by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
As was custom, Gray Maynard got a text from Joe Silva sometime in late May. It said, simply, “Huerta. Sept. 16.”
Huerta, of course, was Roger Huerta, the embattled lightweight who’s on the last bout of his UFC contract and fighting for his future when the two meet in Oklahoma for UFC Fight Night 19.
Maynard had been lobbying Silva to face Sean Sherk for the last year, to no avail. But Huerta was popular, and that presented an opportunity itself.
“His name was big,” Maynard told MMAWeekly.com as he sat inside the cage at Xtreme Couture’s gym. “It still is. Kind of chose to go a different path in the last year. He’s got heart. He keeps coming at you, and that’s a great fight.”
“Yes” was the immediate reply.
He began training for the fight this week, and recently broke down Huerta footage with boxing coach Gil Martinez to get a better idea of what to focus on.
Their consensus was similar to how most view Huerta: what he lacks in technique, he makes up for in heart.
And technique happens to be Maynard’s biggest concern. He’s heard critics who say he’s a one-trick pony, a wrestler who’s playing at fighting. Hence the work with Martinez on and off-season, where he drills technique for hours upon end.
He certainly didn’t look like a one-trick pony against Jim Miller at UFC 96. Over three rounds, his strikes were more accurate and better timed. It was Miller who wanted the fight down.
“I’m trying to learn,” he said. “I’m trying to get good-good, like where I can pick people apart, where I can land good shots and not swing wildly, and I can move. That’s how I want to be. There’s just a lot to learn. And people say, ‘well, Gray can’t strike.’ But I’m learning. ‘His jiu-jitsu is crap.’ But I’m learning. That’s all I gotta do.”
The fight led to talk of Maynard being the next lightweight contender, which made news of a fight with Huerta a bit of a left turn. If Huerta was victorious, it could be a big setback for the Las Vegas native’s title chances.
Maynard doesn’t like to think that way.
“It’s all talk,” he said. “I try to keep what’s reality. Reality is I’ve got Sept. 16. If you keep going and you win, it’ll come. Might not come next, might not come in two, might not come in three, but it’s going to come.”
He just wants to make sure he doesn’t go the route of Huerta’s last victim, Clay Guida. Guida got caught with a flying knee after two rounds of putting it on the Sports Illustrated cover subject. Maynard isn’t okay with standing in the pocket and brawling.
“I’m trying to learn how I can avoid that stuff,” said Maynard. “If I get caught, then I’m an idiot. Because that’s part of the sport: defense. Blocking stuff, movement, which I think a lot of guys don’t do. You see offense everywhere, but if you can just move a little bit, it’s a lot easier.”
He says it would be dishonest if he promised an all-out war with the 26-year-old Los Angeles native.
“I’m here to win,” said Maynard. “(I’m not going to say), ‘I think it’s going to be a bloody, an unbelievable throwdown. We’re going to get the fight of the night check.’ To be honest, I don’t even want it to be close. I want to kick this dude’s ass. That’s the plan.”