Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, May 24, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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Gray Maynard lifts his head and darts his eyes across the MGM Grand conference room.
To answer a question regarding the most beneficial part of relocating to San Jose, Calif., to train at American Kickboxing Academy, the Las Vegas native doesn’t need many words. He just needs to deflect attention to his most famous new teammate and fellow UFC 160 competitor.
“AKA does a great job of jelling all of your tools,” Maynard said. “Look at Cain (Velasquez). He does it all.”
Maynard (12-1-1 MMA, 9-1-1 UFC) fights for the first time in 11 months preceding Cain Velasquez’s heavyweight championship defense against Antonio “Bigfoot Silva” Saturday at UFC 160. He faces T.J. Grant (20-3 MMA, 7-3 UFC) in a main-card bout that will determine the next challenger to Benson Henderson for the UFC lightweight championship.
It will mark Maynard’s first appearance since deciding to permanently work out at AKA. He logged several hours there before his last fight, a split-decision victory over Clay Guida, but also bounced around to several other gyms.
He was easily persuaded to establish permanent residency there after a conversation with the coaching staff.
“They were like, ‘I think you should be here day in, day out,’” Maynard said. “I was like, ‘I agree,’ and they took me in even more. They picked me up and got me going.”
After losing a trilogy fight to Frankie Edgar, Maynard felt like he had to break away from the comfort of training in Las Vegas. It’s an interesting contrast to his opponent at UFC 160, as Grant has never given a thought to getting away from home for his training.
Since he first began learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a 15-year-old, Grant has worked out in his hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
“I’ve always stayed consistent with my training,” Grant said. “That’s gotten me to where I’m at.”
Maynard took a more traditional path to mixed martial arts, trying out the sport after graduating from Michigan State, where he was a standout wrestler. Grant wrestled in high school but got away from competitive athletics for a few years upon graduation.
He spent time working construction until he could no longer hold back the urge to try out fighting for a living.
“I jumped all the way in, and the rest is history,” Grant said. “I lived broke for a long time. It’s a really tough sport at first, but I got a lot of experience along the way.”
One of the things Grant noticed early in his UFC career was that all his opponents were bigger than him, which prompted a move from welterweight down to lightweight two years ago. He’s gone 4-0 since changing divisions, leading to the opportunity to score a title eliminator bout.
Maynard’s body of work was more instrumental in landing him a fight away from another championship bout. The win over Guida is his only showing since the loss to Edgar, but Maynard racked up enough impressive victories before that to stay in the conversation at the top of the 155-pound division.
Maynard’s just glad that, despite his absence dealing with injuries, someone remembers all that he already accomplished. It meant a lot to him that AKA opened its door when he was coming off of a loss.
“They took me in at a time when I was at my lowest,” Maynard said. “I’m indebted to them for that.”
He wants to repay his new team by having his best showing against Grant. Maynard believes he’s more versatile than ever before.
Some criticized his performance in the second Edgar fight, as Maynard basically turned it into a boxing match and neglected the other parts of his game. That won’t happen Saturday, not with the direction of his new team and focus on integrating all his strengths.
“I think it’s a big thing for our sport,” Maynard said. “You’ve got guys who box great, but they either box great or get a takedown instead of adding it all in. I think that’s where (AKA does) the best job, putting it all together.”