Gray Maynard entered the UFC as a wrestler with little mixed martial arts experience. He made it onto the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter with a professional record of just 2-0, being eventually submitted by Nate Diaz. However, Maynard showcased rapid improvement as a fighter in the UFC, establishing himself as a fighter who relentlessly pursued top position and consistently ground out his opponents. After knocking out Joe Veres in just nine seconds, Maynard won seven decisions in a row. The opponents he beat during that run included Dennis Siver, Frankie Edgar, Jim Miller, Nate Diaz, and Kenny Florian. That’s not a bad run.
But something disastrous happened to Maynard – he fell in love with the striking game. To make matters worse, he actually had success with it. His win over Miller was accomplished largely with striking, as was his (dubious) split decision victory over Diaz. Maynard earned a title shot against Edgar and came so close to finishing Edgar with strikes in the first round. Clearly, Maynard got the idea that he could beat fighters standing up, and that struck him as more fun than the methodical grinding style that fans just don’t enjoy watching.
The problem is that Maynard was never really that good at striking. Diaz landed 70 significant strikes to Maynard’s 41. Roger Huerta landed 40 significant strikes to Maynard’s 23. Edgar landed 95 significant strikes to Maynard’s 71. Maynard was fortunate to not lose each of those fights with his striking game.
In his last four fights, Maynard’s love for striking has finally hurt him, and in a bad way too. Edgar, Diaz, and T.J. Grant all knocked Maynard out. The Grant and Diaz fights were particularly one-sided. Maynard won a split decision over Clay Guida with strikes, but Guida is no great striker himself. It’s clear that if Maynard wants to turn his career around and get back to the top, he needs to do it with the wrestling/grinding style that got him here.
That brings us to his fight against Ross Pearson. If this fight happened three years ago, I would have no hesitation about picking Maynard to win. Now, I have a lot of hesitation. Pearson is easily the better striker, and it’s not particularly close. He’s also showcased enough knockout power in recent fights that he should be considered a threat to finish Maynard in this one. If Maynard hasn’t learned his lesson, and comes in ready to stand and trade with Pearson, he’s almost certainly going to lose, probably by knockout.
The other problem is that Pearson isn’t easy to take down. He enters with a takedown defense rate of 81%. Maynard is a better wrestler than anybody Pearson has faced to this point, so it’s reasonable to expect that Maynard would have more success than Pearson’s past opponents. However, Pearson isn’t going to make it easy, and if Maynard has trouble landing takedowns, that might encourage him to just try a striking match anyway.
I would love to think fighters are self-aware enough to understand where they’re going wrong, and correct their mistakes. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case. Maynard’s recent career trend has been to stand and strike with his opponents and get knocked out. Against Ross Pearson, there’s a very good chance Maynard repeats this pattern. It’s a shame that I’m making this pick, because Maynard really is the better overall fighter… but I have to pick Pearson to win this.
Pick: Ross Pearson by KO