The Match Up:
The welterweight division is a curious place, with champ Georges St. Pierre ruling the roost and a host of tough contenders that would probably be tossups against the better portion of their peers. Stacked amongst them at the top of the second rung was Story, whose blazing display of cardio, work rate and sheer guts against Thiago Alves marked his sixth straight win on what looked a serious run toward a title shot.
Then, caught up in the chaos of the Nate Marquardt drop-out, he got a last minute foe in Charlie Brenneman, whose pure-wrestling approach was enough of an edge to complete negate Story's game. After a decision loss to Martin Kampmann, Story rebounded with a decision win over Brock Jardine.
Maia, meanwhile, makes his second bout - and his meaningful debut - at welter after injury knocked Dong Hyun Jim from the Brazilian's divisional debut in July. Equipped with phenomenal submission skills, Maia's improved standup and increased comfort in that phase of the game could make him a real welterweight threat.
Maia's weight cut could be a factor, but he wasn't particularly huge or ripped at 185 and looked fit enough on the scales against Kim. Story's best punch is a nasty right counter hook, and he'll sit down on his shots in the pocket, forcing exchanges and relying on a solid chin to trade shots while mentally breaking foes. Rick's wrestling and takedown defense are solid, but Maia's ability to take opponents down is especially good for a pure jiu-jitsu guy. He tossed Chael Sonnen to the mat with a picture-perfect lateral drop, and this, along with the terrifying potency of him simply pulling guard, makes opponents especially wary in tie-ups.
Maia's standup has upgrade from non-existent to functional, and he was able to surprise Mark Munoz early with some crisp shots. However, Story likes to bang with opponents and has quicker hands, along with better combinations, and he'll probably get the better of a brawling-style fight. The more of a rough-and-tumble scrap it is, the more it favors Story, who seems to relish aggressive battles. It's to Maia's advantage to pick his spots and transition into high-percentage tie-up and takedown attempts to bring the fight to the floor, where his mere presence and top game fatigue opponents who know they're in serious trouble.
This is a brilliant matchup if you're a fight geek. I think Story underperformed in his two-fight decision loss streak, and he did beat contender Johny Hendricks along with Alves. At his best, he's a high-energy guy with heavy hands and good wrestling - a kind of Jake Ellenberger type that will usually make for exciting fights. Maia could be the next great welterweight contender if his conditioning and chin hold up, especially at 170, where he might be able to physically bully people around. However, despite being technically outmatched on the ground, I think Story is just a little to aggressive and powerful for Maia to overcome. Look for a rollicking back-and-forth battle, with Maia unleashing submission attempts early, Story rattling him with haymakers, and both guys in dire spots as they battle for the upper hand. Down the stretch, Story's body punching and intensity will make the difference as he hammers Maia over the third round en route to an exciting decision win.
Story via decision
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Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst.