It’s been over four months since Gray Maynard got dropped by Nate Diaz, and that occurred just six months after he was knocked out viciously by T.J. Grant, both of which led to bleak questions about concussions, sustained head trauma and diminishing returns.
So what has Maynard been up to since his disastrous 2013 petered out?
"I just got back from Ibiza," he says. "I’ve been clubbing it up for the last three months. The day after my bout with Nate Diaz I just flew out to Ibiza, took a bunch of drugs and forgot about how I fought. I became a professional raver."
Apparently neither Grant nor Diaz could beat the sense of humor out of Maynard, who is of course pulling the journalist’s chain about the baggy pants and pacifiers. But the inclination to forget that miserable year in which Maynard was finished twice has been strong. And the concerns about his ultimate well being weren’t lost on him, either. He’d already been hearing it for a long time. Before those 2013 knockouts there was that uppercut that Frankie Edgar landed on him in the trilogy fight back in Houston. That, too, was a violent way to fall asleep.
Those three knockouts after going undefeated through the first couple of years of his career are part of the reason he decided to take a little break from fighting.
"After the Nate bout, I took some time off and I did some testing on my head, obviously, just to check that everything was alright," he says. "To be honest, the day after and even a couple of days after, I didn’t have headaches, I wasn’t hurting. Just a couple of scrapes. But then people who were close to me, Dana [White], the Fertittas, they wanted me to get checked out.
"It’s just kind of weird, the last two bouts I just kind of got clipped. I can’t explain it. My head wasn’t all the way there, and that’s a big part of it. I was concentrating on a game plan, and trying to do all this stuff, and it’s just not how I compete. The punch that you aren’t prepared for, the one that you don’t see, is the one that clips you. They wanted me to get checked out, so I flew out to South Dakota where they perform impact brain tests."
Maynard says he had the neurocognitive test done at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, just to make sure he wasn’t slipping into dangerous terrain.
"It all came back great," he says. "But I still took off some time just to make sure. You hear all kinds of horror stories with boxers, horror stories about whomever. I just think the last couple of fights it was more of a lapse in judgment and not being prepared to compete."
If you’ve watched Maynard over the years, you know he has a wrestling pedigree from his collegiate days at Michigan State, and that he has a default instinct to take a fight to the ground as needed. But in his last few bouts, Maynard -- who has an extensive library of boxing’s greatest fights at his home in Santa Cruz -- began to fixate on the stand-up game. The knock was that he forgot about his singlet.
The evidence most pointed to is the Edgar series, the way the whole thing carried out. While Maynard took Edgar down at will in their first meeting back in 2008, to open 2011 they stood toe-to-toe (for the most part) in the rematch, the one where Maynard came within a strong gust of finishing in the first round. In the last encounter ten months later, same thing, only that time Maynard paid for in on the fence in the fourth round when he got snapped shut by an inside uppercut.
All of which nevertheless struck a spectator chord that went like this: Who is this boxer squaring his shoulders in the pocket, and what happened to the wrestling?
Maynard says he hears it, and his only reply can be: If only it were that simple.
"I mean, any time I had to take the fight to the ground, I did," he says. "Edgar was a little tougher, and I think that’s where a lot of that came into play. ‘Well, you took him down in that first bout when you beat him, and now you can’t take him down.’ Well, I don’t think I got any less better, I think he just learned how to adapt to that type of thing. I don’t really think it was his sprawl, it was the movement that throws everybody off. He was tough to take down because he was tough to even get ahold of, trying to gauge where he’ll be.
"So that played in my mind as well, and I started to change up everything, thinking, ‘I’m going to do takedowns a lot more, more takedowns.’ The thing is, though, I feel that I’ve really gotten clipped engaging that takedown, looking for that takedown. Watch the one where I got TKO’d against Edgar and it was coming out of that takedown that wasn’t there. He caught me on the uppercut. With T.J. Grant, I switched stance for the purpose of taking it down when I got hit. Nate Diaz, I took him down, going in for the other takedown, got clipped on the left."
That’s where the 34-year old Maynard finds himself as he gets set to what he hopes will be a July return to the Octagon, figuring out his "flow" again. He says that though retirement flashed through his head a couple of times in recent months, that as a competitor he "can’t go out like that." There will be some changes in next fight camp, which he says he’ll elaborate on in May.
Whatever the tweaks (or wholesale changes) he has in mind are, he says he feels optimism just by looking at the calendar. It’s 2014. As for the year that stood before it, it’s all Maynard can do to keep from lifting his middle finger as he says good riddance.
"Last year was the worst year of my life," he says. "No wonder they don’t have the 13th floor in buildings. Thirteen sucks. I hate it. It was a tough year. There was a lot going on, the losses, my dogs died…we had a new baby, but the baby was born in 2012. If she was born in 2013, I wouldn’t be able to call it the worst year of my life. But she was born in 2012, so 2013 was the worst year of my life. Just a crazy year, so it was good to get it done with and start a new year."