Gray Maynard, a lightweight reborn

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
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Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Gray MaynardJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesA recharged Gray Maynard is hoping a change of scenery has done him good.

Learn a lesson from Gray Maynard.

The 32-year-old lightweight contender felt "stagnant" and "boxed in." He wasn't living in a place he or his fiancee wanted to call home. So he did what many people often discuss but rarely do: He took action.

"I didn't want to talk about it a year or two later," Maynard said.

A month prior to fighting Frankie Edgar for a third time, he parted ways with Xtreme Couture, the only MMA gym he knew, and set up his own shop.

Maynard admits the situation "wasn't good, but it's not an excuse. That's why I never made it a big deal. It was my choice and I have to deal with it."

A few weeks after losing a chance to become the UFC lightweight champion when Edgar finished him in the fourth round, the 155-pound powerhouse left Las Vegas in the rearview mirror, headed west and settled in Santa Cruz, Calif.

"It's hard to leave a gym," Maynard said. "It's hard to leave your home. It's a tough move. It's not like I was gonna leave for [one training] camp. I was like, let's move. It kind of happened quicker than we were planning on, but it was good to do that."

As a result of the journey, when Maynard steps into the cage Friday night in Atlantic City against Clay Guida, he'll do so with a revamped corner and a new view on what it means to be a mixed martial artist.

"I felt like I hit a plateau, and it was time to get some new ideas," he said. "I needed a change. Xtreme Couture is where I started; it's awesome, I love them all there. I just had to evolve more. There's a lot to the game."

Maynard's 10-1-1 record serves as testimony to the effectiveness of his wrestling skill and raw power. He is strong and hits hard, which is why it was easy to succumb to the boxer-wrestler trap while forgoing other areas of his game.

His first stop was the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.

"He was only doing one or the other when he first came to the gym," said AKA-trained lightweight Josh Thomson. "He was only boxing or wrestling, but the combination from punch to [takedown] shot wasn't that clean. It was decent but wasn't clean."

Maynard credits Thomson, whom he helped prepare for a May contest against Gilbert Melendez, heavyweight Daniel Cormier, AKA coaches Javier Mendez and Bob Cook, boxing trainer Rick Noble, UFC veteran Mac Danzig and the Nova Uniao camp for getting his "juices flowing again."

In Brazil, Maynard worked with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo in advance of what turned out to be a late first-round stoppage against Chad Mendes. Maynard said he was impressed by the camp and its approach to MMA.

"I just saw a lot about the whole game," he said. "Nova Uniao, they're good in all areas. It was a lot more of the MMA game, and it got me going again, got me thinking about stuff."

He brought that attitude back with him to California and continued upgrading. Maynard expects to show some of those new skills and mentality against Guida in the main event of UFC's latest offering on FX.

Thomson, who works Maynard's corner alongside Noble and Danzig, acknowledged that the No. 4-ranked lightweight according to ESPN.com has "got a lot of things going through his mind right now as far as how to try and use the new tools he's developing."

Still, Thomson said the changes Maynard implemented in recent months are paying off in the gym.

"I just want to see how it meshes and comes together in a real fight," Thomson said. "He's not going to do it overnight."

Fans shouldn't expect spinning back kicks from The Bully, but his transitions between striking and grappling realms are said to be crisper. His boxing application looks tighter, more efficient and requires less energy. As a result, combinations are flowing the way he'd like them to. He also honed in on his wrestling roots with the impressive Cormier, Strikeforce's heavyweight grand prix champion.

Guida, ranked No. 7, will provide a stern test, which Maynard welcomes.

"It was a good choice for us," Maynard said. "He brings a little bit different approach for each bout, but he always goes hard. That's all I can ask for."

As for what unfolds in the cage, regardless of where he trained or the level of shape he worked himself into, Maynard is mindful that the plan of attack is up to him. He may have new tools to use, but it would be a mistake to shift too far from the attributes that brought him to this point.

Sometimes change is good. Sometimes it's not.

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