If such a thing is possible,
When the powerful wrestler, a three time All-American at Michigan State University, first made his way into mixed martial arts in 2004, every practice was a battle. Losing a scramble or tapping to a submission were unacceptable realities when they should have been useful opportunities. In essence, Maynard competed hard even when it wasn't beneficial to do so.
By the time Maynard landed in
In time, Couture recognized in Maynard what he realized about himself after two failed bids at making the U.S. Olympic wrestling squad: focusing on the big picture is OK so long as it's not the only thing you have to look forward to. Otherwise, positive results from training -- improved technique or a marathoner's cardio -- are too easily dismissed.
"We talked a little about applying that wrestler mindset, that attitude wrestlers have, properly," Couture said. "Realizing that you can't just focus on the outcome of things all the time and get frustrated you're not getting to those places you want to be. Focusing on the smaller steps along the way and how much better you're getting is important. I think if you do that you stay motivated. It's like that carrot is always dangling there. You're always taking those small steps toward that eventual destination."
Five years after realizing he had a future in MMA, Maynard, now 30, is one of the top lightweight prospects in the sport, and a contender inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Monday at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., (9 p.m. ET/PT, Spike TV) Maynard intends on taking another step forward, this time against the only fighter to defeat him in competition -- even if it isn't reflected on his record since the bout is considered an exhibition.
Still, in Maynard's mind,
"That'll be in my mind forever," said Maynard, whose official record stands at 8-0 with one no-contest. "You could ask me who I beat since I was 3 and I could tell you a couple names. You could ask me who I lost to and I'll tell you every single name. That stands out a lot more. It hurts. Ever since I was a kid, I took that stuff hard. I cried for days."
Named after amateur wrestling legend
"My dad was an easy-going guy," Maynard said. "He wasn't the type of guy that told me what tournaments I was going to. I was the kid that had the plan about what I wanted to do with wrestling. I gave him a list of camps that I really was trying to do. There was a couple times that they made me have a job to pay my way. It taught me that if I cared then I would do it, and I had to be prepared. If I lost then it was a waste of money and time. I put all this stuff on me when I was a kid."
With his dad in the bar business, Maynard moved around. A lot. Born in Arizona, he was uprooted to Tennessee, then Ohio, back to Tennessee, spent sixth through tenth grade in Las Vegas, and once more returned to Ohio for his final two years of high school.
"I knew if I wanted to get my college stuff paid for I needed to prove I was one of the best," he said. "Nevada isn't known for wrestling, or a lot of sports back then, so I chose the best school and the best state that I could to try and prove that."
If kids at the time had posters of
MMA didn't come into the picture until
"Gray has no ego," said Couture when asked if anything about Maynard makes him more than just another wrestler finding shelter in MMA. "Combine that with his ability to just keeping working, and his learning curve is real steep."
Ranked among the 10 best 155-pound fighters in the sport, Maynard needs a win Monday to continue his march to the top and, perhaps, a fight against Penn for the UFC belt. But, he said, he isn't getting ahead of himself.
"Over time I've learned to concentrate on what you have to do today," he said. "I gotta get past Nate first. He's a tough guy."