Gray Maynard, TUF 18 Finale's 'Fighter To Watch' on FOX Sports 1 tonight

Joe Camporeale-US PRESSWIRE

Gray Maynard meets Nate Diaz for the third time later this evening (Sat., Nov. 30, 2013) in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 Finale. At a crucial point in his career, Maynard needs to fight smart to keep his high status in the lightweight division.

Gray Maynard has been a relevant name in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight division for a long time. However, with the recent rise of many other fighters in the division he calls home, "The Bully" has a greater need than ever to string together a few wins in hopes of staying afloat in one of the promotion's strongest divisions.

That trek begins tonight (Sat., Nov. 30, 2013) when Maynard touches gloves once again with Nate Diaz in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 FInale, which takes place at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Maynard has had a UFC career that has been almost tragic in a sense. Coming off TUF 5, Maynard was booked to face Rob Emerson, which produced one of the strangest ends to a UFC fight ever. After a slam from Maynard rendered both men unable to continue -- Maynard knocked himself out and broke Emerson's ribs -- the bout was ruled a "No Contest." Afterward, Maynard rattled off win after win, eventually accumulating eight consecutive victories that included wins over names such as Kenny Florian, Jim Miller, Nate Diaz and Frankie Edgar, among others.

This win streak put him in place for a rematch with the aforementioned Edgar, in a bout that would be contested for his Lightweight title that he earned -- and retained -- after beating B.J. Penn twice consecutively. The bout started with what may be the most dominant full round in UFC history, with Maynard landing vicious blows on a constantly retreating and rocked Edgar. The following rounds were much closer, and as the decision drew near, it seemed to be anyone's fight.

Unfortunately for Maynard, the judges could not reach an agreement. And despite coming ever so close to winning the 155-pound belt, it ended as a split draw, meaning Edgar got to retain his world title.

In the rematch of their classic second bout, it looked to be more of the same, with Maynard putting Edgar on his heels early. Again, he came close to finishing his rival early in the fight, but came up short yet again. The following rounds saw both men have their moments, but after a flurry of short shots from Edgar late into the fourth round, Maynard was put down and finished by technical knockout stoppage, again destroying what looked to be a fight that, if officiated differently, could certainly have been his by way of stoppage.

Even though these fights definitely sealed Maynard's place in UFC history, it is important to note that these fights happened more than two years ago. Since then, Maynard has fought only twice, including a pathetic contest with Clay Guida that he won by split decision and a brutal technical knockout loss to recent Lightweight success story T.J. Grant.

Coming off this loss, Maynard has found himself in a precarious position in the Lightweight divisional standings. Without a significant upturn in his results, he could face irrelevancy, which would be very sad for a fighter of his ability and history. Against Diaz, he has not only the chance to settle the score with an opponent whom he has both defeated and been defeated by, he has a chance to make his mark yet again in an ever-changing weight class.

An important thing for Maynard in this fight is that he does not fight like he has in his last two bouts. In his fights with Guida and Grant, Maynard focused far too heavily on his striking, which really isn't good at all. His footwork is absolutely dreadful, which is the reason he was completely unable to do anything to Guida in their fight, and his defense is simply not good enough, as shown by the brutal finish he received at the hands of Grant.

If Maynard decides to make his gameplan one that focuses on striking, he may be in for a long night with Diaz. Diaz is definitely the better striker of the two, and that could spell trouble for Maynard if he chooses to spend prolonged periods of the fight at striking range with the longer, more effective opponent in front of him. Maynard will need to employ his wrestling at all times in this fight, in an attempt to neutralize Diaz at all costs.

To be honest, Maynard needs to make this fight ugly if he wants a sure-fire win. He shouldn't be worried about any flashy striking exchanges or haymakers, he should be focused on putting Diaz on his back time and time again, and keeping him from attacking with submissions while he's there.

In other words, Maynard needs to find his roots to take a very important win in this fight.

What you can expect from Maynard is anyone's guess. He seems to be like one of too many wrestlers who "fall in love" with their under-par striking, which might cost him big at TUF 18 Finale. His chances of taking his rubber match with Diaz are significantly better if he does what his nickname implies, bullying Diaz on the mat for three grueling rounds.

Maynard may need to grind this win out, but it is in his best interest that he does so. A win could mean so much for Maynard at this point, but the scary thing for him is that a loss could mean even more.

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