UFC lightweight Gray Maynard knows a thing or two about labels.
Like most amateur fighters who find their way into the UFC spotlight through a stint on The Ultimate Fighter reality show, Maynard has to work twice as hard to prove that skill -- not television -- is what landed him a spot on the active UFC roster.
So far, so good.
"The Bully" has kept his professional win streak intact inside the Octagon, winning three straight fights since a bizarre simultaneous knockout/tapout against Rob Emerson at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 5 Finale in June 2007.
In addition, Maynard knows that he's more than "just a wrestler" -- something he intends to prove in his first appearance on a major UFC pay-per-view.
Gray brings us up to speed on everything from his days as a collegiate wrestler, life in the TUF mansion and the surprising phone call he got that would change his life forever.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Gray, first and foremost thank you for taking the time to talk with us at MMAmania.com. Start by giving us an update on how you're feeling physically. Are you injury free and 100% ready for UFC 90 on Saturday night?
Gray Maynard: Nope, no injuries. I just got done with my eight week training camp. I feel good and ready to go.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): How has the weight cutting process been? Should we assume with your wrestling background that making the cut is a non-issue?
Gray Maynard: No, no issue at all. My weight's good.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): What weight do you normally walk around at?
Gray Maynard: Usually in training camp I'm walking around at 172. Last couple of weeks probably around 166. The day before I should be around 162.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Tell us about some of your accomplishments in amateur wrestling.
Gray Maynard: I've been wrestling since I was three - I got going pretty early! I took state in Nevada my sophomore year in high school. Then I moved to an all-boys school called St. Edwards in Ohio. There I placed runner-up in the Ohio state championships my junior year. My senior year I was champ at 152 in Ohio then I was national champion as well. Our team was national champions.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): So college wrestling was a foregone conclusion.
Gray Maynard: Yeah, I went to Michigan State where I was a three time All-American.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): After graduating college did you say "Okay, now I have to go out and get a real job?"
Gray Maynard: Actually my goal was to try out for the 2004 Olympic team. I moved down to Arizona and I was training for a little bit but it got to the point where I would have had to cut down to 145 and I just couldn't do it.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Why 145?
Gray Maynard: Because it was such a big jump between there and 163. From where I needed to be as far as my weight and body size I just couldn't do either one. I was kind of stuck in limbo.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): How hard was it on you to go through all that, to set this ultimate goal and then have to abandon it?
Gray Maynard: It was really tough. I eventually went back home and had to work construction for a little bit and then I got into real estate.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Did you stop training all together?
Gray Maynard: No, I hooked up with the Cobra Kai Jiu-Jitsu school when I got back.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Did you do that with the intention of getting into mixed martial arts?
Gray Maynard: No, I was doing it because I was fat. I wanted to train, I hate not training. I've been doing it my whole life.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): How was your experience there?
Gray Maynard: I was kind of doing that off and on and I guess the word got around. I ended getting a call from (current UFC lightweight champion) BJ Penn. He wanted me to come help him train for his match against Rodrigo Gracie.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Wait a second, what do you mean the word got around? What word, that you were tearing it up? It must have been something special if a guy of Penn's caliber is calling you.
Gray Maynard: Yeah, kind of. I was pretty new, I didn't even know what jiu-jitsu was. It was cool but MMA was still kinda new and I was like "Eh, I don't know if I'd want to do that." But I went down to Hilo (Hawaii) and trained with [Penn] for three weeks. That was a lot of fun.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): It must have been humbling to roll with a guy who was coming off submission wins over Matt Hughes and Takanori Gomi.
Gray Maynard: He called me and I was like "I have no idea who you are but I'll take a free trip to Hawaii!" Anyway, I went down there and I was like "Man, this guy is a big deal." We trained for like three weeks and I was like "This sport is pretty cool." Then I went back home, I still had a job and trained for a little bit more and then I ended up hooking up with [Randy] Couture when he was training for Chuck Liddell. Once I got there I was like "Wow, this is a great camp." I left my job and just went at it full time.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Quitting your job and moving to train full time is a big step. How did you support yourself financially?
Gray Maynard: I had some cash in the bank and my fiancé had a job and was helping me out. There were a lot of ways.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Was your family supportive? What was that phone call like: "Hey, I'm quitting my job to train as a fighter in a sport you've probably never heard of!"
Gray Maynard: In the beginning it was rough, they loved wrestling but they didn't know what I was getting into and stuff. Now it's at the point where they're like "Wow, this is great!"
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Give us some background on how you ended up doing The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
Gray Maynard: After hooking up with Couture, I had my first couple of amateur fights in Oregon but they were spread out. It got to the point where I was calling all the time bugging everyone for fights. It was frustrating because a lot of times they book you for fights then they don't happen. It was like "Yep, yep, oh, nope, nope." Then a couple of people told me that the TUF show was going to have 155 pounders on it. I tried out and that was it.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Was that experience as tough as everyone says? One of your cast mates, Manny Gamburyan, said by the time he left the house he was a psycho.
Gray Maynard: It's horrible man. You're stuck in the house, you can't leave, can't talk to people. There were a lot of idiots and I just wanted to get out of there. It drives you crazy.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Idiots notwithstanding, who do you keep in contact with from that season?
Gray Maynard: I keep in touch with Matt Wiman, Rob Emerson, Nate Diaz a little bit, Joe Lauzon, a couple of guys.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Speaking of Nate Diaz, do you ever look back at that elimination fight, that you were dominating before getting submitted and say "God, I wish I had that one back?"
Gray Maynard: Yeah, it's a loss. I hate to lose. I'd love to go back but by then we all just wanted off that damn show. It was the last day and it was just like "God, I have to fight right now? I just want to get out of here!" I hate that I had that attitude.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Is there a chance that guys might subconsciously look for a way out in a fight if the experience has already broken them prior to fighting? Do you think being under that kind of stress affected you performance?
Gray Maynard: You know I talked to Diaz afterwards and we both were like "God, we felt like shit." We just wanted to get out of there.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): You also mentioned staying in touch with Rob Emerson. Do you guys ever look back on your fight at the TUF 5 Finale and have a laugh over the knockout/tapout?
Gray Maynard: Not really.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): After the fight you were adamant about not being knocked out. Did you watch the replay at some point and say "Yeah, I guess I was out?"
Gray Maynard: I mean I was dazed, big-time. I don't know if I was completely out but I was dazed for sure.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Is it hard watching yourself on TV?
Gray Maynard: I don't watch unless I'm watching it in training camp to prepare or correct mistakes. It's the only time I'll do it.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): What about TUF? Have you been keeping up with the seasons that followed yours?
Gray Maynard: No, I don't even watch it.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Has the show run its course or do you think it still has a place in this sport?
Gray Maynard: It's got its place. It's a crazy show.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): You probably made the most noise in your division after the win over Frankie Edgar - a win that is even more impressive knowing that you did it with a broken hand. A lot of people, myself included, thought Edgar was the better fighter until you proved us wrong. How much of a factor was the altitude in that fight?
Gray Maynard: It wasn't a factor. If you train and you're ready and show up for the fight then we're all on an even playing field.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): It was the first time I've seen Edgar outwrestled. Was there a point in the fight where you felt him break? Or was he dangerous from start to finish?
Gray Maynard: He didn't break, he's a tough kid. He was in it the whole time. I had to tell myself "Keep your A-game, keep your A-game" because he just kept coming.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): A lot of good wrestlers end up with the label of being a lay 'n pray fighter or the dreaded "human blanket". Does that label concern you and what do you intend to do to prove otherwise, if anything?
Gray Maynard: I'm in a great camp (Xtreme Couture) that keeps evolving. I got Jay Hieron, all kinds of great guys, this team is good. We train to get good in all areas: Jiu-Jitsu, kicks, knees - all that stuff. As we do that, it'll be easier to feel confident about using those other areas.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): You've got perhaps your stiffest test to date when you face Rich Clementi at UFC 90 on Saturday. Where does a win over a talented veteran like him put you in this division?
Gray Maynard: Against a tougher guy.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): So you're not looking for a future title shot or a certain ranking if you win?
Gray Maynard: Nah, I'm not there yet. I gotta keep going up the ladder.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Is there a lightweight fighter currently in the UFC that you've said to yourself "Man, I would love to fight that guy?"
Gray Maynard: I asked for Sean Sherk after the Edgar fight but that didn't happen.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): That's kind of a big jump.
Gray Maynard: Yeah, he's tough man, he's great. That's who I want, I want to fight the best. I don't want easy fights.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Do you consider Clementi an easy fight?
Gray Maynard: No, hell no. That guy's good. He's got a lotta heart. It's gonna be a tough fight.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Let me read you a quote from Clementi: "I like fighting one-dimensional guys. I'm pretty well-rounded. It lets me have a little bit of flexibility."
Gray Maynard: Well he's right about being well-rounded. And I was one-dimensional maybe early on and through the TV show, but now I got a little bit more.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Do you think it's a mistake for him to go into the fight thinking his only concern is your wrestling?
Gray Maynard: I guess we'll see.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): How many fights do you have left on your UFC contract after Saturday?
Gray Maynard: I think I have four.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Who handles the decision making for your career? Do you have a manager or do you handle everything yourself?
Gray Maynard: I talk to Couture a lot. He kind of advises me. He's awesome.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Did his departure last year affect your relationship with Dana or the UFC?
Gray Maynard: No, I'm pretty easygoing. They would call me and tell me who they wanted me to fight and I would be like "Yeah, sure."
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Who are your closest friends in the UFC?
Gray Maynard: Tyson Griffin, Martin Kampmann, Rashad Evans, there are a bunch of guys that are really cool.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): What do you think Griffin's chances are against Sherk?
Gray Maynard: Man that's gonna be a great fight.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Sherk of course has a tremendous wrestling background but kind of took a fall from grace with the steroids scandal. Was there ever a point in your training or career that you felt tempted to get that edge?
Gray Maynard: No, I'm a little guy. Probably wouldn't make much difference.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): But little guys tend to have exciting fights - which leads me to Kenny Florian vs. Joe Stevenson. You have a prediction for that?
Gray Maynard: Joe Daddy has been doing good. Florian was okay against Huerta, I don't know, I can't call stuff, I suck at that. I'm always wrong.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): You can't be any worse than Nostradumbass.
Gray Maynard: Who?
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): So, uh, what do you do when you're not training? What are some of your hobbies?
Gray Maynard: I like to play games, hang out with my dog, go wakeboarding, just kind of kick back.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Are you married now?
Gray Maynard: No, we're still engaged. We've been together since college.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Nice. Can she watch you fight or is it too hard for her?
Gray Maynard: No, she can watch. She's been with me a long time so she's been watching me compete since the beginning.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): You have a couple of tattoos. Give me your favorite and the significance behind it.
Gray Maynard: The one on my chest says: "One life, roll the dice." I got that when I was in Arizona training for the 2004 Olympics because you gotta get up everyday and take a chance. You gotta roll the dice every day.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Are there days when you wake up and just say "Ah, fuck this?"
Gray Maynard: Oh yeah, but I go out and do it anyway.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Are you getting recognized in the streets now and if so, is it hard to deal with?
Gray Maynard: Yeah I get noticed, but it's cool. I don't mind. Doesn't happen much because I'm usually either at the gym or at my house.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): What was your reaction to the fall of EliteXC? Was their demise good or bad for the sport?
Gray Maynard: Only time will tell.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): How did you get the nickname "The Bully?"
Gray Maynard: I got that when I joined the Couture gym because I like to go hard. I train real hard.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Do you ever worry that such high intensity could make you more susceptible to injury?
Gray Maynard: No, not really.
Jesse Holland (MMAmania.com): Well we'll be looking forward to some of that intensity against Rich Clementi at UFC 90. We wish you the best of luck Gray and thanks again for making some time for us.
Gray Maynard: Awesome, thanks a lot. And check out my sponsor Desert Volkswagon.