Gray Maynard has won a single fight in the last three years, come up short in his two UFC championship bouts and was knocked out in just over two minutes in his last fight inside the Octagon. He’s currently sitting in the fifth spot in the lightweight top 10 with virtually no chance at getting a fight with any of the four men that sit above him in the rankings, and on top of all that, “The Bully” just turned 34 years old a few months ago. Maynard has no fight scheduled and no obvious opponent to put in front of him to help him climb back up the ladder. He couldn’t beat Frankie Edgar in two tries with gold on the line, whereas current champ Benson Henderson could.

Look at those facts and it’s pretty easy to conclude that Maynard is done as a top contender in the UFC. Much like other dominant contenders before him, including Jon Fitch and Chael Sonnen, Maynard made a living out of beating up on everyone else in the division. When the stakes were at their highest, however, “The Bully” has always come up short. After starting his career with an undefeated 10-0 record, Maynard has had to learn how to lose over the last few years, and now that he has, I suspect he’ll be a better fighter for it. Learning from your mistakes after a loss is a tough pill to swallow, especially when they’ve come in high-profile bouts like Maynard’s, but the ability to grow from each loss is a tool that many fighters have used to their advantage in the past. If Maynard is able to replicate the success of others and reinvent himself into a smarter, more disciplined fighter, there’s no reason that he can’t win the UFC belt that he’s been pining for his entire career.

Despite the fact that Maynard is now just 1-2-1 in his last four bouts, he’s somehow remained near the very top of the lightweight division, which is quite remarkable considering how loaded the 155-pound weight class is these days. Of the five fighters sitting ahead of Maynard in the current rankings, four have held either a UFC, WEC or Strikeforce title. The only fighter sitting ahead of Maynard in the rankings that doesn’t have any gold on his resume is T.J. Grant, who not so coincidentally was the man who knocked “The Bully” silly in under half a round at UFC 160 a few months ago.

Having so many former champions all jockeying for position in the title race in front of Maynard is going to make it tough for Maynard to get back to the top immediately, but in the long run, having so many talented fighters sitting ahead of “The Bully” in the pecking order may be the best way for Maynard to squeeze into another title fight.

Realistically, Maynard probably needs to win at least two big fights before he can seriously be considered for a title fight again, and there is almost no chance that he gets a fight with someone ranked above him for his next bout. That leaves a few enticing options in the lower half of the top 10, but more importantly, it gives Maynard a chance to gain a win or two against competition that isn’t quite up to par with the Hendersons and Anthony Pettises of the division. Usually, beating guys positioned a few spots below in the rankings isn’t going to help springboard your career, but the lightweight division is full of guys like Donald Cerrone and Nate Diaz that not only would be considered great wins for Maynard, but are big names that look great on a resume heading into a title fight.

All it’s going to take is a single win to get Maynard back on track. After that, his road to a title shot becomes much shorter. As the other contenders slowly eliminate each other from the title scene, Maynard can become a top contender again by default. Once he’s back in the mix, he has his chance to make up for his missed opportunities. To do that, Maynard needs to get back to doing what made him one of the best in the world in the first place.

Before Maynard landed a baker’s dozen of huge punches that almost left Frankie Edgar napping in their two title fights, “The Bully” was considered the most terrifying wrestler in the entire lightweight division. It’s time for him to embrace the grind again.

Looking over Maynard’s career, two things stick out the most: the level of competition he’s fought and the amount of decisions he’s won. Maynard has defeated everyone from a former champion in Edgar (in the first of their three meetings) to longtime contenders like Kenny Florian and Clay Guida, and every single one of his meaningful wins have come by way of decision. Obviously, Maynard has power in his hands, and as a fight fan, of course I would prefer to see him finish his bouts. However, the fact is that Maynard has never been particularly good at putting his opponents away, and he has spent way too much time trying to stand and earn a knockout in his last few fights.

In Maynard’s first fight against Edgar, this mistake was pretty forgivable. Maynard hurt “The Answer” early, smelled blood, went for the kill, and it didn’t happen. It may not have been the safest path to victory, but Maynard performed extremely well on the feet in the first round and was competitive enough in the rest of the fight that it’s understandable why he didn’t see the need to make many adjustments in the latter part of the bout. By the second fight, Maynard probably should have tried to mix things up a little better against a boxer of Edgar’s caliber, but another first-round string of knockdowns helped make sure Maynard would keep the fight standing. This time it came back to haunt him and he would suffer the first loss of his career, something that probably should have forced Maynard to adjust his game plan back into a more wrestling-centric approach.

Instead, Maynard was forced to chase Clay Guida around the cage for 25 minutes in an attempt to initiate any sort of exchange during their bizarre FX main event last June. Although he won the close decision, the victory was far from the impressive one he needed to make a statement. When “The Bully” caught a break and was placed into a de-facto No. 1 contender’s fight against Grant in May, the obvious route to victory was for Maynard to use his takedowns and grind out a win in order to make sure he earned his title fight. Instead, Maynard decided to put pressure on Grant with his striking in the early moments of their fight, and when “The Bully” didn’t quite show the Canadian the respect he deserves on the feet, Grant put him away with a vicious combination.

After getting caught by strikes for the second time in three fights, it’s time for Maynard to get back to his roots. Despite the fact that Maynard hasn’t used his grappling skills in a long time, he’s still among the two or three very best wrestlers in the entire lightweight division, and “The Bully” has proven that his wrestling is all he needs to completely shut down a high-caliber opponent’s offense. As long as Maynard remains smart and plays to his strengths over the course of his next few fights, he should find himself in position to get another crack at the belt. When he does, don’t expect him to leave the cage without it.

Photo: Gray Maynard (L) (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.