skoal sat in front of him, next to a pill container full of supplements and the book he’s reading, “What Happy People Know.” He sounded as though he were channeling that book as he spoke about the fighting life.

“Doing the job I love, going for the belt, got this funky haircut,” the newly shaggy-haired Maynard said. “Just gotta enjoy the moment. Everyone tries to make you look ahead, get past this fight. I’m just trying to enjoy today.”

Today meant a round of media interviews and an open workout for Maynard, not to mention more weight-cutting before Friday’s weigh-in for the 155-pound-division title fight. But Saturday will mean stepping in front of some 18,000 raucous fans and revisiting his last fight against Edgar 10 months ago, in which Maynard pounded him off the opening bell but didn’t finish him off.

“I just remember going, ‘Oh my God: draw,’ ” UFC president Dana White said. “Nothing sucks worse than a draw. I hate it.”

Edgar had taken the belt off B.J. Penn in a unanimous decision in 2010, and then beat Penn again in a title defense later in the year. With New Year’s Day 2011 came a rematch of Edgar and Maynard’s 2008 fight, which Maynard won — except this time they were fighting for the championship belt, and Edgar had it.

Maynard knocked Edgar down three times in the first round. The fight looked like Maynard’s for the taking. But he didn’t knock him out, and Edgar came back strong in the second round. The hard-fought, five-round fight — the fighters received UFC’s “Fight of the Night” bonuses, and some call it UFC’s best fight of 2011 — ended in a draw that Maynard still believes he won.

“I don’t think he has my number,” Edgar said of Maynard at this week’s pre-fight press conference, his gold UFC belt sitting on a table in front of him. “I think the last fight showed that. . . . I know Gray’s a good fighter. He really came with the heat, really put the pressure on me in that first round.”

The draw meant that the UFC’s lightweight belt has been tied up in the Maynard-Edgar rivalry all year. A May rematch was postponed because of injuries. White is looking forward to this rivalry being resolved on Saturday night.

“This division is stacked with tons of talent,” White said. “There’s a lot of good fights to make at 155. This whole draw has been a logjam in the 155-pound division. I’m sure both of these guys will want to move on and get back to business.”

Saturday will see another title fight, too: the UFC featherweight champion, 25-year-old Brazilian Jose Aldo, will take on 35-year-old Peruvian-American Kenny Florian, who once competed at 185 pounds but has trimmed down to a 145-pound featherweight. Aldo was voted as the 2010 Fighter of the Year, and Florian is looking to win his first belt in the sunset of his career. And Chael Sonnen, notorious for his trash-talking and his one-liners  not to mention his failed drug test after nearly beating UFC legend Anderson Silva last year — is fighting Brian “All American” Stann, an ex-Marine who was awarded a Silver Star during one of his tours of Iraq.

Yet despite these marquee matchups, the lead-up to these fights has been surprisingly free of trash talking. And leading the way in keeping his mouth shut is has been Gray Maynard.

At the pre-fight press conference — a prime opportunity to spit some hate against your opponent — what Maynard had to say was this: “I’m prepared. So I’m good. I’m not like, I don’t know if I did this right, I don’t know if I did that right. Everything’s all done. It’s time to have fun.”

Not exactly Muhammad Ali here, folks.

As he sat in his hotel suite Thursday morning, in flip-flops and a scruffy beard and wearing a backwards cap with the logo “Dethrone Royalty,” Maynard talked about Saturday’s fight. He’s envisioned the outcome a million times in his mind’s eye; every time, whether it’s by knockout or submission or decision, Maynard wins. But he knows anything can happen in the Octagon.

So if you’re looking for him to guarantee victory, or to say that he was robbed of the belt with the surprising draw in the last fight, or to take a few swipes at Edgar’s character — no, he’s not going to do that. That’s just not Maynard’s style.

Talk about his dog, Hank? Oh, he’ll get excited for that. Maynard will tell you how he noticed someone in his hometown of Las Vegas kept a bull terrier in his backyard and mistreated him. He’ll tell you how he stole the dog out of the man’s backyard, changed the dog’s name from Tank to Hank, and has had him for a decade. He’ll pull out his iPhone and show you a picture of his sleepy-eyed pup.

But talk trash on his opponent Saturday night? Not a chance. Instead, the former Michigan State wrestler, in a voice that’s quiet and relaxed and has a bit of surfer-boy, will just speak with grand vagueness about how he’s approaching the title fight.

“I try to learn from what I did for the last one and evolve,” he said. “That’s the key to this sport, and that’s key to a job, to a marriage, to anything — to keep things new and change it up. . . . I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder that makes me want to go get the belt. It’s life. You gotta keep your emotions in check, but it’s in the back of my mind.”

No, he might not have the most electric, media-seeking personality. But after Saturday night, Maynard hopes he’ll have something infinitely more important: the 12-pound golden UFC lightweight championship belt.

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