Gray Maynard: Old School Bullying
Gray Maynard is a throwback to the wrestlers of old, which is to say, an unforgiving, down-to-earth roughneck who will not be pushed around… in other words, a freaking Bully.
Gray Maynard weighed 10 pounds, 11 ounces at birth. It was mostly head. This has been a sore point of contention for his mother, and, in a strict David Copperfield sense of starting from the beginning, it’s the first thing to bear in mind when talking about his own contention in combat sports. “As far as a chin, I think I’m doing pretty good in that area,” Maynard says. “I have a big cranium to take those punches.”
It’s the Fourth of July. Later today, Maynard has a signing at a Nissan dealership, but, otherwise, he’s keeping things loose. Right now, he’s driving his black Cadillac CTS down the all-too-familiar Las Vegas strip to a place he’s fond of called Hash House A Go Go, known for serving up impossible portions. Maynard grew up in Vegas—left, thrived, failed, returned. Now, he’s thriving again, with only one more obstacle in front of him: becoming the UFC Lightweight Champion. It’s good consolation to some earlier wrestling goals that he fell short on, which have gnawed away at his guts for a long time. When you’re a competitor, a thousand successes won’t do away with a single failure, even if that failure is a thing of perfectionist interpretation.
Everything in Vegas is completely old hat to Maynard. He doesn’t pay a lick of attention to billboards of the gambler Kenny Rogers playing the Orleans or the sidewalk impersonators or the scorched brown earth beyond. In fact, when talking to Maynard, you realize quickly that he doesn’t give a damn about most superficial things. Even his Cadillac, with its dark tinted windows, is a kind of ruse. “It’s leased,” he says. “I treat the fucking thing like it’s stolen.”
The Hash House A Go Go inside the Imperial Palace Casino is packed with happy gluttons. Maynard hypes the Bloody Mary, which has chopped jalapenos, a baby pickle, saturated olives, and a green bean. This last bit he likes. A green bean takes it from ordinary to something else. All around us, plates are being dropped off with hamburgers the size of small birthday cakes. Maynard sees these temptations and talks about them on familiar terms. But his is a vicarious fascination with grease. He orders granola, fruit, and two eggs over easy. At least we have two big bottles of Chimay in front of us and two cold schooners to pour them in. “I really believe that two or three beers a day is good for you,” Maynard says. At some point, he’d like to make his own beer. “Soon,” he says. He has the same sentiment about the UFC Lightweight Title. Soon.
It’s not long before the beers are reporting. Now, he’s talking about how mental MMA is—like 90% mental, possibly 95%—and the importance of eating healthfully, knowing where your foods come from, about never watching a single episode of The Ultimate Fighter television show, not even the ones from Season 5 that he appears in. “I hate that show,” he says. “But, I’ve got no TV, no cable. I like to filter what things I have. There was a day I was flipping channels for half an hour when I’d had it, going through like 300 channels, and I picked a channel that I didn’t care about and watched that for an hour. So, that’s an hour-and-a-half out of my fucking life, and if I do that everyday, that’s hundreds of hours a year. No thanks.”
And then the inevitable—the talk comes around to Frankie Edgar. Maynard says it nearly killed him to draw with Edgar at UFC 125. Just recalling it is like dredging up a horrific event, beginning with the near finish in the first round, the eyeswide rush when he had Edgar hurt, the swoop in and the barrage, and then…the adrenaline dump. His legs barely carried him back to his corner, he says. “I kept telling myself, alright, now you’ve got to dig deep, there are four more rounds. You need to dig deep this time and get through this.” To hear him recount rounds two through five, it’s like he’s remembering a plank walk.
Then he orders those Bloody Marys, and they arrive with a straw that could passage a marble, which leaves a trail of fire down the throat, and Maynard throws his thumb up. “Good, aren’t they?”
It’s barely past noon.
Here’s the number one contender in the lightweight division, ladies and gentlemen. The Bully.
Throughout the day, Maynard makes references to “our sport” a lot.
“That’s what our sport is about,” he says. “Dedication, perseverance, discipline, all that stuff. You can’t learn those aspects if you’re not putting 100% into it.” He isn’t talking about mixed martial arts. What he’s talking about is wrestling. Maynard is a wrestler. It’s in his blood—the rest is an opportunity to stay competitive and to continue using his wrestling. He can talk to you about old-time wrestlers going back to George Nicholas Mehnert’s heyday in the early 1900s. His father, Jan Maynard, was a three-time state champion in Ohio, and his uncles were on that team. He is named after his dad’s idol in the sport, Gray Simons, who was a twotime Olympian and three-time National Champion at Lock Haven in the 1960s, and later went on to coach at Old Dominion. Maynard’s been wrestling since he was three years old, and he has the history of the sport deeply rooted in him.
“I didn’t have the type of dad who forced wrestling on me,” Maynard says. “I’ve known kids where their dads started pushing them from the age of four or five and they were wrestling all year long. I did it, I liked it, and it was fun. I played every other sport, too—football, baseball, soccer, my mom had me in gymnastics at an early age, and ballet at an early age. I was an active kid.”
Not liking the interdependence that comes along with team sports, Maynard felt most at home on the ledge of one-onone competition, where he was accountable only to himself.
“It got to the point at around 10 or 11 years old where I was like, ‘I love this sport,’” he says. “I would point out the camps I wanted to go to, tournaments I wanted to go to. You had kids whose dads would talk about Joe Namath and that sort of thing, but with my dad, it was all about our sport. I knew about the history, and that was important for my dad. In our sport, the history gets forgotten a lot. I grew up loving the sport, and I worked hard at it.”
From an early age, Maynard idolized 1996 Olympic gold medalist Tom Brand, who later became the coach at the University of Iowa. “I would go to any camp he was at, all summer following him around like a little stalker trying to pick his brain,” he says. By the time he was in high school, Maynard was obsessed with making his name as a wrestler. He begged his father to let him go to school in Ohio or Pennsylvania where wrestling was a much bigger deal than in Las Vegas. Jan told him that he’d think about it on one condition, that he win state. Gray couldn’t get it done his freshman year (“which crushed me,” he says), but come his sophomore year he was hell-bent. He went undefeated. “I don’t even think I gave up a takedown that year,” he says.
Next thing he knew, he was packing his 1988 Subaru and heading for the all-boys St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, where wrestling was most kids raison d’être. It was here that he would make a name for himself in wrestling. He lived a vagabond existence, trading spaces among aunts and uncles and living out of his car for the next two years…yet he won state again his senior year, and became a highly-touted blue chip prospect. To this day, he credits his head coach at St. Edward’s, Greg Urbis, and the assistant, John Heffernan, for giving him the scaffolding that he uses in the cage.
“Urbas was my motivator,” he says. “He’d get into your head to make you a better person, not just a better athlete. And Heffernan, he was the guy that actually trained us. It was the Iowa mentality, what we called the ‘Iowa way.’”
And it was the Iowa way—attack, attack, attack, turn things into brawl, pressure, pressure, pressure—that he wanted heading off to college.
“I loved Iowa, I loved that school,” he says. “After winning High School Nationals my senior year, I personally loved Iowa and wanted to go there, but they had a guy there at the time, TJ Williams, who was a returning National Champ. It’s hard to recruit a guy in a weight class who has a National Champ. My parents, we didn’t have a lot of money, and it would have cost them a lot to get me to Iowa. So I picked Michigan State, and that’s where I went. I don’t think it was the best choice for me, as far as athletics.”
Maynard’s big problem with Michigan State was in philosophical differences. He found in Lansing a more calculated structure that didn’t fit his Buckeye mentality. Nevertheless, he went on to become a three-time All-American who won 106 matches, good for eleventh best of alltime Spartans. Still pretty good, right? Not to Maynard.
“If that’s what people call successful, then yeah,” he says. “But in high school, I thought, two, three, four-time National Champ was what I was going for. Fuck an All-American. Maybe time heals and it gets easier. But it ain’t there yet for me.”
If you’ve seen him controlling the action in the dozen fights he’s been in as a professional mixed martial artist (10- 0-1-1), this may help fill in some blanks. There’s a king-size chip in play here. There are regrets all over his back-story—deep unresolved issues of not having reached those early goals. In some ways, Maynard is taking preventive measures toward regrets in pursuing the UFC Lightweight Title. And you know what? He’s going to win the thing as a wrestler, and wrestling will stand out as the means of how he got it done. That’s his sport, and he knows how to enforce it.
“Will the college experience eat me up for the rest of my life?” he asks. “Probably. I can’t tell you about my wins, but I could go over in detail all of my losses.”
Motivation comes in many forms.
The Naked Stranger
There’s nothing more sobering than a car dealership in the bright afternoon. Maynard is used to this sort of thing, though. He says hello to Michael Bisping, who’s on the way out, and then sits at a table that faces a Nissan GT-R with a sale tag of $113,000. At one point, a salesman tries to tempt Maynard into buying it.
“It’s a nice car,” Maynard says. He’s being civil. His bank account doesn’t yet have that kind of disposability. He signs autographs on 8x10s of his shirtless-fighter self and poses for pictures for a line of fans. Everyone is wanting to know when he fights next. “October in Houston,” he tells people, “That’s what they’re telling me.” People say they foresee road trips in their future. One guy has him sign some Round 5 figures still in the box—one of them is a limited edition featuring the Bully in his walkout shirt. It’s already worth $60. “Do you have this one,” the man asks. “No, they don’t send me shit,” Maynard says. He’s straightforward. And it’s refreshing.
As the line shortens, he mentions casually that jiu-jitsu off your back is becoming pretty obsolete.
“Guys just know how to defend submissions,” he says. “Everyone knows how to defend a triangle. The good fighters do, anyway. You aren’t going to tap Georges St-Pierre from your back.”
Between his first fight against Frankie Edgar back in April 2008 and his last one, Maynard has fought a string of southpaws. He would like people to marinate on the fact. Lefties in MMA present a whole new slew of match-up problems that lefties in boxing don’t. Boxing is his other passion. “People want me to finish, but it’s hard to find rhythm against lefties,” he says.
Yet, he beat them all. Rich Clementi in the midst of his hot streak. Then Jim Miller, who is now closing in on a title shot. Then Roger Huerta, whose arm he nearly took off with a nasty Kimura. Then a revenge fight against Nate Diaz, who ousted Maynard unceremoniously on TUF. “Yeah, it hurt to lose to Nate, and it bothered me then—a loss is a loss,” he says. But he won the official rematch, and it was between him and Edgar to get a crack at BJ Penn’s belt. “Edgar beat Matt Veach easily,” he says, “My fight with Nate was close, so they went with Edgar.” Maynard then fought and beat Kenny Florian at UFC 118, yet another lefty, to earn his shot against Edgar, who beat Penn not once but twice. It was a swerving road to come back to one another, and now Maynard can’t shake Edgar, who has been in his crosshairs for a year.
He’s obsessed with it—but not in the unhealthy way that leads to psychosis. Maynard still has a sense of humor about life. Probably because he has seen some things, man. Between Sharpie signings, he shares the one story that entertains FIGHT!’s managing editor Jim Casey to no end.
“So, I was in Champaign, Illinois, for a wrestling tournament in college, and Rashad Evans and I would always keep the scale in our hotel room, because we were like the team captains and shit like that,” he says. “We’re not fucking going to anybody else’s room to check our weight, so all the guys would come down to our room to check their weight to make sure they were good for weigh-ins the next day. We’d turn the lock so the door would remain open so they weren’t knocking every two minutes. It was probably like 2:00 a.m., and we were passed out.
We hear the door open, and I get up and I’m like, Who the fuck is checking their weight at 2:00 a.m.? They must have eaten that night, and had to train. Then I feel a person crawl in bed. I’m like, Really, they’re that tired that they’re crawling in my bed? And I was about to turn over to tell them to get the hell out when I smelled alcohol.
So I turn over, and I see some guy that I’ve never seen before in my life, and I jump up and say, ‘Rashad, get the fuck up!’ He gets up. For like the last two years in college I didn’t have my front teeth, they got knocked out in a match. So this dude—who is drunk as shit, passed out—wakes up and looks at us, and he sees a big black dude and a crazy white dude with no teeth, and he’s looking around disoriented, and he’s buck naked except for black socks. He had a cheesy homemade tattoo. We were throwing things at him. Then he started trying to put on my clothes. We’re like slapping his hand, and I swear we were close to beating the shit out of him.
All of a sudden, we hear the door open, and we see this girl looking in there, and she doesn’t know what’s going on. She looks at him and goes, ‘Get over here, now.’ And she grabs him, walks out, and doesn’t say a word. Rashad and I thought it was a dream the next morning, but when I told him about my dream he said, ‘Dude, that fucking happened.’”
Here’s the green bean to that Bloody Mary of a story. The guy who knocked his teeth out in college was Griff Powell from Illinois in the Northern Iowa Open. It was an elbow midway through the match that shattered his teeth into his mouth. He spit the teeth into his coach’s hand, went back out, and beat him in overtime. He then proceeded to win two more matches and the tournament. Gray Maynard is not ordinary. He’s something else. You can’t make this stuff up.
BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL
Maynard’s mother, Linda, tells a story about Gray crashing his bike into his sister Misty’s. He was either going up a hill (as she contends), or down a hill (as he remembers it). Gray had a lot of speed, either way, and clipped his sister’s back tire and went flying headfirst into the pavement. It was a macabre scene—the crack was nauseatingly loud. Onlookers thought he was dead. Only thing was, Gray was blessed (or cursed) with a super thick noggin, and the happy point of the story is that it doesn’t easily concuss, and that Gray is a tough bastard. He lived through an episode that might have been dire for a normal kid.
Back at his house, his mother and his longtime girlfriend Jessica are preparing dinner while his two bull terriers—Hank, a rescue, and Ruka, a sweet female companion—are looking for hands to pet them. His mother has some pine nuts in a pot, freshly picked from western Nevada by a friend. Jessica, a splendid cook and nutritionist, is making sweet potato chips and basting some Portobello mushrooms. Maynard is not a vegetarian like Jessica. He’s not overly hippie-ish like his mom. But, he is sort of both. He tries to eat only grass-fed beef and he orders fish from vitalchoice.com in Washington. He’s right—no television in site. There is, however, a ball cap collection and a fly-fishing rod. He plans on taking up the sport, and his training partner Mike Pyle is an avid lover of caddis flies and black gnats and cold water eddies. Maynard likes being in nature, and fly-fishing appeals to him.
Maynard flips his current ball cap off his head toward his collection of others. He’s growing his hair out, and it’s starting to curl. “Everybody has the shaved head thing right now,” he says. He is, essentially, the anti-vogue. In fact, he says he’s confused by the loud nature of MMA clothing, which is one reason he partnered with BMX rider TJ Lavin to start their own brand: Forgiven.
But the thing that’s top of Maynard’s head right this second are people’s misconceptions about head movement and footwork. He gets up and demonstrates. “This is not head movement,” he says, rocking his head back and forth. “It’s more like this,” and he bobs and weaves forward, back, side to side. Nuances. Don’t get him started about footwork. He is obsessed with boxing. He has hundreds of tapes of boxers that he studies, Manny Pacquiao, Rafael Marquez, Julio Cesar Chavez. He analyzes their footwork and head movement and angles and changing levels. Maynard is a student.
“You can take little bits from each of them and learn and grow,” he says. “I think having an open mind and being grounded about who you are is the best. To know your abilities, and then to pick and choose what can apply to you. I know I’m not Anderson Silva. So, I’m not going to try and be like him.”
No, you get the sense that Gray Maynard will never be anything other than Gray Maynard. He’s a throwback to those earlier wrestlers that he carries around with him everywhere he goes. There isn’t an ego—there is only mission. There isn’t a way to change history—but he can shape the future. And his future, he’s convinced, is to be the UFC Lightweight Champion. Until he is—and very likely after—he’ll live on as a harsh critic of his every move.
“Like I tell you, that Edgar fight has been on my mind since that day in January,” he says. “For me, it’s embarrassing to go to the UFC and do autographs, because I feel that I’m coming off a loss. ‘Do I deserve that?’ That’s just how I am, just a warped perception. I always try to put myself behind the eight ball, so I have to work that much more to get to the point where I want to be. A draw is embarrassing. Anything but a win is embarrassing. Sometimes, a win can be embarrassing, when you go back and watch and say ‘I could have done more there.’”
I present to you the Bully, ladies and gentlemen. The Bully.
Gray Maynard’s longtime girlfriend and nutritionist Jessica Wheeler is tasked with keeping “The Bully” well within striking distance of his 155-pound weight class, as she prepares most of his meals. Here are a few of her secrets to keeping Gray going strong.
The importance of a healthy, well-balanced diet is key in maximizing athletic performance, as well as recovery. Lifestyle choices take time and effort, but there are many benefits to eating organic, grass-fed meats; organic, wild seafood; pH-balanced water; and organic produce. A lot of timeis taken to prepare all of our meals. Fruits, nuts, greens, and organic meats are the primary components of our diet. However, we also try to keep the meals balanced with proportionate protein, carbohydrate, and fat. We never buy store-packaged foods or anything processed. We use natural sweeteners such as Agave—nothing artificial that contains chemicals as the major component of the product.
A typical day for us includes oat bran and flaxseed with fruit and Agave, gluten-free wraps, nuts, boiled or sautéed greens, spinach salads with homemade salad dressing, avocados for snack, and a carbohydrate rich dinner, including a quinoa salad, salmon, and greens, as well as supplements from Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals. Spices, vinegars, and olive oil help create flavorful meals. We order all of our meats to ensure the maximum quality and integrity of the food that is put into our bodies.
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