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Gray Maynard aiming to return as a featherweight sometime in March

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Esther Lin, Sportsfile

After beginning his career 10-0 and coming within mere seconds of a UFC title, Gray Maynard has had a rough few years. Not only has he lost his last four fights — three of them coming via TKO — but he’s gone 1-5 since fighting Frankie Edgar to a draw in one of the UFC’s best fights of all time.

On January 1, it will mark the five-year anniversary of the night that Maynard had Edgar on the ropes during a first-round onslaught at UFC 125. Who could have known his career would take the turn that it did at the time. Maynard lost the trilogy fight 10 months later, and has been looking for his footing ever since, bouncing from camp to camp before fights.

Now 36, Maynard is back home in Las Vegas, once again training at Xtreme Couture. And though he’s heard the cries for retirement, he’s gearing up for one more run. Only this time, the once massive lightweight is now en-route to a different weight class. Maynard says he wants to next appear as a featherweight, which might come as a surprise to some.

"The last year-and-a-half my weight’s been pretty low," he told MMA Fighting. "It’s been easy to make weight. I know there were a lot of rumors throughout my career that it was hard for me to get down. It never really was hard. I just let the rumors go. It was never to the point where I had to diet all camp. It was more that I had to diet and cut down the last two weeks before a fight. It’s always hard to make weight the last day. But it wasn’t an eight-week process.

Maynard, who last appeared in the Octagon against Alexander Yakovlev at UFC Fight Night 63 in April, says he’s cut down on lifting weights and is focusing more on running and dieting. He says his average weight right now is holding steady in the 160 to 162-pound range.

That is a pretty significant difference from the Maynard who fought Edgar for the title back those times in 2011.

"I would walk around at 170, and a lot of times I would get out of camp and just bulk up," he says. "But, you know, everybody does. I would get up to 180 at times. But it was just I was kind of out of control in how I ate. Obviously I would probably hit the weights a lot more. You’ve got guys Tyson Griffin who would get up to 185, 190 even 200. Just because you get up that high, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get back down."

After dropping a decision against Yakovlev in Fairfax — a fight where he got his bell rung on a couple of occasions — the cries for Maynard to retire got a little loud. It didn’t help that the loss came on the heels of being TKO’d in three straight fights against T.J. Grant (in a lightweight title eliminator), Nate Diaz and Ross Pearson.

Even hearing the concerns for his safety, the former Michigan State wrestler said he never really contemplating hanging up the gloves during the recent skid.

"I want to keep going," he says. "I feel great. It’s just, again, getting that flow of training and camp. That’s been kind of the whole issue, just getting my flow back in training. If you’ve got your flow in training, you’ve got it in competition."

As for the damage he’s incurred, Maynard says he’s been very careful in monitoring himself both before and after his fights. 

"These last three years it’s been jumping from camp to camp and it’s been kind of hectic," he says. "Obviously on the TKOs I never got completely stiffed. I never had symptoms of headaches and all that stuff [afterwards]. I was very cautious about taking time off and people kind of criticized all the time I’ve had off. It’s just I want to be sure that the brain is beyond healed. I got dropped in that last fight and I’m just kind of getting back into sparring now. I’m just being very careful with my body."

In the case of some fights — like Chuck Liddell — the inability to take a punch becomes more apparent with every fight. The verdict is out on Maynard, but he says he believes his chin can take what's coming at it.

"You go back over the tapes and the times I got dropped I got hit right on the chin," he says. "I think it’s kind of due more to trying out the new coaching and doing stuff that I don’t do and just getting caught and clipped. If I’m going down and getting caught and stiffed up, that’s always a little bit more dangerous. But I’m just getting clipped and guys are doing a great job of jumping on me and taking care of business.

"Then again, a lot of it goes to after if you have the headaches and the nausea. I’ve never had any of that stuff. Just being kind of honest. I know other people like to critique, and it’s like, oh he’s getting clipped, and I go back and look at the tape. I got hit right on the button. I got dropped. I’m still kind of it in, and they just capitalized. If I got KO’d completely, that’s another thing. It’s all how you feel."

Maynard says he’d like to make his 145-pound debut sometime in the early spring.

"March would be good," he says. "I definitely want to try and compete at home in Vegas, and I’m just taking it kind of day by day and checking where I’m at. I don’t want to hurry up into it, but I definitely want to get back in there."