Talking a big game never has been one of Gray Maynard’s strengths.
The 31-year-old Las Vegan is a man of few words, and his answers are getting even shorter as the biggest moment of his professional fighting career draws closer.
His reserved nature and a style that matches, emphasizing a solid wrestling base and the execution of a game plan over brawling or flashiness, might have been the reason the unbeaten former college wrestler was passed over for a title shot in favor of a fighter he had defeated.
Maynard finally will get a chance to claim the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight belt Saturday when he meets champion Frankie Edgar in the main event of UFC 125 at the MGM Grand Garden on the organization’s annual New Year’s weekend card in Las Vegas.
Maynard defeated Edgar in 2008, but Edgar got the first crack at the title, which he took from BJ Penn in April. Edgar successfully defended the belt against Penn in the rematch.
“Now is the perfect time, and I’m prepared,” Maynard said. “It’s their choice to choose whoever they want. It was fine at the time, and now I have my time to shine.”
All Maynard has to do now is defeat the 29-year-old Edgar again.
There could be a tendency to enter the fight with a sense of complacency after winning the first meeting by unanimous decision, but Maynard said he knows Edgar has improved a great deal as a fighter by taking on top competition.
“Any time you’re going up against the top in the world, you evolve and change, and so I’m prepared for a new fight,” he said. “It will be good. I’m pumped for it.”
His trainers insist Maynard is not resting on the fact he won the first fight.
“He’s approached this fight different than any other fight he’s ever been in,” said Sean Spangler, Maynard’s submission grappling coach. “He’s taking Frankie extremely seriously. He knows Frankie is a better fighter. He knows how important this fight is.”
Boxing coach Gil Martinez said the game plan is different this time around.
“Gray’s very professional about his job, and every fight he trains for, he prepares for 100 percent,” Martinez said. “We’re going into this fight as if we had never fought Frankie.”
Spangler has known Maynard since he was a volunteer assistant wrestling coach at Durango High School in Maynard’s freshman year. He has been friends with Maynard since but became one of his coaches just before this training camp.
Though Maynard is going into the biggest fight of his life, Spangler thinks Maynard is ready and won’t get caught up in the moment.
“He is a very intense individual, so he loves pressure,” Spangler said. “He’s already fought the championship fight 50 times in his head. He’s got a one-track mind, and it doesn’t get derailed. It’s amazing to watch him train. He’s intense. He sticks to the game plan. He’s got one goal in mind.”
Spangler said he thinks Maynard might have a mental edge over Edgar in the sense that the champion probably will have to alter the style that got him to this point.
Against Penn, Edgar bounced around and moved throughout the fight to outpoint him on the way to two decision victories.
“Frankie can’t fight the same style with Gray. That poses a problem for Frankie, because BJ was flat-footed and not in the best shape he could have been,” Spangler said. “Gray’s not like that. I think it’s going to be a tough scenario for Frankie because he’s got to change from those last two fights. He can’t fight the same way. He’s not going to be as effective.”
Just don’t expect Maynard to tell you that.
■ NOTES — Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez suffered an apparent tear in his rotator cuff during his win over Brock Lesnar in October and will be out for several more months, putting his first scheduled title defense against Junior dos Santos on hold. Today’s workouts are free and open to the public. The session features nearly every main-card fighter and runs from noon to 2 p.m. in the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Three preliminary fights from Saturday’s card will air live on Ion (Cable 51) at 6 p.m.
Contact sports reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or at 702-224-5509.