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History in the making: Nate Diaz strangles Gray Maynard to advance to TUF 5 live finale

"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. 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. --Gray Maynard

Joe Camporeale-US PRESSWIRE

Gray Maynard was one fight away from competing for a "six-figure contract" in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 5 live finale, which took place at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, back on June 23, 2007.

Instead, he found himself trying to prove he was a UFC-caliber fighter on the "Prelims" portion of the Spike TV card, which ended in a controversial finish when Maynard allegedly knocked himself unconscious -- while Rob Emerson was tapping out -- following a brutal second-round slam.

It wasn't supposed to end this way.

When the three-time All American out of Michigan State first signed on as a participant in the combat sports reality show, he was pegged as an early favorite to win it all. After all, Maynard was well known in the mixed martial arts (MMA) world, despite having just two professional fights.

When B.J. Penn needed a wrestler to help him train for Rodrigo Gracie at Rumble on the Rock in 2006, it was "The Bully" who got the call.

Gray's response?

"I have no idea who you are, but I'll take a free trip to Hawaii!"

It should come as no surprise then, to see Maynard as Team Penn's number-one pick once filming for TUF 5 got underway.

And he didn't disappoint. Maynard demolished the hapless Wayne Weems by way of technical knockout in the very first round. Just two episodes later, he advanced to the semifinals by dispatching the venerable Brandon Melendez by way of guillotine choke.

His size, strength and athleticism proved too formidable for the rest of the house.

Well, almost.

On the other side of the bracket, Nate Diaz was quietly slinking his way through the competition. The second pick for Jens Pulver behind the towering Corey Hill, the younger brother of Nick choked out Rob Emerson in a wildly entertaining scrap in episode three.

Then came what seemed like an impossible mission.

Diaz was paired off against Hill, who lumbered into the cage at 155 pounds and an incredible six-feet, four inches in height. But "The Real Deal" learned the lesson Royce Gracie first taught way back at UFC 1: Size doesn't matter, particularly when you have the kind of jiu-jitsu that Diaz had.

Maynard was not impressed.

When the two finally met in the twelfth and final episode, "The Bully" honored his moniker with a punishing first round. Diaz was diligent in his defense, but Maynard was able to bust him up pretty badly with his ruthless ground-and-pound. When the horn sounded to end the opening frame, things weren't looking good for Team Pulver.

Diaz, however, was cool as a cucumber.

The Cesar Gracie-trained submission specialist used his opponent's fading gas tank -- and wild punches -- to implement close-range fighting, forcing Maynard to revert to his bread-and-butter. What seemed like a simple transition for the former Olympic hopeful was instead a well-placed trap.

Maynard was forced to surrender and Team Penn's number-one pick was no more.

It was of little comfort to know that Diaz would claim the show's grand prize by defeating Manny Gamburyan; however, Maynard would get his revenge less than three years later by scoring a hotly-contested split decision win in the main event of UFC Fight Night 20.

The score -- if you count the TUF "exhibition fight" -- is all tied up at one apiece.

The rubber match is now set for next week's TUF 18 live finale, and due to a set of unusual circumstances, Diaz vs. Maynard is now the headlining act. The action gets underway on FOX Sports 1 on Nov. 30, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A rubber match nearly seven years in the making.

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