Ben Fowlkes
Tuesday January 12th, 2010

Gray Maynard has been here before: unbeaten, with a dearth of passionate supporters or detractors, and just one fight away from a title shot. And it seems none of it bothers him.

It's not that Maynard didn't deserve the split-decision victory over Nate Diaz at UFC Fight Night 20. For the first two rounds, Maynard got the better of the striking exchanges, had the more meaningful bursts of offense and only faltered momentarily in the final frame before finishing strong. Surely, that ought to be worth the nod from at least two judges, although leaving things that close in MMA is a good way to end up bitterly shaking your head while the other guy thanks his sponsors.

But Maynard didn't edge out a decision against one of the division's top fighters; he beat a fighter who was 1-2 in his previous three fights. He beat an opponent who, while as game as a fighting rooster and nearly as volatile, came into the night as more than a 2-1 underdog.

What's worse, he didn't look particularly impressive doing it. Instead he looked, once again, like a fighter who does enough to win without ever making much of an impression.

This is Maynard's biggest problem. It certainly isn't lack of skill or heart. He's beaten everyone he's faced in the UFC, and if he appeared more vulnerable this time around it's at least partially attributable to his desire to trade punches and taunts with Diaz, as if he completely forgot how to wrestle as soon as he saw Diaz waving his arms in the air like a crazed scarecrow in the center of the Octagon.

No, the real trouble with Maynard is that he doesn't make people want to see him fight. Maynard versus anybody is never a must-see fight

This is different from simply lacking fans. A fighter can live without having a passionate fanbase, and can even profit from it if he's savvy enough. But Maynard doesn't even have a really vehement base of haters. At least, not the kind that would pay for the chance to see him catch a beating.

Instead, Maynard has six straight decisions. He has a suffocating wrestling attack, solid boxing skills and a personality that is neither offensive nor remotely interesting. He is, in all regards, very adequate. No one has ever gotten very excited to see an adequate man fight for a championship belt.

And yet, no one among the UFC's 155-pounders has earned it more. Frankie Edgar, the other leading candidate, got pushed all over the cage in a decision loss to Maynard in 2008. Jim Miller fared even worse, and both Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez have already had their chances at UFC gold painfully thwarted. Short of signing Shinya Aoki to a UFC contract some time before April, there aren't any other obvious choices.

If Maynard fights like he did against Diaz, chances are he won't last more than two rounds with champion B.J. Penn. As much as he might think fans want to see him try to decapitate opponents with a series of hooks, such a strategy would prove catastrophic against the champ.

But perhaps just as importantly, he needs to find a way to make people feel something about him, whatever that something may be. He needs to provoke a powerful emotion or two. It also wouldn't hurt to finish a fight, just for good measure.

As of right now though, he may be the best fighter in the UFC whom no one wants to watch.

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