Gray Maynard might be fighting out of Extreme Couture in Las Vegas but he was born in Phoenix so we consider him on of ours and SB Nation's David St. Martin has an exclusive interview with the undefeated lightweight.
How does it feel to finally get your title shot?
It feels great. I've still got a step to go towards the ultimate goal, but it feels good. It always feels great to win. This one was especially nice because of people saying things like 'Florian is going to kill Gray and so and so.' I'm always proving people wrong. Everyone counts me out, I guess. A lot of magazines and the media count me out, but I just have to prove them wrong.
Did Kenny do anything that you weren't expecting? or did the fight pretty much go the way you planned?
He's a great counter striker, and we knew that. We kept hearing about how amazing his jab is, but it's really just a way to get you to punch so he can throw that counter hook. I knew that I had to be smart and try to move off. It was easy. I knew that if I hit him hard enough he would respect my power more. That didn't come into play for a bit but I'm pretty sure I caught him with an uppercut that hurt him.
How do you feel about people coming out and saying Florian choked during the fight? Dana White said he didn't do the things he normally does, like throw leg kicks.
He felt my power. We were prepared for the leg kicks and would have had an answer for those, too. If he committed to anything he would have gotten hit, hard. Here's the problem, he's fought a lot of guys who don't know how to fight a southpaw, and that makes you look good. The other guy doesn't know what he's doing against you. That's why I specifically asked for him. He's a really talented guy, but I knew that I had the answer. I knew I could beat him, and I know I can beat whoever I go up against.
I would think tactic-wise both Florian and Edgar would have a similar gameplan against you, moving in and out of range.
I believe I'll be able to open up in the striking more. With a southpaw you have to wait a bit more and that's all I've been fighting recently. Rich Clementi, Jim Miller, Roger Huerta, Nate Diaz, and now Florian, all southpaws. It's been the same thing in every fight. They're not the easiest to go up against just because they're a change of pace. That's why a lot of people don't know how to deal with them. Against Edgar, I'll be able to open up a lot more. He used his footwork really well but I've boxed a lot of good guys who can move and throw punches in flurries. That's fine, I'm prepared for that.
Are you able to look at BJ Penn's performances against Edgar and recognize things he did wrong and how you'll do something differently?
BJ has never been a guy to try to move a lot. He stalks people. You have to be able to move, so I think that was a problem for him. I don't know if he's into it anymore or what, you just can't tell. I didn't have a chance to talk to him backstage.
You have a reputation as not being able to finish fights, always going to a decision. Is that a result of your fighting style or just fighting tough guys? None of these guys you've fought recently are getting stopped too often.
That's what I keep telling people! Who is stopping them? Name a name and I'll bow down, but who is stopping these guys? That's why I can't pay attention to these people. If you're a true sports fan who enjoys MMA and really try to understand it, you'll get it. Look at Edgar. He's only ever lost to myself. Look at Clementi, who has 52 professional fights and has only been stopped a handful of times. Jim Miller has only lost to the champion and myself. Huerta has never been stopped. Pretty much the same thing with Nate Diaz. Florian did get stopped by Penn, but you see what I mean. It's an excuse, but that's just how it is. I'm asking for the top guys. The decisions are just part of it. The sport is growing so much that these fights are just going to keep getting closer and closer. I don't know what people are going to do, but there are going to be a lot more close fights. More fighters are able to pull in the cash you need to hire the top coaches and eat and train right. We're going up against the guys where that's all they do year round. They train everyday. The gap is going to start to close on these title fights. Guys are getting better and better. People will start to appreciate it, it just takes time.
How do you feel able being in the title picture against someone you've previously beaten? I'm sure your hyped because you're fighting for the title, but are you at least comfortable knowing you preformed so well against him once before?
It's not so much about that. I'm comfortable when I know I've prepared. That's when I feel the best. It was a long time ago, about two and a half years. He's a tough guy, and we've both changed a lot. He's a really great guy. I don't think we'll be talking a ton of shit to build this thing up. I just have to be prepared and I'll feel confident.
Do you think there is any pressure on you to hype this fight up a bit with some trash talk? People are already criticizing the fight saying it will be hard to market and be boring or that the UFC will need to pair it with another title fight on the same card in order to sell it. A lot of people were not particularly excited about Chael Sonnen fighting Anderson Silva until he started talking. Do you feel it's your job to do any pre-fight hyping or is your job just in the cage?
If it were anyone else it would be easier. He's a good guy who trains hard. I think people are going to tune in because of that. We aren't doing the talking, because if you do it for every scrap, it gets old. People know it's all fake bullshit. It's going to be a tough fight. We're pretty even and the true sports fans will want to see it. The wannabes are the ones asking 'where is the shit talk? the entertainment? the hype?' I know he trains his ass off, and I know I train my ass off. People are going to be able to recognize that, for sure.
Your head trainer, Randy Couture, has been in a ton of title fights. Has he given you any advice? I know it's still extremely early. Has he talked about approaching your training or anything differently?
Not really, it's still too early. He was just really pumped about the Florian fight. I did a great job with the gameplan and he was very happy about that. He told me I kept to the plan perfectly. He was really excited about how it all went.
How did he feel about his fight with James Toney?
I mean he knew he had a punchers chance, but if it didn't happen early it was going to turn out exactly like that. I was watching it backstage after my fight.
How do you feel now that both yourself and Rashad Evans, who was you college roommate at Michigan State, are getting ready for upcoming title fights? Has he ever tried to steal you away to Greg Jackson's?
It's awesome. I actually flew home with him and we were talking about it. Just about how we've both come such a long way. We're both really happy where we are. We have a great job in this sport and we're having a blast. It's come a long way. Where we train is really just more of a personal choice. I went down to Jackson's before I went on the TUF show for a couple weeks. It's an excellent camp.