LAS VEGAS -- At one point or another in the past four years, you might have wondered: What happened to Gray Maynard?
On Jan. 1, 2011, Maynard had the UFC lightweight title all but won. He knocked defending champion Frankie Edgar down multiple times in the first round of a title fight at UFC 125 in Las Vegas. The first five minutes were so one-sided, many argue that the round should have been scored 10-7, which is essentially nonexistent in mixed martial arts.
Edgar survived the round but appeared ready to be counted out, and more than a handful of journalists on deadline likely started formulating leads about a Maynard victory.
But since that moment, Maynard has never really been the same. The fight against Edgar eventually ended in a draw, marking one of the greater comebacks in UFC history. In five fights since, Maynard is 1-4 -- and he's been knocked out in each of the four losses.
So, what happened? You want the long answer or the short one?
Maynard (11-4-1), who will fight Alexander Yakovlev on the UFC Fight Night prelims on Saturday in Fairfax, Virginia, started his career as one of the original members of the onetime-powerhouse Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.
The initial group included, among others, Forrest Griffin, Jay Hieron, Mike Pyle, John Alessio, Tyson Griffin and, of course, Randy Couture. Maynard trained with that group starting in 2006 and was there when the facility opened in 2007.
"We laid the mats down in here," said Maynard, who left the gym in 2011 but returned for this camp against Yakovlev. "It was just a good core group of guys. We were really tight. Couture's name brought a lot of different people through here, and we'd pick stuff up from them as they came. Those early years were when it was the best."
It was a good atmosphere for Maynard, who is from Las Vegas, and it saw him go unbeaten in his first nine professional fights.
As time went on, however, the dynamic of the gym changed. Coaches started bickering with one another and preached conflicting ideas. Slowly, the original cast members started going their own way.
By fall 2011, Maynard had made up his mind to leave the gym. The timing of that decision could not have been worse. He was scheduled to fight Edgar again for the title at UFC 136 in October to settle the draw.
"About a month before that fight, I left," Maynard said. "It was more about respect than disrespect. I knew win or lose, I was gone. If I won the belt, I didn't want it to be like I had become a champion and bailed on my team. If I lost, I didn't want it to look I was blaming it on Couture's. So, I left, and everybody knew I was gone.
"When I go through it in my head, one thing that actually drove me out of Xtreme Couture was Edgar. His camp was so tight and organized. That week before we fought to a draw, I watched them the whole time. Everything was about him. I was talking to his boxing coach and he said, 'I'd die for Frankie.' I thought, 'Damn, that's a pretty tight team.' I guess I was in search of that."
The bulk of Maynard's preparation for the second title fight against Edgar took place in a small gym he rented out a month before the fight. He lost via TKO in the fourth round.
After that fight, Maynard moved to Northern California and began working with American Kickboxing Academy. On the surface, it sounded like a great move for his career -- but there were details in the fine print.
Maynard didn't move into a one-bedroom apartment right next to the gym. He bought a house that required a remodeling and was located in a beach town an hourlong drive from the AKA mats. In 2013, he became a father to a girl, Estella.
He worked out at AKA but he was never really an AKA "guy." Before his last fight, a TKO loss to Ross Pearson in August, he switched camps again, electing to do a one-off fight preparation at Power MMA in Arizona.
None of the experiences was necessarily bad, but they weren't the world-class circumstances someone might associate with a UFC title run. Maynard was throwing a lot of random stuff at the wall -- and not much was sticking.
"It was a lot of, 'I want to try this out, I want to try that out,'" Maynard said. "I wanted to try a sprint coach. I wanted to try a kickboxing coach. I was more of a guinea pig than anything, just trying a little bit of everything."
Maynard, 35, is now back in Las Vegas full time. In September, he moved back into the house he lived in when he first started training at Xtreme Couture. He never sold the place, choosing to rent it out when he moved to California.
He's back at Xtreme Couture, which only slightly resembles the Xtreme Couture he left four years ago. His new coach is Robert Follis, a longtime trainer of the sport who used to work at Team Quest with Couture and Dan Henderson.
They are still a new pairing, but there's reason to believe it could finally be a training situation that's right for Maynard.
"He's been doing this a long time, and he understands MMA in general," Maynard said. "What we used to have in this gym was a boxing coach trying to teach MMA, a jiu-jitsu coach trying to teach MMA. We didn't have too many people sitting down and saying, 'Let's change the sport. Let's evolve.' Follis is the best all-around MMA coach I've ever had."
The question now is, is it too late?
Late last year, Maynard signed a new eight-fight deal with the UFC. Before signing the contract, Maynard underwent a full comprehensive medical checkup at the request of UFC president Dana White.
Test results came back clean, but Maynard tries to be as realistic as possible when it comes to his health. He's been knocked out four times in the Octagon. He admits he's been knocked down in the practice room twice -- once back in the early days by Forrest Griffin (who fought at light heavyweight) and then again in the AKA gym by Justin Wilcox, who throws "just a weird kick," Maynard says.
How many knockouts is too many knockouts? Maynard doesn't feel like his chin has deteriorated -- despite four stoppages in five bouts inside the Octagon, but he admits that's a moment that can sneak up on a pro fighter.
"There's life after this, and I've always known that," Maynard said. "I'm a realist that this isn't forever. People aren't going to be running up to me 20 years from now, asking for my autograph. That's not going to be making me money. You've got the pro athletes who are aware of that -- who know, 'I have to take care of my body and brain because I have to produce after this.' Then you've got the guys who say, 'F--- it.'
"You never want to look back and say you left too early. And you never want to look back and say you left too late."
Each fight offers a new perspective on that balance, including Saturday. He says his family still supports his career, but only if he's doing it right. No more disorganized camps. Do it right, and see what happens.
"This kind of hurts to say, but if you go back on my career, I don't think I've ever really lost that bad," Maynard said. "Even in practice -- I've been clipped in the TKO losses, but I've never been in there with anyone and thought, 'Oh, this lightweight is just unbelievable.'
"I don't want to be the person that stayed too late, but also, as an athlete, I feel like I'm still there. Let's start putting it together. I've literally never given myself a chance. I want to give myself a chance."