Gray Maynard's voice quivers as he talks about it. He takes long pauses in between sentences.
He was about as close as humanly possible to being the UFC lightweight champion that it pains him to think about. Not once, not twice, but several times over the course of two fights with then-champion Frankie Edgar in 2011, Maynard seemed about ready to take the belt.
Edgar survived each of those occasions, of course. He fought back for a spectacular draw at UFC 125 in one of the great fights in UFC history. Edgar then survived another series of near-disasters in the early going at UFC 136 in October to rally to stop Maynard in the fourth.
Maynard was haunted by his failure to grab that belt and underwent significant changes in his personal and professional life, as a result.
He'll fight Clay Guida on Friday at UFC on FX 4 at Revel in Atlantic City, N.J., in his return fight from the knockout loss to Edgar.
Maynard moved from his home in Las Vegas, where he'd been a high school star at Durango High and had become something of a minor celebrity. He parted ways with the highly regarded Xtreme Couture gym and joined the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.
"I had been thinking about it [for a while] even before [UFC 136]," Maynard said of leaving Xtreme Couture. "I felt I'd hit a plateau as an athlete and as a person."
Maynard is 11-1-1 with one no contest, with the draw and the defeat both coming in title shots against Edgar. He had the look of a champion-in-waiting ever since his dominant victory over Kenny Florian in Boston at UFC 118 on Aug. 28, 2010.
He's been spectacular most of the time since then, but that one-sided victory over Florian remains his last win. It's closing in on two full years since he last had a win, and that leaves him seeming like he's just seen a ghost.
"I've knocked the UFC world champion down five times and probably been as close to the title as you can get without actually holding it," he said. "I want to go one punch, one second, better next time. It was very frustrating not being able to get the win despite beating Edgar up, and it took a long time getting over it. But I'm back and I know I'm able to beat anyone in the division."
[Kevin Iole: Clay Guida thinks his tenacity will prove the difference]
The lightweight division is stacked with talent. Champion Benson Henderson has a rematch with Edgar, whom he took the title from in February, at UFC 150 on Aug. 11 in Denver. Anthony Pettis seemed to have earned a title shot with an impressive victory over Joe Lauzon at UFC 144 in Japan in February, but after a win at UFC on Fox 3 in May, UFC president Dana White promised Nate Diaz the next title opportunity.
The Maynard-Guida winner will also emerge as a title contender-in-waiting.
The irony of it is that Maynard and Guida need opposite results in the Henderson-Edgar rematch. Maynard and Edgar have already fought three times, and it's unlikely the UFC would make a fourth fight between them so soon, if Edgar and Maynard both won. Thus, Maynard needs Henderson to beat Edgar at UFC 150 to keep his title hopes alive.
Guida lost to Henderson at UFC on Fox 1 in a great bout in November. If he were to beat Maynard, he'd have a better chance of landing a title shot if it were Edgar, not Henderson, who emerged with the belt at UFC 150.
Maynard wants to win the title and he wants to gets his hands on Edgar again. But listen to him speak and it's clear that this is a guy who is in desperate need of a win, if for no other reason than to soothe his mind.
"I hate to lose and of course it kills me," he said. "I moved, I left my gym, I changed my whole life because of it. It hasn't been easy. It's been a hard time in my life. But this is part of being a professional athlete. I know that, but it doesn't make it easier."
[Video: Gray Maynard: I'm ready to win again]
Beating Guida impressively would be the best thing he could do for himself. Not only would that make him an easier person to be around in the house, but it would restore a bit of shaken confidence.
It would also make his case for yet another title opportunity that much stronger. He has wins over Nate Diaz, Edgar, Jim Miller and Florian already and adding Guida to that list of victims might force White and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva to vault him above some other contenders.
"There's a big traffic jam at the top of the lightweight division," Maynard said. "You've got Clay up there. Nate Diaz has been looking great, and there's Anthony Pettis. Plus, Frankie is rematching with Ben Henderson in September. There's a big traffic jam in the division now and now that it isn't me causing it, I think it sucks. "Winning on Friday against Guida isn't good enough. I know I've got to knock him out, make a statement, to make my case for a title shot. I know it's not likely I get another fight with Frankie so soon, but if Ben keeps the belt, I think I make sense as No. 1 contender. I've already beaten Diaz, but he's earned his spot at the top of the division, and I'd be happy to fight him for the No. 1 spot any time."
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