gray-maynard-17.jpgIt’s fortunate for Gray Maynard that his fight against Clay Guida nearly a year ago was a win for him. If not, who knows?

Maynard beat Guida by split decision in Atlantic City, N.J., and it wasn’t very pretty. Guida was derided by critics, including UFC President Dana White, for his game plan in the fight – which he described, more or less, as not wanting to get hit by Maynard (and really, who would?), but naysayers called “running.”

That the win was a split call for Maynard might have been just as frustrating for him as a loss would have been, because either way, he still couldn’t figure it out.

Had one of the two judges who sided with him in the main event of UFC on FX 4 this past June given just one more of the five rounds to Guida, Maynard wonders if he’d even be the subject of a story right now.

“Most of the time, people get pissed at what I’m doing (in a fight),” Maynard told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “But that time, I got pissed at what he was doing. It’s an emotional sport. That happened, and thank God I got the win on that – because I don’t even think I’d be in the sport right now.”

As in retire? Quit? Adios? Maybe, the two-time lightweight challenger said. Had his hand not been raised, he might have just walked away.

“I don’t even want to talk about it,” he said. “I can’t believe it was a split. (But) it happened. I thought long and hard about that.”

And fortunately for Maynard, and really the UFC’s lightweight division, is that he apparently came to some conclusions when he thought long and hard about the potential that was there to walk away.

And he decided that being in the sport is a pretty cool thing.

“Being in the game, going through all those battles, it’s become pretty enjoyable,” Maynard said. “I enjoy everything now – the camps, the crowd, the cheers, the boos, punching, getting punched. It’s a fun job, and you’ve got to take it in and enjoy it. That’s all I’m doing now. I go out and do the best I can, give it my all and enjoy the whole thing of it.”

On Saturday at UFC 160 in Las Vegas, where he spent years training before moving his base camp to American Kickboxing Academy, Maynard (11-1-1 MMA, 9-1-1 UFC) meets T.J. Grant (20-5 MMA, 7-3 UFC) in a lightweight fight that will determine the next contender for champion Benson Henderson‘s title.

He’ll be fighting for the first time since that win over Guida. A December fight against Joe Lauzon didn’t happen when Maynard suffered knee and hamstring injuries and had to undergo surgery.

Although he said the announcement by White a month ago took him a little by surprise, he so far hasn’t let what’s at stake get in the way of what he’s trying to accomplish. Besides – how many times have title shots been promised, and for one reason or another they don’t come to fruition?

“I’m a realist, of course, so every time I try to move ahead, Grant’s head pops up in my head,” Maynard said. “That’s all I can concentrate on. And of course, a lot of things can happen – injuries, all kinds of stuff. It’s a great opportunity, but I’ve got to concentrate on trying to be the best guy I can be against Grant – not only so I can have a chance at the belt, but to beat Ben.”

Maynard has come up short in two previous bids for the title. But not before nearly winning the belt each time. At UFC 125 against then-champ Frankie Edgar, Maynard had Edgar right up against it in the first round. But Edgar survived, rallied and forced a draw. At their rematch in October 2011 at UFC 136, Maynard again had Edgar hurt in the first. But again Edgar rallied, this time to knock Maynard out in the fourth round – handing him the first loss of his career in the process.

Those fights helped him not just for Grant, whom Maynard said has “smaller, technical holes that we’ll kind of try to pick apart,” but for what he hopes is a shot at Henderson later this year.

“Every time you compete at the top, it’s kind of career-changing,” he said. “I’m talking about the top guys, whether it’s the co-main event, a FUEL main event, whatever it is – you learn about who you are. That just made me go, and I’ll be prepared for everything. There’s always a couple new things that are thrown in there (in training), but I’ll be more prepared to take the belt.”

UFC 160 takes place Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The main card, including Maynard-Grant, airs live on pay-per-view following prelims on FX and Facebook.

For the latest on UFC 160, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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