Lightweight contender Gray Maynard is hoping to get his UFC career back on track at The Ultimate Fighter Season 18 Finale against Nate Diaz. It’s an important fight for both competitors as they hope to resurrect title hopes in the 155-pound weight division. Both men have failed in previous title shots, and both are looking to stay relevant in a division that features a number of talented fighters.
Most recently “The Bully” was steamrolled in the first round by T.J. Grant in a title eliminator at UFC 160. Having been so close to a title opportunity, Maynard wants to get back into contention with a strong effort against Diaz. He had two previous epic title challenges against then lightweight champion Frankie Edgar that produced a draw and a knockout loss. Maynard had “The Answer” in serious trouble in the first round of both of those memorable contests but failed to produce the finish.
Maynard will have a tough, motivated opponent in front of him Saturday night in Las Vegas. Diaz is even more desperate to get in the win column, having been defeated by then champion Benson Henderson and knocked out by Josh Thomson in his last two fights. Thomson was the first fighter to ever stop Diaz via strikes. In a hotly-contested weight-class, a third straight loss would be a crippling blow. Diaz has talked of chasing after a rematch with Thomson and also has his sights set on lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
These men are no strangers to one another. They met on Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter with Diaz recording a submission victory in the semifinals. Maynard evened the score in the UFC with a split decision victory in their next meeting, and now they gear up for a third matchup with plenty at stake.
Maynard has the power advantage, but Diaz won’t be one to shy away. His striking skills have gotten better with time, and he’s never backed away from a slugfest. Maynard has the better wrestling, but Diaz the better submission skills with 11 finishes to his credit. When you handicap this matchup you can understand why the odds makers have this fight as close as they do.
The winner of this fight will stay in the title hunt and will also have the opportunity to pursue those high-profile revenge fights down the road. As for the loser, it’ll be a big drop down the ladder and a long way to being considered a title threat again.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports