There are a handful of fighters for whom fans rightfully cheer when the pull guard. Demian Maia is one of those guys, and so are Rousimar Palhares and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. It's because we know how dangerous they are from this position, where the threat of a submission lingers in the air as a constant threat, despite the seemingly unenviable position of being on their backs against an athlete trained to do damage.
Maia shook up the middleweight division in a memorable five-fight run beginning in October 2007. Submitting five straight opponents, his presence was a disruptive threat to the dominance of striking, reminding people of high dangerous high-level jiu-jitsu is when applied in a fight.
Now that he's dropped to 170, Maia appears as formidable as ever. With improved standup, he's more functional on the feet. And with his blitz of Rick Story last night, the tension in the air whenever a Maia bout sees a clinch or takedown was obvious. It's a stylistic departure from two guys trading leather hoping for a highlight-reel knockout, and Maia's ability to create excitement merely by grabbing hold of an opponent is a hat tip toward the cerebral approach upon which jiu-jitsu was founded - to submit the other guy, often a bigger one, without having to maul or hurt him. It's a meditation on technique in a sport where viciousness often gets the bigger headline.
Maia at 170 is pretty exciting. He'll be fun to watch as his career at welter develops, and it's nice to see fans share the excitement in a way that's a rare and inspiring one - cheering whenever the bout hits the floor.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst