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Maynard rejuvenated in pursuit of UFC title

Longtime Las Vegan Gray Maynard was looking for a new place to train after realizing his progress as a fighter had reached a plateau. His girlfriend of 13 years just wanted to be closer to the ocean.

A move to Santa Cruz, Calif., proved to be the perfect solution for the couple, who had their first child on New Year’s Eve.

Maynard has been training at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., for more than a year and will return to Las Vegas on Saturday to fight T.J. Grant on the UFC 160 card at the MGM Grand Garden to determine the top contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight division.

The team at AKA has rejuvenated Maynard. The 34-year-old tore through the lightweight division early in his career, posting a 10-0 record before a draw against champion Frankie Edgar in a title fight Jan. 1, 2011.

It was a fight Maynard came close to finishing in the first round and then thought he should have won by decision. His first loss came in a rematch later that year, and Maynard knew it was time for a change after spending his entire career at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, where he had spent much of his life.

“I had kind of peaked,” he said. “I felt like I had pretty much reached a plateau for pretty much a year before I left. I kind of knew I wanted to move out to the Bay Area, and, of course, AKA is one of the best teams in the world. They took me in at a time when I was at my lowest, and I’m indebted to them for that.”

After leaving his friends and familiar surroundings at Xtreme Couture and losing for the first time in his career, Maynard was excited to find such welcoming arms at AKA.

But it was a difficult time, not only in his career but also his life.

“Losing like that and not having a team. Just kinda being in limbo, moving. I don’t take losing lightly at all. I’d never even been dropped prior to that, ever. I took it hard,” he said. “I take all losses hard, but that was that last step to the top, and I kind of choked on it. It definitely was the low point of my life. Maybe a lot of teams wouldn’t have taken me, but they welcomed me in and did everything they could to help me.”

He trained at AKA part time before a win over Clay Guida last June but became a full-fledged member of the camp after that fight. That was the last time he competed. Maynard suffered a knee injury and took time off when Estella Eve was born.

Now he’s ready to show how his game has evolved at his new camp.

“It’s been a great camp so far, the best I’ve ever had,” he said. “I think AKA really does a good job of jelling all your tools.”

Maynard hopes all of his training at two of the top camps in the sport will help him finally reach the pinnacle of the UFC.

To get in position to reach that goal, he’ll have to get by Grant. The 29-year-old Canadian has won four straight bouts to put himself in what looks like the biggest fight of his career.

Maynard said he thinks one of his edges is his experience in two title fights and several top contender bouts. Grant refused to concede that point.

“I don’t mean this in any disrespect to the UFC belt, because that’s my goal, to be the champion and fight for that belt, but I already was motivated coming into the fight,” he said on whether the No. 1 contender label added to the pressure. “I always feel the pressure because that’s what motivates me. I was up for this already, so it doesn’t make any difference.”

For Maynard, it means the opportunity to fight for the title again and finally take the belt he has been so close to claiming.

“That’s the cream on top, the best part,” he said. “That’s what we all work for. I almost got there. I believe I’m the best; I just have to prove it, and that’s the only way to prove it.

“It’s kind of different now. You change. Obviously I added a kid, and it’s not about me, it’s we. My little team and goals that we have. Now I need to achieve those goals.”

The fight is part of the pay-per-view card, headlined by a heavyweight title bout between Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva and champion Cain Velasquez.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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