Gray Maynard receives his blue belt in Jiu-Jitsu from André Pederneiras

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — On Monday evening at the famed Nova União academy in the Flamengo neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, top UFC lightweight fighter Gray "The Bully" Maynard received his blue belt in jiu-jitsu after training in the gi for one month.

Maynard is most well-known for being a semi-finalist on Team Penn during the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter and his trilogy of exciting fights with current UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, who he holds an overall 1-1-1 record against inside the Octagon. After dropping the third of those three bouts to Edgar in October, Maynard decided to give his training an overhaul heading into 2012.

The most logical step for Maynard was to hone his submission skills by traveling to the birthplace of jiu-jitsu and he did so by teaming up with none other than the reigning UFC featherweight champion José Aldo at the Nova União academy in Brazil. The friendship and alliance between Maynard and Aldo made perfect sense. Maynard is a highly decorated amateur wrestler having achieved NCAA Division I All-American status at Michigan State University three times. Aldo, on the other hand, is one of the most versatile strikers in MMA and also holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu under Nova União co-founder André Pederneiras.

The timing of the union between Maynard and Aldo, which started a little over a month ago, also couldn’t have come at a better time for both fighters. While Maynard is looking to bounce back from the first loss of his career, during a title fight at UFC 136 in October, Aldo is getting ready to face Chad Mendes on January 14th in what could be the biggest test of Aldo’s career. Mendes, like Maynard, is a highly decorated collegiate wrestler. Mendes was a two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler at Cal Poly and placed second in the country in 2008.

While Aldo recruited Maynard for his high-level wrestling skills, Maynard took the opportunity to strengthen his jiu-jitsu and striking skills. There were moments in the first round of both of Maynard’s title fights with Edgar last year, that he had the champion rocked, and could have finished the fight with a skillfully placed submission. Now after training with Aldo, Pederneiras, and the rest of the Nova União team in Brazil, Maynard is on pace to add that coveted submission aspect to his already amazing skill set.

The hard work for Maynard is already starting to pay off too, as Pederneiras awarded Maynard with his blue belt in jiu-jitsu on Monday, which he proudly wore around his new black Lucky Gi (pictured above). Now if the Maynard-Aldo partnership continues to go as planned, Mendes will also have to deal with Aldo’s newly improved takedown defense and wrestling acumen come January 14th. The two fighters meet in the main event of UFC 142 – Aldo vs. Mendes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which is the first UFC event of the year.

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