In a way, Gray Maynard has some cause to be thankful that UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar pulled out of their scheduled title fight at UFC 130 this weekend.
Though Maynard told Ariel Helwani on Monday's episode of The MMA Hour that he would have been healthy enough to show up on fight night if Edgar hadn't withdrawn with an injury first, the delay did give him the opportunity to address some lingering injury issues of his own.
"[It was] just some old stuff that I've been kind of going through for the last couple camps," Maynard said. "I was like, well, this is for a title so I got to push through it. ...Then Edgar pulled out and it was an opportunity to heal up, and I took that opportunity."
For Maynard, that meant having arthroscopic surgery on his knee and giving his body some time to recover after several tough training camps had taken their toll. It also means most likely putting off his next shot at UFC gold until late summer or early fall, though Maynard said he would have toughed it out and fought this weekend if Edgar was still game.
"I would have had to," he said. "It's kind of like, if you're going for the belt, you don't pull out of a fight."
You especially don't pull out of a fight that was already nearly snatched away from you once. After fighting to a draw with Edgar at UFC 125 in January, Maynard was dismayed to hear UFC president Dana White announce that Edgar would move on with other title defenses, leaving Maynard behind despite the inconclusive result.
"I'm in this sport for one reason, and that's to be at the top," Maynard said. "The cash, all that stuff, it's cool, but that's not why I'm doing it. I'm not in it for that. I'm going to be the best. I want to be the best. I heard that, and you just don't know what will happen. Will I have a chance again? If I do, it'll take a long time. How am I going to change up things? You've just got all these emotions, and it's hard to deal with. All your dreams and your goals, it could be gone."
At least, that's what he thought until White called to tell Maynard he'd had a change of heart.
"He called me and I was in my hotel room. I was just, you know, I didn't know what I was going to do. And he called me and he said, 'It's f--king yours, kid.' I think I almost cried, probably. I think I told him I loved him and it went quiet for a minute. Then he was like, 'Well alright, get to work.'"
And while Maynard said he wasn't aware of any offer to fight Anthony Pettis after Edgar's injury withdrawal, he did elaborate on some of the headline-grabbing comments he made about the last reigning WEC lightweight champ.
In a previous interview Maynard had questioned Pettis' credentials, suggesting that he hadn't faced enough high-level competition to deserve a shot at a top UFC contender. Though it surprised some to hear the usually reserved Maynard speak so strongly about a fellow fighter, Maynard hardly seemed to realize that it was noteworthy at all.
"I don't keep up with the news that much, and I remember I was doing probably like three or four interviews. Every interviewer, obviously trying to get things going, was like, 'Well Anthony, he says that you don't deserve the title.' I thought, well, if we're giving opinions here, then here's my opinion. ... I think Anthony's a tough kid. He's young. As for who he's gone up against, a couple tough guys, but nobody proven, I guess."
But don't expect Maynard to make a habit of trash-talking other fighters or, for that matter, trying to get himself noticed on the internet. Even though the UFC is now offering financial incentives for fighters who master Twitter, Maynard remains a mostly passive user for the same reasons that he's typically soft-spoken in interviews.
"You got everybody trying so hard to get out there, and I don't know if it's my attitude, but I don't really give a f--k. ...I'm just me, and that's not me. These guys are acting like, I don't know, you're a gimmick. Do you want to be that or is it you? I don't know. It's a gimmick, I think, and it's not me."
As for the people – and there are plenty of them – who tell him he should adopt a more vibrant or controversial persona to hype fights? Well, let's just say they're probably wasting their breath on Maynard.
"98 percent of the people I talk to are like, 'Man, you got to build this fight up. You got to do this.' If the guy's an a--hole then I'll tell him he's an a--hole. But if he's not, then there's nothing to talk about."
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