Mixed martial arts is a harsh and unforgiving sport that can take a heavy toll on the athletes. By the end of their careers, fighters often leave the sport heavily wounded. Although absorbing mass amounts of punishment for years on end, these fighters are grossly underpaid, even struggling to make ends meet when bills come a-knocking.
One man with multiple experiences of enduring these hardships is UFC veteran Gray Maynard (13-7-1-1), who for over a decade clawed tooth and nail to the upper echelon of the sport, but to no avail. In an exclusive interview with The Body Lock, he described his time spent on the roster while discussing topics such as fighter pay and the famed trilogy with Frankie Edgar.
Since its inception in 1993, the UFC has remained the premier destination for all things MMA, and the global money-making machine is driven on keeping it that way. Despite making it to the big leagues and sporting the highly sought Ultimate Fighting Championship gloves, becoming a stable member isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
Maynard was a key component in the promotion’s lightweight and featherweight divisions for a number of years, proudly going to war with some of sports best at the time. After failing to string together any consistent success along with his general unhappiness with the company, he requested a release from his contract in December of last year and is currently a free agent.
He detailed the years leading up to his subsequent release and why no longer being a member of the UFC is a positive thing.
“Dana, he locked me into an eight-fight contract back in 2014,” Maynard said. “There was no place to go at that time, no place to kind of bargain with. Bellator didn’t have Coker as the president, he wasn’t in charge.
“Bjorn Rebney was kind of iffy, I heard bad reviews but there really wasn’t anywhere to go and that was pretty much my whole career. The UFC bought out everybody, you know, so there was no real negotiating to be done with them.”
After sealing himself into an airtight contract many years before his departure, Maynard expected to run through his remaining fights in order to escape the firm grip of the UFC. However, as he put it, life got in the way as it so often does.
“I thought I could rattle them off pretty quick,” Maynard explained.
“But you know, life happens, you’ve got kids and a whole bunch of different stuff. My wife was in school doing her masters degree and I didn’t really have a chance to get it done as quick as I could’ve. The last fight against Nik Lentz, that was honestly the worst time, I just had to get another one done.”
After earning a well-deserved win over Teruto Ishihara in 2017, he was paired with fellow veteran Nik Lentz at UFC 229 in what would mark his first lightweight bout in over two years. The event itself was the highest-grossing pay-per-view in the sport’s history, therefore the platform given to each competitor was immense.
Maynard explained the series of events that led to him accepting a fight with Lentz in spite of his physical health being sub-par.
“Me and my wife [came] down with these weird symptoms where we were slurring our words, always sleeping etc, like Max Holloway had,” Maynard said. “If it was just me I would’ve been scared incase it was from a concussion, like oh shit, my brains all messed up as I couldn’t talk. Because it was her too I’m like oh shit we both have something weird, and it was the exact same stuff Holloway had, right about that time too.”
“Anyways we both got better, three days after it happened again even worse. I couldn’t hold onto stuff and was dropping glasses and I was slurring words, it was crazy. I went to the hospital to do blood tests and my liver was through the roof; your AST and ALT would probably be 0-40, mine was 1600. So it was a virus going through it. They still couldn’t give me any answers so I called up a doctor I knew and he’s just like ‘it’s your liver we know that, go home and get bed rest.’
“I was in bedrest for about a month and that put me into August, end of July or August. I’m going through my head like dude, I’ve got to hurry up and get this contract done because it’s taking forever, I signed it in 2014. So I just called up Sean Shelby on bedrest and was like hey, give me a fight.
“I went up against Nik Lentz and had a six-week camp, if that. It was just more about getting out of the contract. Ultimately I did get out of it because he called me up and was like ‘I don’t want you to fight no more,’ so I said, ‘just release me then.’ And he did.”
Since his release from the organization “The Bully” has maintained a low profile. Even while sitting at the mellow age of 41, he revealed to The Body Lock that his intentions are to return to the cage, if the price is right.
“I’m not retired. Maybe I have one fight left, maybe I have three fights left, but I want it done right.”
Rivalries are a common sight in the world of sport and are as old as time itself. The animosity between one another, whether it be personal, competitive or both, spurs plenty of talk amongst fans.
When discussing some of MMA’s greatest rivalries, many are quick to favor the likes of McGregor/Diaz or Jones/Cormier due to the mainstream success of both athletes involved, however for more hardcore fans, numerous other names spring to mind. In undoubtedly one of the best rivalries of the last decade, dangerous lightweights Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard traded blows for more than 11 gruelling rounds, stealing the show on two occasions.
On January 1, 2011, reigning lightweight champion Frankie Edgar was set to defend his crown against undefeated contender Gray Maynard, who defeated the champion less than three years prior. For the champion, it was about vengeance, but for Maynard, much more was at stake: the promotion’s 155-pound title, to be precise.
In the first round of their January 1 rematch, the challenger completely shut out the champion, knocking him down a multitude of times and leaving him visibly stunned. No other lightweight at the time could eat the sort of punishment Maynard dished out in those first five minutes, apart from Edgar.
Edgar amazed every spectator in attendance as he not only recovered within the one-minute rest between rounds but battled back to win the upcoming round. After 25 minutes of sheer brutality and heart, the bout was ruled a split draw to the dismay of both participants and their teams. Recounting that historic night, Maynard elaborated on Edgar as an opponent and why preparing correctly for his style was crucial.
“I knew he was going to show up, be in shape, ready to go,” Maynard said.
“He never put a lot of talk or drama into it, he was the type of guy that’s not gonna kill you — he didn’t have the heaviest punches or the quickest, but he was always there. Every second of every round.”
“You have to get the right sparring and get new guys in because a lot of times you’ll spar two rounds, and your partner will start to lose his steam or cardio — you’ve got to get a new guy in there as that’s not what Edgar does. He doesn’t lose steam, he builds it. You just have to prepare cardio wise. I knew going into it he had a couple of holes, striking wise, and he has a lot of tendencies to do stuff but he doesn’t have a lot of big holes in his game.”
When scoring his first championship encounter with Edgar, the first round is distinctly a 10-8 in favor of Maynard. Albeit according to the man himself, he believes it should’ve been noted as a 10-7 by all judges because of his clear destruction of the champ. Not only does he have an issue with the scoring that night, but the sport’s adopted 10-point must scoring system, where 10 points must be awarded to one contestant each round.
“The problem I have with MMA is the 10 point must system,” Maynard said.
“I’ve never really seen a 10-7 round, so why do we have it? If you watch boxing the scoring applies to that, but the scoring doesn’t apply to MMA. If I’m a judge, that round one [between me and Edgar] is a 10-7. If you watch Pacquiao vs. Marquez, he knocked down in round one two or three times and it was like a 10-6 or 10-7, and he came all the way back and had a draw with Pacquiao because he won those rounds. Now I understand that but why give me a 10-8 when that was a bad round? I don’t understand the scoring.”
For his aforementioned 2011 rematch with Edgar, which headlined the promotion’s 125th PPV event, Gray Maynard was only guaranteed $26,000.
“Getting up to the title dude, I would be in the hole almost all of the time,” Maynard said. “Paying my coaches, paying for the best training, and then it just gets old where you’re like fuck man, there’s just no getting ahead with this sport. There’s no payoff at the end.”
“I walk to the cage with a pay-per-view main event guaranteed $26,000. If I would’ve lost that fight and had to pay $26,000 I would’ve had to pay to be in that fight. There’s a lot of crazy shit. That’s why I really feel like if you get a big name sticking up for the guys in the sport its gonna be a game-changer.”
“The UFC got bought for 4.5 billion dollars, not because of how it great it is or whatever, it’s because there are no rules. They could get a guy to fight for $100 on a pay-per-view, they can get away with that.”
Mixed martial arts is more than just two warriors displaying the art of fighting, there’s a business side that fans do not get to see. Business can be ugly, and this description correlates perfectly with how the UFC deals with its own.
“People have no idea how ruthless this sport is business-wise. I mean people have no idea. We’re kind of like strippers – we get tipped out and we get a shitty pay,” laughed Maynard.
“That was kind of how it worked. We had a bad contract, but that we would get a little bit of money afterwards and it was like what is this, a tip? You can’t guarantee us this cash? It happens all across the world its not just here. Promoters just get that power and all the guys just turn into numbers, they constantly think ‘how can we make the most off him.’
“It’s the wild wild west man, the wild west. We don’t know the numbers and everybody’s just trying to get what they can get on a small portion and not looking at the big picture.”
“I want you to retire”
Gray Maynard was awarded a contract with the UFC in 2007 after a fairly successful stint on the hit reality TV Show, The Ultimate Fighter. Throughout the series, fans saw him fight a combined three times up until his eventual defeat to future foe Nate Diaz in the semi-final round, who would go on to be crowned tournament winner.
The thought of professional fighting and reality TV being thrown into one cocktail is an odd one, nevertheless, it has proved to be ‘must-watch’ television.
“There was a couple of people on the show who wanted to get camera time and do all that stuff, and I felt like it came out on-screen that that’s what they were there for. Whereas the guys that wanted to win it and compete were there for a longer time,” Maynard explained.
“It’s not like you go in there and you get to train – it’s not about the sport, its about drama. They don’t allow you to read, they don’t allow you to talk on the phone or get on the computer or watch TV, because they want you to kind of go crazy. [The] training was kind of a hit or miss.”
Despite disappointing sessions in the training room, Maynard proved himself worthy of a shot in the UFC and was awarded that chance on the season finale. That night he faced Rob Emerson, with one of the weirdest outcomes of a fight occurring.
During the second round, Maynard lifted Emerson with a double leg takedown. After a thundering slam, both men seemed unconscious, prompting the referee to step in and wave things off. Maynard immediately protested the stoppage, however it remains a No Contest on his record.
Maynard explained the story from his perspective.
“The story behind that is Joe Stevenson was helping me out in the last part of my camp and we were picking up bags and slamming them,” he said.
“When you take a person down you don’t really concentrate on the slam, that was kind of new to me and I just ended up in that double leg and picked him up; a guy is a lot smaller than when you take a punching bag and slam it, which is what we were doing. So I misjudged it, but I really wasn’t out. I broke his ribs, that’s what he told me afterwards. I tried to get up and I was dazed, so, unfortunately, didn’t get the win.”
After this unexpected event, Maynard amassed an impressive eight wins in quick succession, enabling him to challenge Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight throne. Although things never went according to plan, as they rarely do, his sights remained on championship gold, and a few losses would not deter him. But UFC president Dana White had other ideas.
Months after inking his previously mentioned eight-fight deal with the promotion, Dana called him up with a peculiar proposition – retirement.
“I had another loss and he [Dana] called me in the office and was like ‘I want you to retire,’ knowing that he had just signed me to an eight-fight contract. So I’m like fuck, I’m going to have to work through this, and he’s like ‘I want you to retire.’
“I said no, I love the sport, so he replied with ‘well, I loved boxing but I walked away from it.’ I was just like how the hell does that compare to me?”
“Dana wants to tell everybody when they should retire. Well, why don’t you pay us more to help us retire, right? A lot of us have to fight.”
This isn’t the first time Dana White has asked one of his fighters to retire, and nor was it the last; many of his athletes are forced to continue fighting for a somewhat regular flow of income, a commonly accepted yet harsh truth in today’s era.
When the UFC Performance Institute first opened its doors in 2017, many were blown away by 30,000 square-foot facility that cost more than $14 million to construct. The building prides itself on research, innovation, and offers updated training equipment and talented staff at zero expense to each member of the UFC roster. Because of this, it is home to a number of fighters who complete their training camps in the Las Vegas-based performance center.
While the intentions of each individual working there are pure, promotional veteran Gray Maynard believes there’s a bigger reason as to why the UFC opened the facility.
“The UFC’s got the UFC PI going and people are like ‘Oh, you guys get free food,’ well, a bunch of people have to fly out there to do that,” Maynard said.
“They have great coaches and everybody’s there to help out, but at the top level, they’re trying to control the sport but understanding it. There’s no research done on the sport; they’re collecting data, they’re collecting research because if you have all the data, you control all the stuff. That’s what they want, control. It’s not to help us out.”
“‘Alright, we’re flying guys in here and we’re collecting all this data,’ that’s the priceless stuff. People that are getting all this stuff done to them like ‘here’s your VO2 max, blood lactate,’ whatever it is, it’s good data to have but do you really have to have it? Not really. But once they start getting it all, they’re collecting charts, charts, and charts of all the data. That helps them to start understanding the sport, and then they’ll probably start to come up with a way to start controlling the coaching aspect of it.”
“I went there too because I was like man, it’s here in town, but I’m not dumb, I know why you guys are doing this. You’re not going to spend all this money just to help us, because if you [were], you would’ve paid us more.”
“As a whole, we’re basically numbers, there’s only a couple of guys who aren’t but as a whole, we’re all pretty much numbers. And The more data and more information they can get, the more they can control the game. Just like buying out all the other promotions; they didn’t buy them out because they wanted to keep them going, they bought them out to not have any competition and control the game.”
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.