An evening inside Maynard's mind

HOUSTON -- For much of 2011, Gray "The Bully" Maynard has been hounded by a compulsion that he never intended. That compulsion is Frankie Edgar.

Everybody wants to know what it’s like to have Edgar on the brainstem for a full calendar year. At this point, is he tired of thinking about him? Does he want to just get the thing over with already? Does he get lost in the “what if’s” about leaving that first round onslaught unfinished?

Is the swirl of surmounting pressures tolling him these nine months later?

Frankly, Maynard is more tired of this classic sort of intrigue than he is of the man he’ll square off with in a trilogy fight on Saturday night for the 155-pound strap.

“For me all this stuff isn’t new,” he told ESPN.com from his hotel room on Thursday evening. “Just dealing with the guy you always have to compete against. I’ve done it in college. I’ve done it in high school. I had trilogies in college. I had trilogies all over. And I can still understand that it’s a new sport, but for me, I’ve been competing from the time I was three. It’s just a little bit of a change for the sport.”

It isn’t so much that Maynard has fought Edgar twice as it is the set of circumstances and travails he’s found himself against once in the cage with him.

In the first fight in Broomfield, Colo., in 2008, Maynard broke his hand in the opening round but was still able to outlast Edgar for all three rounds in a unanimous decision. That’s gritty stuff, but people really only remember the second fight -- the one where he caught Edgar with an uppercut and then blitzed him for the next few minutes to keep things teetering on the verge of a stoppage. Maynard went so hard for the coup de grce that he dumped his adrenaline with 20 minutes to go and a million minds unhip to his sinking dread.

When his legs barely answered the second-round bell, he felt a pang of terror.

“Yeah, it was terrifying. I didn’t know how I was going to fight the rest of the way -- it was a gut check,” he said. And to illustrate the feeling of what he went through, had to overcome, and what he’ll do differently as the Roman Numerals get longer in the series, he rolls out Brock Lesnar as an exhibit.

“Ok, here’s the whole comparison,” he says. “What I did before, it would be like [Shane] Carwin and Brock. If I have [Edgar] hurt again, it’ll be like Cain Velasquez and Brock. More calculated, slower, picking it apart.”

Shane Carwin notoriously made lactic acidosis a part of MMA vernacular at UFC 116. Very similarly to Maynard, he had Lesnar on the ropes for the whole first round. But he hanged himself in the process -- in the second round he had nothing for Lesnar and got submitted. Velasquez hurt Lesnar with a first-round shot at UFC 123 and went about his finish with unsettling poise and awareness. How he reacts to the wounded animal was the biggest tweak Maynard made in his training camp.

Edgar, all heart and Adam’s apple, came back in January from the 10-8 first to force a draw with the “Bully.” Yet the most underplayed part of the second Maynard/Edgar bout wasn’t just that Edgar rebounded but that Maynard found a way to survive. When the unreasonable feeling came over him that he had nothing left, he had to dig deep to find something. Anything.

“The whole point of growing in a career, or to build an athlete, is have him in the smaller shows, the smaller fights, so that all the bad stuff happens early,” he says. “For me, it happened in a championship fight. That’s a learning experience ... You look at Dan Henderson with Jake Shields, same thing. I pushed through it.

“By no means do I want people to think I am making excuses. I fought off my guts. I was on pure guts. It was a gut check. I’ve had some gut checks in both fights [with Edgar]. I try to make a big deal about. I don’t know how he felt. I can’t say, ‘man, if I didn’t blow it all out in the first round I’d have smoked him the whole fight.’ Who knows.”

It’s all part of the game, but stories come from the game within the game. Maynard and Edgar have been in each other’s crosshairs all year long. A bottleneck situation has occurred behind them at 155 as they sort it out. This has been an action-based series; the level of talking back and forth has never reached any real pitch. It’s an improbable set-up -- Maynard has gone 1-0-1 against Edgar despite so many adversities, and the undersized Edgar carries around the belt in spite of logic.

Just who feels better after what happened in the last encounter depends on how you crook your head.

“I feel good that, for a long time he was the cardio king,” Maynard says. “But for the first fight, he broke. I felt him break. In the next one, obviously he didn’t break, but I think he felt me pull back in Round 2. That sparked him up. If he thinks that’s how he’s going to beat me, that’s not how it goes.

So what does he expect?

“You know, he’s a tough kid, but I expect him to do a point fight,” he says. “I don’t expect him to come in there looking to bang with me. I expect a lot of inside, outside, a lot of trying to do the leg kicks, score points. You look back at his tapes, and they’re all pretty equal. The [Sean] Sherk fight, the [Matt] Veach fight, the Hermes Franca fight. They are all pretty much carbon copies. I don’t know how he’ll change it up, but he does a good job at what he does.”

It’s a long time to contemplate the fact. But it’s not just Edgar and the fight he’s contemplating, there’s also the big picture.

“For me, I’m starting to know -- everything happens, some of it might be good and some of it bad, but as long as you’re above the grass and not below it you’re doing alright,” he says. “There’s always tomorrow. And I don’t want to come across as ‘whatever happens, happens,’ but for me, as you get older, and you know a bit more, it’s about the gift of life. That’s the most important thing. As long as I’m breathing.”

A lot of media find the normally terse 33-year-old challenger sort of hard to pry through, but that’s Maynard. He appreciates the situation he’s in. In fact, he recognizes what’s unraveling right now as the golden moments of his life, the centerpiece of his rocking chair stories.

So if you think that he’s tired of thinking about Edgar, you’re probably half-right. To hear Maynard tell it, though, he’s clinging to that image with both hands, and this time he won’t let go.