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Gray Maynard the latest to find out where the fight path ultimately leads

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Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

BANGOR, Maine – Dana White loved the idea of having an event in Maine so much that he convinced all the hands controlling the UFC’s purse strings to humor him and put on Saturday night’s show. Lorenzo Fertitta, who always was a soft touch, consented because Maine has always been a sort of childhood fantasyland for White, who to this day owns a property here where he shoots off guns and fireworks and buys smart cars while blotto.

And as far as splurge cards go, UFC Fight Night 47 was pretty freaking decent in terms of action, as four of the six main card fights ended in a knockout or TKO, including an improbable come-from-behind bulb-buster from Maine native Tim Boetsch. Somehow, while staring through the red film of his own blood, Boetsch slammed home a right hand against Brad Tavares and changed the course of fate, not unlike he did against Yushin Okami at UFC 144. The people in Bangor let up the loudest roar of the night as Tavares fell.

One that went more silently was Gray Maynard, who entered the cage on the kind of eggshells that you could only hope going in were imaginary. For whatever reason, the stars aligned in the most ominous ways for Maynard, who was coming off of consecutive knockout losses against T.J. Grant and Nate Diaz. He was supposed to fight Fabricio Camoes at UFC 176 in Los Angeles earlier in the month, but that was postponed…Camoes became the more diabolical striker Ross Pearson when Pearson’s original opponent, Abel Trujillo, got injured in training…suddenly Maynard’s opponent -- and timing -- were conspiring against him in Bangor, Maine.

Timing, because after nine months away in which he traveled to the Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to have a battery of neurological tests done, and subsequently relocated to Arizona to join Power MMA when those tests said he was okay to compete, what Maynard doing on Saturday night was obvious: He was essentially gauging the whereabouts of his chin at a moment when people are reminded of exactly what it is they’re watching.

Among the litany of reasons he gave for walking away from the fight game last week, Mark Bocek very publicly (and very soberly) cited the fear of brain damage as one of them. While on The MMA Hour on Monday he presented his fellow Canadian Georges St-Pierre as Exhibit A to demonstrate that nobody -- neither man nor global icon -- was invulnerable to the kind of punishment dished out in fighting. The four-ounce gloves are meant to protect the knuckle, not the senses. Everybody knows these realities, just as we know the vitality that comes with any tightrope walk.

A couple of days ago, Krzysztof Soszynski officially retired after two-and-a-half years out of competition. Why? Because he still can’t remember his last fight against Igor Pokrajac, and his short-term memory has become a frustrating game of mental Whac-a-Mole. The fight game is cruel for those who hang around too long, just as it can be cruel to those who are just dipping a toe. It is an impartial minefield. Part of the excitement that goes into fighting is how lively the dangers actually are. There are no metaphors in a literal exchange between wills. It’s why in boxing the craft became known by its more hardened chroniclers as the grim trade.

On Saturday night, Maynard was facing pasture. He mixed and moved early against Pearson, and to the relief of those who watched him roll up an 11-fight unbeaten streak to begin his career en-route to becoming a No. 1 contender, he was using his wrestling, too. The high-tension wires hung over him, though. Just as they did with Pat Barry and Chuck Liddell and many others before them. The vulnerability of his chin felt like a ticking time bomb. Pearson finally found Maynard's black spot in the second round, when he caught him flush with a right. The scene was familiar as Maynard crumbled over himself, his eyes fixed on the far off place beyond any understanding of what hit him. It’s a look of vacancy where just moments before there was an occupant.

And the first words on everyone’s lips were, "Gray’s done." The writing on the wall was just like that. Maynard has reached the point where it seems cruel to watch him fight, which is a hard place to come back from (though Andrei Arlovski is proof that it can). Since Maynard's knockout coincided with Soszynski’s revelations, it was brought up to Dana White afterwards in the post-fight scrum.

"This kind of stuff happens," White said. "I’m really good friends with Skipper Kelp, and Skipper Kelp was a great boxer back when I was watching TV. Skipper Kelp told me one day that he was blind for something like 12 hours, so he decided to retire, and now Skipper Kelp is healthy as can be. Chuck Liddell was on a knockout streak. Chuck’s doing freaking commercials now, and there comes a day when guys have to hang it up. And there’s sometimes when you put together the age, and what’s going on in their career, it’s time…like a B.J. Penn. It’s like B.J., let’s not do this again. And now Gray Maynard, you’ve got to look at, and we’ll talk about it.

"Listen, show me a guy who ever told you that getting punched in the face is good for you. It’s not good for you. This isn’t like some football situation people thought they were being protected for wearing helmets. This is a combat sport. It’s rough. People know what they’re getting into here."

They do. But that’s never really the question. The question is when to get out. That's the hard part. And that’s the gray area that Maynard finds himself in the day after the UFC’s inaugural show in Maine.