Two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight title challenger, Gray Maynard, looks to topple Stockton bad boy, Nate Diaz, this Saturday (Nov. 30, 2013) in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 Finale main event at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The last couple years have been rough for "The Bully."
After an undefeated (10-0) start to his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, Maynard ran into Frankie Edgar for the second time, taking the champion to a draw and nearly finishing him. The rubber match didn't go as well for the All-American wrestler, as Edgar finished him with strikes in the fourth round.
In his comeback fight, he took on the always energetic Clay Guida. An utterly boring match up ended with Maynard getting the split decision victory, but little momentum. Injuries kept Maynard out of the Octagon for nearly one year, and T.J. Grant ruined his return, knocking him out with a flurry of punches and knees in the first round.
At 34 years old, Maynard's window is quickly closing. If he ever wants to get back to the title, he needs to defeat Diaz impressively. Does he have the skills to win the rubber match?
Let's take a closer look:
Maynard's devoted much of his career to developing an effective, if basic, boxing game. He's become a very competent boxer who, despite his lack of knockout finishes, hits extremely hard. Even in the two bouts where he was knocked out, Maynard was landing power punches before the finish.
One of the clear improvements from his early UFC days is Maynard's use of the jab. The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) trained product mixes a pawing jab with a spearing one, often catching his opponent off guard with its power. Maynard will occasionally double up his jab or follow it with a left hook.
Maynard also has a very crisp right cross. It doesn't have the same power as some of his more looping shots, but Maynard uses it effectively when his opponent is looking to land hooks. In his first bout with Roger Huerta, Maynard effectively landed straighter punches to out-strike "El Matador"en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Maynard's most powerful punch is likely his lunging left hook. "The Bully" will lead with the left hook, set it up with a jab, or a jab feint. He does a good job staying out of his opponent's range before quickly stepping in with the punch, which requires him to cover a lot of distance, something he does quite well.
Another of Maynard's preferred power punches is the uppercut. Maynard throws it frequently, as a counter, lead, or in the clinch. In particular, Maynard used the uppercut excellently against Frankie Edgar, timing his level drops to increase its impact. As Edgar dipped, he moved directly into Maynard's rising fist.
In both the second and third bout with Edgar, Maynard demonstrated how aggressively he'll pursue a finish. In the first round of both fights, Maynard rocked "The Answer" early with hard punches and then chased him around the Octagon slinging heavy leather for the rest of the round. When in pursuit, Maynard throw lengthy hook focused combinations and flying knees, while continually landing smaller shots.
The only other aspect of Maynard's stand up game worth mentioning -- seeing as he doesn't have much of a kicking game -- is his ferocious clinch game. In the clinch, Maynard is able to brutalize his opponent from the double collar tie, where his immense strength is especially relevant. Additionally, he managed to drop his upcoming opponent Nate Diaz with a knee from the clinch.
Both of Maynard's career losses are via knockout, which shows his defensive problems. Maynard keeps his hands fairly low, which is acceptable if the fighter has superb head movement or footwork, skills Maynard does not yet possess.
Maynard is a three-time All-American wrestler at Michigan State University. Throughout his career, Maynard has repeatedly proved that he is one of the most dominating wrestler in the UFC. This is partially due to his size advantage, as Maynard is one of the larger lightweights on roster, allowing him to overpower most of his opponents.
Maynard's primary takedown is the double leg. His shot is not especially fast, but he drives through it extremely well, completely pushing through his opponent's defenses. Additionally, if he manages to get his opponent pinned against the fence, he can easily lift them up into the air and slam them.
Like many other power wrestlers, Maynard is a physical beast from the clinch. While he'll occasionally work for a throw, he generally just drags his opponents to the mat, forcing them to cave to his pressure.
Once Maynard is on top of his opponent, his control is impressive. While this means his ground striking's potency suffers a bit, it also means that Maynard rarely exerts himself taking his opponent down over and over. Instead, he stays tight to them, smothering his opponent until an opportunity to posture up and throw harder shots, or seek a submission, arises.
Maynard has some of the best takedown defense in the lightweight division. His hips are so powerful that most attempts just bounce off, and he's able to sprawl away the rest. He also has pretty impressive balance, solidifying his takedown defense even further.
Maynard is occasionally taken down when his opponent times a shot perfectly. When this does happen, Maynard is extremely quick to burst back up to his feet. Deep into his professional career, not a single fighter has had any success controlling Maynard on the mat, which is a testament to his wrestling prowess.
Despite the fact that Maynard has zero submission victories, he does have a jiu-jitsu game, at least from the top position. Due to his aforementioned wrestling ability, it's very rare that we get to see Maynard work his guard for more than a few brief seconds.
However, Maynard did attempt a guillotine on Clay Guida. After getting irritated by "The Carpenter's" incessant movement and lack of offense, Maynard dropped his hands, flipped him off, and attacked with heavy strikes. Guida responded with a takedown, which "The Bully" easily stopped. From the sprawl, Maynard dropped back for a guillotine. It looked tight, and Maynard was squeezing correctly, but Guida managed to shake off his grip.
While Maynard has had a few other submission attempts, the most significant is his near kimura over Roger Huerta. Maynard successfully isolated the arm and was cranking it back beautifully. Unfortunately, Huerta was very determined and managed to freakout and roll. After Huerta's roll, Maynard wasn't able to finish due to the fence holding Huerta in place. Maynard did nothing technically wrong, he merely ran into a stubborn, and flexible, opponent.
Maynard has only been submitted once, on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) by his upcoming opponent Nate Diaz. This loss can be chalked up to inexperience, as Maynard only had two professional fights at the time, whereas Diaz had already fought in Strikeforce and the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) promotion.
Since then, Maynard has demonstrated no submission defense weakness. Kenny Florian is a skilled black belt, and Maynard utterly controlled him from within his guard. "Kenflo" was able to threaten with some omaplatas, but Maynard powered out each time.
Best Chance For Success
To defeat Diaz once again, Maynard has to blend his wrestling and striking without making any mistakes. Spending too much time in either area will allow Diaz to get comfortable, which is very dangerous for Maynard.
Maynard needs to relax for this bout. He came out firing against Grant, and while it initially was working, Grant's one big punch changed all of that. Maynard can't get sucked into a slug fest against Diaz, whose soul-sapping body shots and endless cardio will be the death of Maynard. Instead, Maynard should do his best to control the distance with the jab and punish Diaz with harder shots if he gets too aggressive, then circle away and reset.
It would benefit Maynard to mix takedowns into his attack. In addition to scoring points, takedowns will throw off Diaz's timing on his feet, making it easier for Maynard to land punches. Maynard shouldn't spend too much time on the mat or slam the Cesar Gracie-trained fighter, as both will lead to submission opportunities.
Can Maynard win the rubber match verses his TUF rival or will Diaz maintain his position as a top Lightweight?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Diaz be sure to click here.