At just 23 years old, Kyle Maynard has his own business, owns a three-floor townhouse, has written a New York Times best-seller and is one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the country. He played football in middle school, became an excellent wrestler in high school and is a certified instructor in CrossFit, a popular strength and conditioning program.
He is also a congenital amputee, with arms that end at the elbows and legs that end near his knees.
By this point of his life, you would figure that his history of success would have served to quiet every last doubter. But for the past two years, Maynard has been stopped from participating in one of his new passions: mixed martial arts.
On Saturday at Auburn Fight Night in Auburn, Ala., Maynard will make his long-awaited amateur MMA debut before what is expected to be a crowd of several thousand fans. The event will also be available online at kylemaynardfight.com.
The prospect of Maynard fighting has drawn differing opinions in the MMA world. In 2007, Maynard was denied a fighter's license by the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission. That attempt drew debate on online forums that continues to simmer today, but after battling for a chance to get in the cage, Maynard and promoter David Oblas decided to circumvent any bureaucratic red tape by fighting in Alabama, a state in which MMA remains unregulated.
"Frankly, I haven't had anyone provide a rational reason [why] I can't fight, including the [Georgia] athletic commission," Maynard said. "The commission has a lot to lose and nothing to gain by giving me a license. My intention was not to turn this into a court battle. I didn't want to make this a civil rights thing. I just wanted to fulfill a dream."
The central debate over Maynard's participation lies in whether he has the ability to adequately defend himself. His training résumé suggests that he does. On the heels of his wrestling success, Maynard began training four years ago, and in the period since has spent time on the mat with a host of accomplished pro fighters, including the legendary Pat Miletich, Rory Singer, Robbie Lawler, Josh Neer, Spencer Fisher and Brian Bowles.
These days, his primary jiu-jitsu trainer is Paul Creighton, a onetime UFC fighter who fought BJ Penn in 2002. Creighton thinks Maynard is ready for the challenge, and it's worth noting that he speaks from an educated opinion: He has a master's degree in health and physical education and holds black belts in jiu-jitsu, karate and judo.
"Kyle is very good," Creighton said. "He submits a lot of guys. People wonder 'How does he do submissions?' Well, I can tell you, he's very proficient and he's very strong. He's a bull."
Maynard's parents are also on board with his fighting dreams. His father, Scott, who wrestled in college and did some boxing, often talks strategy with Kyle. His mother, Anita, is like most MMA moms: supportive but looking forward to the match being over.
Because of his condition, Maynard will be considered a downed fighter, and therefore cannot be kicked to the head, but he will fight under the same rules as the other eight amateur bouts on the card, which disallow elbows to the head of grounded opponents. Striking, wrestling and submissions are all fair game.
"It's the biggest misconception to think I can't strike," Maynard said. "It cracks me up how many people think that. I'm not going to be an Ernesto Hoost kickboxer, but I can strike."
Given the attention being paid to the bout, the identity of Maynard's opponent is being kept under wraps until the official weigh-ins. The fighter is from Wisconsin and has a 1-1 record. Oblas also has two backups on alert should they be needed. The fight will be contested at 135 pounds.
Oblas, who has been promoting events since 2002, has been friends with Maynard for several years and can still remember the day when Maynard called to inquire about fighting an MMA bout.
Oblas had the same questions everyone else is asking now: "How are you going to defend yourself?" "How are you going to strike?" "How are you going to wear gloves when you don't have hands?"
"We went out and talked to trainers, and they all felt this was an OK idea for him to fight," Oblas said. "No one felt more uneasy about his risk of getting injured than any other amateur fighter."
Maynard has always been a sports enthusiast. Growing up in Indiana, he played football and street hockey and wrestled with his neighborhood friends. After moving to Georgia, he briefly felt out of place but used sports to integrate himself into the community, playing nose tackle on his youth football team at 11. Since then he has set weightlifting records, won an ESPY award and modeled for Abercrombie & Fitch.
His whole life, he has been amazing people with his refusal to believe in limitations. In the process, he has touched millions. He's had people tell him that his story stopped them from committing suicide or that it motivated them to live healthier lives, and he hopes to continue that impact in the future.
But Saturday isn't about anyone else. It's not about setting an example or being inspirational or proving the doubters wrong. In the close quarters of combat, there is too much at stake for that.
"This time," he said, "I'm doing it for me."
Mike Chiappetta is a freelance writer who has written for NBCSports.com and FIGHT! Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.