The seasoned veteran takes on the young gun in the middleweight division this Saturday night (January 28, 2012) as former UFC title challenger Demian Maia battles undefeated prospect Chris Weidman in the opening bout of the UFC on Fox 2 main card.
Demian Maia has been very up and down in the UFC, suffering extreme highs and lows from title shots to knockout losses, from an incredible submission streak to being on the receiving end of a very close decision defeat. He's had mixed results ever since committing to becoming a more well-rounded mixed martial artist, but he's promised to go back to his submission roots this weekend.
Chris Weidman had a tremendous 2011, exploding from out of nowhere to becoming 3-0 in the UFC and quickly becoming a "can't miss" prospect. The former two-time NCAA All-American wrestler stepped up in a big way for this fight, taking a huge leap against a top 10 opponent on less than two weeks' notice. We'll see what he's made of on Saturday night.
Will Maia's world class jiu-jitsu be too much for the young and hungry prospect? Can Weidman step up in a big way and become a huge player at 185? What's the key to victory for both men this weekend at UFC on Fox 2 in Chicago?
Let's find out:
Record: 15-3 overall, 9-3 in the UFC
How he got here: No one made a brighter entrance to the UFC than Demian Maia. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) phenom made his UFC debut in 2007 and submitted his first five opponents with four of those finishes earning him the "Submission of the Night" award.
He capped off his streak by slaying future title challenger Chael Sonnen with an easy takedown-into-mount-into-triangle choke transition that had grappling fans raving.
His momentum was sent to a screeching halt after Nate Marquardt blasted him with one punch just 21 seconds into their UFC 102 fight but after rebounding with a decision victory over the always-tough Dan Miller, Maia was awarded a title shot against Anderson Silva as a replacement for the injured Vitor Belfort.
The title fight with Silva was an unmitigated disaster. The seemingly indifferent champion taunted and danced his way to a victory although Maia earned some respect for his performance in the final two rounds, not giving up, aggressively pushing forwards and arguably winning them on a few judges' scorecards.
Maia got back on track with consecutive decision victories over fellow esteemed grapplers Mario Miranda and Kendall Grove but has his momentum halted in one of 2011's closest fights, losing a very close decision to Mark Munoz at UFC 131. The former ADCC world champion again bounced back against Jorge Santiago at UFC 136, winning a decision primarily with top control in a fight where his opponent was more interested in surviving the full 15 minutes than winning.
The Brazilian was slated to take on Michael Bisping at this event, but as things are tend to happen, Bisping got bumped and Chris Weidman hopped into his place.
How he gets it done: Maia has gone great lengths to improve his striking since the Marquardt knockout, but despite that, he's still not dangerous on his feet. You could go as far as to say that he has some of the least stand-up power in the middleweight division. He's been able to win striking battles in his recent fights due to improved footwork and technique but that's also been because he's had opponents on the defensive due to his Brazilian jiu-jitsu acumen.
Chris Weidman is a wildcard as we don't know much about his stand-up yet, so Maia may want to test the waters and see how he fares in that department before moving on to the other facets of his game.
If he's smart, The Brazilian will try to clinch Weidman and work his excellent trips and judo-style takedowns along the fence. Getting up close and personal with "The All-American" will be a priority as Maia has a tremendous feel for the game and can catch Weidman napping in one direction as he puts him on the ground in the other.
Putting the wrestler on his back will be the key to victory, although that's easier said than done. If Maia can take this fight to the ground, he'll have to be mindful of Weidman's base and his ability to quickly sweep and/or transition on teh canvas. Maia is going to have to be the aggressor on the ground if he wants to win this fight, working from top position is a priority as Weidman might be adept enough to avoid submissions if Maia gets put on his back.
Maia's also been known to give up dominant positions to go for the finish. He's mentioned he wants to go back to his roots with his submission game, so don't be surprised one bit if Maia goes after something aggressively if he sees any sort of small opening. It's won him fans and he's got the technique to pull it off and not get powered out if he can lock anything significant in place.
Record: 7-0 overall, 3-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none.
How he got here: Chris Weidman made his mark in the collegiate wrestling scene, becoming a two-time NCAA division I All-American while competing at Hofstra University. After graduating, he transitioned to mixed martial arts which included some heavy work in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Weidman was a natural, qualifying for the ADCC after just one year of training and his MMA career got off to an equally hot start. After crushing his first two opponents inside the first round, he was given a Ring of Combat title shot in just his fifth pro fight against veteran Urijah Hall. Instead of being intimidated, Weidman smashed Hall via TKO just three minutes into his fight.
By his fifth fight, Weidman was already earning an invite into the UFC, taking a bout on short notice as an injury replacement to take on 11 fight UFC veteran Alessio Sakara. Weidman dominated the Italian ATT fighter, winning a convincing three round decision.
The promotion wisely allowed him to progress at his own pace, and Weidman delivered with a first round standing guillotine choke finish of Jesse Bongfeldt at UFC 131. He would follow that victory up with his most convincing win to date a first round technical D'Arce choke submission against veteran Tom Lawlor which barely lasted two minutes.
When Michael Bisping got moved to the Chael Sonnen fight, Weidman gladly stepped up to fill the vacancy left behind and take on Demian Maia.
How he gets it done: First thing's first, Weidman has to take some deep breaths and remain calm, channel some of his wrestling nerves from when he was competing in the national tournaments.
Position, position, position. That's more important than any submission first of all, especially against a fighter of Maia's caliber, who is capable of ending a fight from anywhere if given an opening. Weidman has to be perfect with his technique in this fight if he actually does want to take it to the ground. He should watch a considerable amount of footage from the Mark Munoz fight with Maia, another top wrestler who was able to hang with Maia on the ground and not panic.
If Weidman can gain top position, he should measure his shots and throw punches without being too wild. If he can start to open up and do some damage, that's when it's time to hit the gas pedal and go for broke.
If the Serra-Longo fighter instead wants to test his stand-up, that's not the worst idea in the world as Maia does have have very powerful boxing and he can afford to get hit while trading strikes. Perhaps Weidman has more power than Maia and can afford to take a shot to give one. That's something we'll have to discover as the fight goes on.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor in this fight has to be Chris Weidman's incredible leap in competition. Yes, I know he competed against great guys like Phil Davis while wrestling at Hofstra, but in terms of MMA, there's a huge jump from the Tom Lawlors of the world to Demian Maia, one of the best middleweights on the planet. You also have to factor in that he is not only taking the biggest fight of his career but he's doing it on extremely short notice. Perhaps he could rise to the occasion like Charlie Brenneman did at UFC on Versus 4 or he could fall flat on his face.
How he handles the pressure, the new difficulty in opposition and the short notice weight cut will go a long ways in deciding the outcome of this bout.
Bottom Line: This is an incredibly intriguing match-up for a wide variety of reasons. The first obviously is the untested prospect taking on a very high level opponent for the first time in his career. The second is the late notice of the matchmaking and the third is the fact that Chris Weidman is actually the betting favorite. With Weidman's wrestling credentials and Maia's Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills, this bout has all the makings of some serious excitement if it goes to the ground as both men are very dangerous in their own way. If it turns into a stand-up fight, it could leave some to be desired as both men still have a way to go in that department and I'm sure fans would rather see wild scrambles and submission attempts than three rounds of sloppy kickboxing. Hopefully, we get to see what these men are made of on the canvas.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FOX 2? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!