One of the more promising fights on the UFC 96: "Jackson vs. Jardine" card is a lightweight scrap between Gray Maynard (6-0, with 1 no contest) and Jim Miller (13-1).
Maynard is now perfect (4-0) in the UFC and was last seen at UFC 90, outpointing Rich Clementi on all three judge’s scorecards. The three-time Division I All-American wrestler (he wrestled on the same team as UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans) is also the only blemish on Frankie Edgar’s otherwise perfect record (9-1).
Edgar, in turn, is the only loss on Miller’s record. The former Virginia Tech wrestler, however, has since rattled off eight wins (the last two inside the Octagon). Most recently, the fighting Miller brother outclassed Matt Wiman at UFC: "Fight for the Troops" in December — a fight he took on just a week’s notice with virtually no training camp.
A win would push either fighter well up the ranks of the crowded lightweight division. The fight appears on the main card of "Jackson vs. Jardine" and airs live on pay-per-view (PPV) from Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, this Saturday, March 7.
We caught up with Maynard to see how the Xtreme Couture product has been preparing for the explosive southpaw, find out what it’s like to work with Randy Couture, and get "The Bully’s" thoughts on his former coach from The Ultimate Fighter, BJ Penn, and GreaseGate ’09.
Let’s get to it:
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You last fought Rich Clementi at UFC 90, winning by unanimous decision. Clementi is a veteran, but your wrestling seemed too much for him in the end. I don’t know if the Illinois fans appreciated the effort, as there were a few boos. What are your thoughts on the fight?
Gray Maynard: It was a fight I really worked on the small details in my training camp. How to box a southpaw, stay out of submissions, and how to be more patient. I think I improved in all of those areas and I got the win. Of course we all want to entertain the fans, but a war between two guys isn’t planned, it just happens because it’s a good match up. Bottom line is, this is my job, I gotta get the win, there will be plenty of wars in my career.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You next face Jim Miller at UFC 96. What are your thoughts on Miller as an opponent?
Gray Maynard: I think Jim is a well-rounded fighter. He’s a southpaw, good jiu jitsu, good wrestling, a tough kid. It’s almost the exact same camp I had for Rich Clementi.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Many are calling this fight Miller’s first big test; however, Miller said in a video posted on YouTube that you haven’t faced anyone with the submission skill set that he has. Do you have any reaction to that?
Gray Maynard: I think Jim’s fought some tough guys already. I think Clementi had really tricky jiu jitsu. Miller does have good jiu jitsu. I really have a good team at Xtreme Couture with world-class jiu jitsu guys like Mike Pyle, Robert Drysdale, Neil Melanson and others at the gym or who come through the gym. So I think I’ve prepared with the best people.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You’re training at Xtreme Couture for this fight. How’s that going?
Gray Maynard: It’s one of the best training facilities in the world. Whenever you finish a training camp at Xtreme Couture, you know you’re prepared for your fight.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Couture served as one of your cornermen in the Clementi fight. Will he be cornering you again in this fight?
Gray Maynard: Yes, he’s always in my corner. He’s played a big part in my career, and I appreciate everything he’s done for me.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Couture’s known as a master tactician when it comes to developing effective strategies to take out an opponent. Do you work closely with him to develop a game plan? Can you talk a bit about the process that you go through to identify strategies that you think will work against an upcoming opponent?
Gray Maynard: Well there’s a basic strategy for every type of fighter or style of fighting. We then watch some tape on my opponent at the beginning of the training camp and put some of those strategies together. Then plan out the training camp with a focus on the strategies and game plan that we came up with.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Miller’s only loss is to Frankie Edgar, who you beat via unanimous decision at Fight Night 13. Did you watch tape of that fight, and if so, what’d you think?
Gray Maynard: No, I wasn't able to watch it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Lightweight Champion BJ Penn moved up in weight, lost to GSP, and now returns to 155. But he doesn’t seem to be letting that fight die, having officially filed a complaint to the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Do you have any thoughts on the situation? Do you think it’s a justified response on the part of Penn’s camp, or do you think it’s just sour grapes?
Gray Maynard: I think BJ is a competitor, and he doesn’t like to lose. Do I think the Vaseline played a part in his loss? I don’t think so, but I wasn’t in there fighting GSP. But that’s how BJ wants to deal with it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): It’s my understanding that you have a history with Penn. You were recruited by Penn as a sparring partner to help improve his wrestling back in 2004. In 2007, you were picked by Penn to win it all on TUF 5. Do you two keep in touch, are you guys still friendly?
Gray Maynard: Whenever I see him we catch up. I was going to go down to Hilo to help him prepare for Sean Sherk, but I had a broken hand so it didn’t work out. I learned a lot from BJ and respect him. I’ll always be a BJ Penn fan.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You were an early favorite to win Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter, but lost a semifinal matchup against Nate Diaz, the eventual winner. Is that a rematch you’d like to see take place?
Gray Maynard: Whatever the UFC wants. My focus right now is on Jim Miller.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Would you like to thank any sponsors, or do you have any parting words for your fans?
Gray Maynard: Everlast, Cage Fighter, Desert Volkswagen, Select Therapy, Unbreakable Mouthpieces, Xtreme Couture MMA, Las Vegas Elite Boxing, and Body by Bonacci.