UFC on Fox 2 is set to air this Saturday night (Jan. 28, 2012) live from the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
On the fight card are two of the world's top middleweights: Chael Sonnen and Demian Maia. While they aren't facing off against each other, now is as good a time as any to take a look back at their UFC 95 tilt in February of 2009.
Along with what's changed since then.
We’ve all heard it, and some of us have even said it: "Chael Sonnen has no submission defense." While this is certainly an exaggeration, it cannot be disputed that the majority of Chael’s losses have come via submission and that his submission defense is not exactly the best on the planet.
So when he was matched up against one of the world's most talented Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) blackbelts in Demian Maia, the writing was on the wall. As soon as Chael made a mistake, it would be over quicker than Kalib Starnes could backpedal the 100 meter dash.
But would Maia be able to get Sonnen to the mat? After all, Sonnen is one of the best wrestlers in the sport, and Maia has no wrestling credentials to speak of.
Follow me after the jump to see how it all played out.As mentioned earlier, Maia doesn’t have world-class wrestling credentials and this is highlighted in the Sonnen fight. Early in the first round, Maia shoots in from much too far away, without setting up the takedown at all and the overall level of technique shown in the single leg that he shoots with is not spectacular. Sonnen sprawls easily and begins to defend the takedown. This does not deter Demian however, and that is part of what makes Maia so effective, even against wrestlers.
Lots of fighters, once having their takedown successfully stuffed by their opponent, would either keep driving forward, trying to complete the takedown and end up on top, or abandon the takedown and try to set a different one. Maia on the other hand, confident that he can finish the fight anywhere on the ground, uses his failed takedown to pull guard. Not many fighters in the world would be happy pulling guard on such an active top fighter like Sonnen, but Maia is not your average fighter and he does not have an average BJJ attack. After pulling guard, Maia has the fight where he wants it -- on the mat. Although Sonnen was able to stand up, Maia sent the message that he wasn't afraid of being on his back with Chael on top of him.
Later in the fight, our two competitors are back on their feet. Maia rushes Sonnen with a flurry of punches, and Sonnen makes a classic mistake -- he backs straight up, not cutting an angle and finds his back against the cage. From here, Chael and Demian clinch up. Each fighter has one overhook and one underhook. Demian has his overhook on Sonnen's right side, and his underhook on Sonnen’s left side. Usually in this position, the highly decorated Greco-Roman wrestler would have a huge advantage.
Not this time.
Maybe it was arrogance on Chael’s part, thinking Maia couldn’t take him down from the clinch that allowed Maia to throw Sonnen like this. Maybe it was the element of surprise playing in Maia’s favor. Maybe Maia drilled this particular takedown over and over again in preparation for this fight. Whatever the case may be, Maia executes a beautiful Greco-throw. Using his right arm, which is the arm he has the underhook with, Maia pulls Chael off balance, making Chael take a step forward with his left foot. Maia is ready, immediately blocking Sonnen’s left leg with his right foot. Demian then throws Chael over his right shoulder, planting the Greco-Roman wrestler firmly on his back, and landing the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu wizard not only in mount, but in the beginnings of a mounted triangle choke.
Note that as the fighters land, Maia’s right leg is over the top of Chael's left arm. This is the first step in Maia beginning to isolate Chael’s right arm for the triangle choke. Maia then slides his left leg up high, pinning Sonnen’s right arm up close to his own neck. Pulling up on his opponents head allows Maia to limit Sonnen’s mobility and also prepares the triangle choke to be locked in.
This is where Sonnen makes the mistake that costs him the fight.
He rotates his legs, gaining momentum to try and buck-and-roll himself into top position and eventually (in his mind), safety. That's the opposite of what happens. Sonnen should have looked to try and get his left arm back, out from under Maia’s leg, thus preventing the triangle choke. Instead, Sonnen goes from a bad position, to a worse position. As he rolls Demian over onto his back, Sonnen does not posture up, does not pull his head or his left arm out from Demian’s legs. This makes it almost too easy for Maia to slide his left knee over his right foot, completely locking in the triangle and spelling disaster for Sonnen.
This is in no way a discredit to Maia’s Jiu-Jitsu skills. Notice how once they hit the ground, Demian is immediately working his triangle. Notice how very smoothly Maia locks up the choke when Chael rolls him. Demian certainly did not leave a lot of room for Sonnen to escape.
The combination of Sonnen's submission defense being rather lacking and Maia's submission offense being among the best in the world led to one of the most beautiful submissions ever executed in the UFC.
Sonnen went 4-1 in his next five fights, losing to Anderson Silva by submission at UFC 117. Maia went 5-2 and has failed to secure a submission win in any of those five victories.
Next on the agenda for Maia is Chris Weidman, another very decorated wrestler, but with more than competent submission skills. Will he find a way to submit Chris Weidman the way he did Chael Sonnen? And will Sonnen be able to avoid a similar fate against Michael Bisping?
Voice your opinions in the comments section below, Maniacs!