In the game of musical chairs leading up to the UFC on Fox 2: "Evans vs. Davis" final fight card line up, the middleweight showdown between Demian Maia vs. Chris Weidman later TONIGHT (Jan. 28, 2012) at the United Center in Chicago, Ill., may be a bit overlooked in favor of the Chael Sonnen vs. Michael Bisping bout.
But, it's an intriguing match up nonetheless.
After rebuilding some of the career mojo he lost after the Anderson Silva fiasco, Maia gets a real handful in Weidman, who replaces the exited Bisping, Maia's original opponent. There are but a mere handful of fighters in the game for whom pulling guard is a legitimate offensive move, but Maia's on the short list, as he finds submissions the way most of us rummage through the fridge getting leftovers.
There's almost always something to be had.
To Maia's credit, after his disastrous 21-second knockout loss to Nate Marquardt in 2009, he put a lot of work in to improve his stand up. And the results have been obvious. Between his excellent striking displayed in the close decision loss to Mark Munoz, to using his striking to get four workmanlike decisions since the Marquardt debacle, he's shown he's more than just a submission ace.
The wild card for the former Abu Dhabi Combat Club champion is how he can adjust against a ground beast like Weidman.
Realistically, in preparing for Bisping, Maia was tuning his game toward forcing a takedown against someone who probably would resist it at all costs. Instead, he faces an outstanding former college wrestler who competed in Abu Dhabi after just a year or so of training, which is a phenomenal statement as to how gifted Weidman is. As the old saying goes, everybody's a blue belt once you get them on their back and punch them in the face, and Maia's blinding submissions may never come to fruition if Weidman's crushing top control and physical style negate them, as he's done with previous opponents.
For every prospect, you like to see them in a tough, distance bout before you can truly make an assessment. That's because everyone looks like a monster in quick wins. It's the taxing, draining types of fights that let you see their mettle and how they adjust to fatigue and changing tactical conditions.
For Weidman, his test couldn't have been much tougher, as he filled in on two weeks notice to defeat wily veteran Alessio Sakara in just his fifth fight. Using stifling wrestling and outstanding top control, Weidman cracked a very tough nut in Sakara, and followed up with a pair of quick submission wins over Jesse Bongfeldt and Tom Lawlor.
Trained by Ray Longo, he's also got a developing striking game, and seems increasingly comfortable on the feet. But make no mistake, Weidman is your prototype smash-mouth grappler, who's going to look to takedown opponents simply because very few people can stop him, and he's got solid submissions, to boot.
Maia's stand up has improved considerably, and it'll be a key factor in this fight. He'll have to move from his southpaw stance, circling and changing directions, while shooting in quick one-twos and the occasional kick. Weidman's ability to deal with the standup early is a huge factor. If he doesn't feel necessarily threatened and doesn't get caught with something (as Munoz did, which essentially turned the fight on its ear early), he'll bide his time and force a clinch at some point, taking Maia down at will.
However, a big factor for Weidman is how confident he is that he can negotiate Maia's dizzying ground game and the expectable flurry of submissions the former world champ will bring.
If Weidman gets a good position, he's very consistent with how he exploits it and makes good decisions, denying his opponent much chance at a sweep or reversal. Weidman works the body and head wisely, while staying busy enough to do damage and yet not risking too much. If he ends up on top this will be a critical factor in dictating the pace and influencing judges while not giving Maia too much of an opening to create a scramble, where he's great at coming out on top.
Look for Weidman to feel Maia out early on the feet, then score a takedown or two late in the first round to test the waters. He'll be able to hold down Maia and score limited strikes on the ground, enough to win the round. He'll repeat the feat in the second and third frames, while fighting off a submission attempt or two, as Maia tires down the stretch. Weidman will close the fight, opening up with increasingly accurate ground and pound and make a big statement to the rest of the middleweight division, winning the bout by unanimous decision.
Weidman via decision
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Jason Probst can be reached at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst