Some do it simply to test themselves, fueled by their competitive spirit. Some are motivated by the money. Some do battle out of anger or pain, lashing out at a world that's been cruel to them.
Gray Maynard has been there, done that. He's competed at the highest level of collegiate wrestling, and since turning professional as a mixed martial artist six years ago, he's been in big-money fights against the sport's elite. The man known as "The Bully" has come close to the height of glory -- the lightweight championship -- but been heartlessly denied, then marched back into the line of fire again with every ounce of vengeance in him ... and been brutally stopped in his tracks.
These days he's claiming a whole new motivation. The fire that now burns within him is related to the life that's kindling inside the woman he loves.
"My girl is pregnant, and that changes your outlook in life," he said just prior to Thursday's weigh-ins for UFC on FX 4 (9 p.m. ET, FX), which takes place Friday night in Ovation Hall in the sparkling new Revel Resort & Casino here in Atlantic City, with Maynard taking on Clay Guida in the main event. "I don't just want that belt for myself now, but to secure the future for my kid who's about to come into the world. Being a world champion and having big fights secures my kid's future."
That might seem a worldview befitting a melodramatic TV afternoon special. But you'd characterize it that way only if you've never had children. Parents understand. I sure do. Why else would I be right now planning to cover Friday night's fights, write a story in the arena press room and, upon finishing after midnight, not go back to an Atlantic City hotel room to sleep but instead hop into my car and onto the Garden State Parkway to drive a couple of hours north before finding a roadside motel to settle down for a few hours of shut-eye? Got to get a head start on the long drive home so I can make it to my daughter's Saturday afternoon piano recital. Seven years from now, Gray Maynard (10-1-1, one no contest) will be doing the same thing.
Clay Guida's motivation for being here is a bit different. Unlike Maynard, who has twice fought for the lightweight championship (and both times put then-champ Frankie Edgar in severe early trouble), Guida (29-12) has never had the pleasure of walking to the octagon for a title bout. Twice he was on the verge, and twice he was denied -- by Kenny Florian in what amounted to a No. 1 contenders' eliminator in 2009, and then, after running off four straight wins to climb back into contention, by Benson Henderson in a tightly contested fight with the same stakes last November. Guida has not fought since then, and in February he had to sit and watch what could have been, as Henderson beat Edgar for the belt.
Now Guida understands what it takes. "The lightweight division is so stacked right now, I think it is safe to say," he said prior to the weigh-ins. "I've got to knock Gray out to get a title shot. There're five or six guys right now at 155 pounds who are all one big punch or one big kick from being the No. 1 contender. Winning isn't enough for any of us." With that logjam in mind, Guida feels for the UFC's chief matchmaker and the company president. "Joe Silva and Dana White have a very tough job here," he said, "and I want to make their jobs easier for them by not only winning this fight but also winning in a way the fans want [for] me to get the winner of the Henderson vs. Edgar rematch."
Maynard is thinking the same way. "There's a big traffic jam at the top of the lightweight division," he said. "You've got Clay up there, Nate Diaz has looked great, and there's Anthony Pettis, plus Frankie is rematching with Ben Henderson in September. There's a big traffic jam in the division now -- and now that it isn't me causing it, I think it sucks!"
0: Losses in anything other than a title bout
664: Days since his last victory (decision over Kenny Florian on Aug. 28, 2010, with a draw and a loss to Frankie Edgar all he's had since then).
8: Decisions among his 10 victories.
8: UFC bonuses for Fight of the Night (six) or Submission of the Night (two).
15: Submissions among his 29 victories.
4.27: Takedowns per 15 minutes, according to FightMetric statistics. He has 48 over his career, sixth most in UFO history.
What we should expect: Maynard will utilize his brawny wrestling skills to try to dictate where the fight takes place. Guida will use his mad cardio to dictate the pace at which the fight is fought. This clash of wills could go any number of ways. Fans at cageside no doubt will be voicing their desire for all-out fisticuffs, but a grappling match might actually be more telling. Gray has been known to start fast -- just ask Frankie Edgar's doctor -- but he's also been known to slow his gallop as the race wears on. Clay does not slow down. Ever. So if he can avoid walking into a big punch early, and can make Maynard use up his energy in a grappling contest, Guida would seem to have a better chance with the passing of every minute.
Why we should care: It isn't exactly one of those loser-leaves-town gimmick fights like they have in pro wrestling, but it might as well be -- if "town" represents the lightweight title chase. Both guys appear to have slipped back into the pack -- inexplicably, considering what they've done of the last couple of years -- but a particularly impressive performance could change all of that in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately UFC. So even though this isn't being hyped as a No. 1 contender's eliminator, the stakes stack up that way. Maybe it's more of a No. 2 contenders' eliminator.
"I've knocked the UFC world champion down five times and probably been as close to the title as you can get without actually holding it. I want to go one punch, one second better next time. It was very frustrating not being able to get the win despite beating [Frankie] Edgar up, and it took a long time getting over it. But I'm back and I know I'm able to beat anyone in the division."--Gray Maynard, speaking before the Thursday weigh-ins
"Gray is the most decorated college wrestler I've ever faced, but this isn't college wrestling. I wasn't a technical wrestler, but for MMA wrestling my sporadic movement and my tenacity -- I will not let go of your leg or waist until I get you down -- make me the better wrestler in MMA."--Clay Guida before the weigh-ins
Easy as 1-2-3: Sam Stout and Spencer Fisher were never even supposed to fight. And now the lightweights are doing it for a third time. Back in 2006, Stout was scheduled to fight Kenny Florian, but after Florian had to pull out because of a back injury, the UFC called on Spencer Fisher. The short-notice fight turned into a classic, with Stout eking out a split decision. It was so memorable a fight that a rematch was slotted into the main event of a UFC Fight Night a little over a year later. This time Fisher won by unanimous decision, although the back-and-forth battle was no less exciting than the first meeting. So why not do it again ... five years later?
Time to re-Fuel: Being slotted down near the bottom of the fight card might appear to be a bad sign for a presumed contender. But with UFC cards being spread across various TV outlets -- Friday's main card is on FX, six prelims are on Fuel TV and the evening's opening fight is on the UFC's Facebook page -- things are not always as they appear to be. So Hatsu Hioki, who turned down a chance to challenge featherweight champion Jose Aldo this summer, might not need to be concerned that his bout with Ricardo Lamas will be on Fuel TV rather than on the FX main card. And Rick Story, who not long ago was a fast-rising welterweight, probably shouldn't take it as a slight that he'll be on Fuel TV, too, trying to right the ship against Brock Jardine after two straight losses. Then again ...
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