Gray Maynard (11-1-1 1 NC, 9-1-1 1 NC) vs. T.J. Grant (20-5, 7-3 UFC)
Maynard and Grant will be fighting to earn a shot at Benson Henderson and the UFC Lightweight Championship later this year. Maynard fights for the first time in nearly a year following a split decision win over Clay Guida in June. Maynard is 3-1-1 over his last five fights which included two title fights against Frankie Edgar. Grant has been on a tear since moving down to the lightweight division. He puts a four-fight win streak on the line and was last seen scoring a knockout win over Matt Wiman at UFC On FOX 6 in January.
Fight Breakdown: Maynard has fought twice for the UFC Lightweight Championship, both times challenging Frankie Edgar. They had a draw at UFC 125 in January 2011 in a fight that Maynard almost won in the first round, but Edgar survived an onslaught and did enough to force a draw. Maynard fought Edgar again at UFC 136 in October 2011 and the first round was very similar to their previous encounter with Maynard coming very close to winning the championship. Edgar made the big comeback, though, and knocked Maynard out. Maynard has a chance to fight for the title again two years later, but he has to get through Grant, who has gone undefeated since dropping down to the lightweight division. Grant went 3-3 at 170 pounds in the Octagon, but a 4-0 mark at 155 pounds has given him his first chance to appear on a UFC main card with a shot at the lightweight title hanging in the balance.
Maynard has undergone some changes since losing to Edgar as he has joined the American Kickboxing Academy team in San Jose, and has spent some time training in Brazil with the Nova Uniao team, particularly Jose Aldo. Maynard has a strong wrestling base coupled with some heavy hands. He may only have two knockout wins under his belt, but he came very close to finishing Edgar with his hands, and no one has ever been able to finish Edgar. Grant has been showing vast improvement in his striking arsenal in recent fights. He picked apart Evan Dunham on the feet when they fought, and he destroyed Wiman with a standing elbow leading to the finish in their fight. Grant is willing to mix it up more on the feet as he attacks with kicks and elbows on top of punches, whereas Maynard uses his heavy right hand to set up takedown attempts. Grant has a strong and durable chin, and he has never been knocked out in a fight, and that includes taking hard punches from Johny Hendricks.
Maynard will have a decisive edge in the wrestling department, though Grant is very good with his wrestling and it has been improving. The big question is whether Maynard will want to go to the ground with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Maynard had no trouble fending off the grappling of Nate Diaz and Kenny Florian, and he has never been submitted. Grant is the better submission fighter of the two and will be looking for openings as soon as the fight hits the mat, but he will likely be doing so from his back as Maynard will be looking to unload ground-and-pound while he has the top position. Maynard and Grant are both physically strong, but Maynard is better at being able to control positioning with his wrestling background, and a battle on the mat gives a slight edge to Maynard though it is close.
Maynard has faced the better competition over his career and has been in title fights, so he knows what to expect coming into a fight. He seems rejuvenated at AKA, and while his fight with Guida was not the most entertaining of fights, he escaped with the win, and after time away due to injuries, he is hungry to make an impressive return. Grant is stepping up in competition big time and he gets a chance to showcase his skills. Both men should have no problems going the full distance of 15 minutes. They will likely cancel each other out on the ground, so this battle will be decided on the feet. Grant is excellent at close quarters, so Maynard will be needing to keep a solid distance between the two. Maynard likes to land uppercuts, but the closer he gets, the more likely Grant will start to unload with elbows, knees and dirty boxing tactics. This will be a solid battle, and it will likely go to the judges. I favor Maynard to take home a close decision, but Grant will give him a fight.
Why It Matters: Maynard has been itching to get back into a title fight ever since he came up short in his two fights with Edgar, and, lucky for him, Edgar is no longer the champion and not even in the division anymore. Maynard would like a crack at Benson Henderson, and with Maynard having been a former title challenger, he will get a lot of more breaks than other fighters in the division have, and with just one loss, win-or-lose, he will still be in title contention barring an unfortunate losing streak.
Grant is a prime example of building yourself up in the UFC. He’s gone from unaired preliminary fights to Facebook preliminary fights to headlining an FX preliminary portion of a card, and now with his 11th appearance in the Octagon coming up, he finally breaks into the main card with a title opportunity on the line. A win would be the biggest of his career and set him up for an opportunity most fans thought he’d never get. A loss would set him back, but he has proven he is for real at 155 pounds, but if he is ever going to fight for a title, now is his time to earn that shot.