by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
Undefeated in the Octagon, it’s not surprising that Xtreme Couture fighter Gray Maynard is on the radar for a title shot against current UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn.

Penn expects to next defend his title at an as yet unannounced event on April 10 in Abu Dhabi. Maynard has been mentioned alongside Frankie Edgar as the most likely candidates to challenge him.

Maynard first has another challenge. He headlines Monday night’s UFC Fight Night 20 in Virginia against Nate Diaz, a fighter he lost to on the Spike TV reality series “The Ultimate Fighter.” It’s a challenge he doesn’t care to look beyond.

“It was a good camp, and what on my mind the whole time is just Nate,” Maynard said earlier this week. “I don’t really care what’s going on or what might happen or what could happen. It’s all just could of, would have, whatever.

“I’ll deal with that on Jan. 12.”

The bouts on TUF don’t count towards a fighters official record, but a loss is a loss, and reality show or not, the loss to Diaz doesn’t sit well with the former U.S. Olympic wrestling hopeful. He does, however, keep it in perspective.

“Any time you lose, it sucks, bad. It was a tough loss,” said Maynard.

“I don’t think that was the best me or the best Nate, even at the time. That TV show was the worst, it was horrible. It was on the last day and we both just wanted to leave, go home. But he did the job; I left with a loss. It hurt of course, but I knew I had a long way to go, so I just tried to keep going and train.”

Keep going he did, and he hasn’t slowed down.

Maynard has wracked up eight victories opposite no defeats, winning six straight fights since leaving the show. His hit list includes the best in the division; fighters like Jim Miller, Frankie Edgar, and Roger Huerta.

Maynard and Diaz are both accomplished fighters. Both have worked hard to improve their stand-up games. Both are considered tremendous grapplers, albeit with vastly different styles. Maynard comes from a collegiate wrestling background, while Diaz is a jiu-jitsu ace.

It will come down to who has improved the most since that fateful fight on the final day of The Ultimate Figher’s fifth season, and Maynard aims to prove that he is the one that has upped his game the most. If he doesn’t, that title shot on the horizon, will remain right where it’s at, on the horizon.