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UFC Fight Night 19:

Slow and steady for Gray Maynard

After falling short of a NCAA title, Maynard has eyes on UFC championship

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Courtesy of UFC

Gray Maynard throws a left hand in his bout with Jim Miller at UFC 96. Maynard defeated Roger Huerta at UFC Fight Night 19 today in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Ultimate Fight Night 19

  • Who: Co-main event Nate Diaz vs. Melvin Guillard, Roger Huerta vs. Gray Maynard; undercard includes Carlos Condit vs. Jake Ellenberger, Nate Quarry vs. Tim Credeur, Steve Cantwell vs. Brian Stann, Mike Pyle vs. Chris Wilson
  • When: 8 p.m. Wednesday (tape delayed on West Coast)
  • Where: Where: Cox Convention Center, Oklahoma City
  • TV: Spike TV (Cable Channel 29)

To this day, Gray Maynard still doesn’t understand why it meant that much to him. Sometimes dreams are just like that.

For whatever reason as he was growing up, all he thought about was becoming a NCAA wrestling champion.

“I don’t know why, but I loved the NCAA,” Maynard said. “Since the time I was 12, I wanted to be the NCAA champ.”

It’s a common thing to tell kids to never give up on their dreams, but for Maynard that rule doesn’t necessarily apply.

When the Las Vegas native graduated from Michigan State University 2003 with no NCAA crown, the dream was pretty much dead.

“I was a three-time All-American, ranked as high as the top two in the country my senior year, but when I graduated I hadn’t accomplished my goal,” Maynard said. “I was hurt a little, of course. A goal is a goal.

“But after you’re done with school, there’ no way to get the NCAA championship again.”

So, Maynard changed his goal into representing his country as a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic wrestling team. Shortly after graduating college, he moved to Arizona where he could train wrestling full-time.

It didn’t take long however, for him to realize the odds stacked against him.

“I had wrestled in college in the 157-pound division, so I was caught in between the 145 and 163-pound classes,” Maynard said. “I either had to cut a lot of weight or be the smallest fighter in my class.

“Making an Olympic team, it’s a dream — it really is. You’ve got to put everything you’ve got into it and the bills keep coming. I just got to the point where I kind of knew that, ‘Hey, I don’t know if I can do this anymore. It’s time to move on with my life.’”

But when Maynard returned to his family in Las Vegas, he wasn’t sure what he needed to move on to.

The former wrestling standout picked up a few random jobs in the area to help pay the bills, but couldn’t help himself from looking for something that would fill the hole leaving competitive sports had left.

Eventually he found his way into a mixed martial arts facility. His quick transition to the sport earned him an opportunity to help prepare a fighter in October 2005 he wasn’t too familiar with.

“Word got back to B.J. Penn that I was okay, I didn’t even know who Penn was,” Maynard said. “He called me up and I went to Hawaii for three weeks. At that point, I didn’t know anything. I went out to help him with his wrestling and it was just shoot, shoot, shoot — that’s all I knew. That’s all I could help out with.”

When Maynard got back from his work with Penn, a new dream had already started to take the place of where his hopes for an NCAA championship used to be.

Through a friend he had met during his wrestling career, he landed another opportunity to further his MMA skills.

That December, Maynard hooked up with a group of guys that had formed a team under Randy Couture.

“It was a group of eight guys and they would train hard,” Maynard said. “It was a small camp jumping from gym to gym — Couture, Jay Hieron, Mike Pyle, Forrest Griffin. I got with them and had my first fight in 2006.”

Three years later and Maynard’s eyes are completely focused on a UFC lightweight championship.

He’s on the right path, boasting a perfect 8-0 record. A win over Roger Huerta at Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night could be one of the final steps in his journey toward it.

Despite the perfect record, Maynard’s name had rarely been mentioned as a top contender to the defending champion — his old friend Penn.

According to the 30-year-old fighter however, after receiving only four years to finish that first goal, he feels like he’s got a lifetime to achieve his new one.

“It’s a marathon not a sprint and I’m in no rush,” Maynard said. “In school, I was kind of more concentrated on the outcome and championships. I’ve learned that that’s got to be there, but you’ve also got to concentrate on every day.

“It isn’t belt, belt, belt anymore. I want to go out and have a good day and I want to learn.”

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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