Two men looking to climb back up into the elite ranks will clash inside the Octagon this Saturday night (Oct. 13, 2012) as Demian Maia takes on Rick Story in the opening bout of the UFC 153 main card in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Demian Maia has come a long way since losing a 2010 middleweight title shot to Anderson Silva, but after getting after getting lost in the shuffle at 185 pounds, he decided to reignite his career by moving down to the welterweight division. The transition proved successful with a first round victory over South Korean Dong Hyun Kim earlier this summer.
Rick Story was on the verge of welterweight title contention following an impressive six fight winning streak in the UFC which included decision victories over Johny Hendricks and Thiago Alves. He stumbled with a pair of consecutive losses but got back on track in his last bout, winning a tepid decision over Brock Jardine.
Record: 16-4 overall, 10-4 in the UFC
How he got here: No one made a brighter entrance to the UFC than Demian Maia. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu 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 current 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 hard-fought 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.
Maia was a complete trainwreck against Chris Wiedman. He couldn't strike, couldn't score takedowns and couldn't work any of his jiu-jitsu in of of 2012's worst fights of the year. Afterwards, he announced he'd be dropping down to 170 pounds and he drew Kim as his first opponent, defeating "Stun Gun" in the first round after the South Korean was injured during an early takedown.
Now, Maia has his sights set on Story to propel himself to bigger and better things in the division.
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. He's been able to win striking battles 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. He did a good job of hunting for takedowns early in his last bout and that makes his striking much more effective.
If he's smart, The Brazilian will try to clinch Story and work his excellent trips and judo-style takedowns along the fence. Getting up close and personal with "The Horror" will be a priority as Maia has a tremendous feel for the game and can catch Story napping in one direction as he puts him on the ground in the other, even someone with a solid wrestling background like his welterweight foe.
Putting Story on his back is the key to victory here. If Maia can take this fight to the ground, he'll have to be mindful of Story's base and power to sweep and get to his feet. 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, but if there's an opening to give up position and lock in something freaky, he should jump on it immediately.
He needs to build off of the success of his last bout and Story has had some difficulty in the past getting up from fighters who put him on his back. This is a perfect match-up for him if he plays his cards right.
Record: 14-5 overall, 7-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Thiago Alves (UFC 130), Johny Hendricks (Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale), Brian Foster (UFC 103)
How he got here: Story trained out of Team Quest rival, Brave Legion in his home state of Washington. He began his career fighting some of the toughest welterweights around like Nathan Coy and Jake Ellenberger. "The Horror" would lose his UFC debut to tough UK fighter John Hathaway, but then proceeded to reel off six straight fights in the shark tank that is the UFC 170-pound division.
Story's first UFC victory was a "Fight of the Year" candidate against Brian Foster at UFC 103, a fight in which he pulled off an incredibly unique arm triangle submission from within his opponent's guard. He impressively scored two consecutive wins over notable fighters Dustin Hazelett and Johny Hendricks to earn his opportunity to score a career-defining victory over Thiago Alves.
He immediately launched himself into title contention after pressuring "Pitbull" and forcing him to play defensive for two rounds to win a decision but dropped back down to Earth after a last minute opponent change at UFC on Versus 4 earlier this summer. Unprepared for Charlie Brenneman's wrestling, Story found himself put on his back early and often and he had no answer for "The Spaniard's" takedowns.
After a rough decision loss to Martin Kampmann, Story finally righted the ship by earning a decision victory over Brock Jardine in a bout which was not well-received. If he can rise to the occasion against Demian Maia, he'll put his rough year-long stretch behind him.
How he gets it done: Story prides himself on being one of the best welterweights in the UFC at pressuring his opponents. He's probably got the same technical striking skill as Maia, what gives him the edge is his aggression. It's pretty hard to be technically sound when you're backed up against the fence and either fending off a takedown or defending a wild flurry of punches.
Story needs to cut off Maia along the fence early and then get right in his face. He'll have to be cautious, of course, because Maia is so dangerous with trips and submissions, but if he can keep the pressure on him and unload with flurries of punches both to the head and body, he could overwhelm the BJJ black belt.
The key for Story is to never allow Maia to get comfortable. He should not be looking for the takedown to be honest as he's begging to get triangled, but if he can keep Maia with his back to the fence and work his striking, he might even be able to land something significant and put the Brazilian down for the count.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this bout is likely Story returning to elite competition and the fact that the bout is taking place in Brazil. Story competed against a tough prospect in Brock Jardine for his last fight, but he didn't exactly dominate like fans were anticipating. He won't be able to fight at that same level and get away with it against Maia.
Also, stepping into hostile territory is a big deal. Story would know, he fought John Hathaway in Europe for his UFC debut, losing a spirited decision. While he's also been successful fighting overseas like his bout against Nick Osipczak in Abu Dhabi, this is a completely different tale. Story is going to be reviled in Brazil, they'll be cheering for him to die and he can't let that get to him or he's going to be in major trouble.
Bottom Line: This fight could be very entertaining, but it could also be a complete bore. There's potential for a Maia submission or perhaps a Story knockout, but the scariest outcome for the fans is a grind-it-out decision. Story could get into a clinchfest with Maia along the cage or Maia could simply lay-and-pray his way to victory like he did against Jorge Santiago. Unfortunately, the most logical outcome is the latter as Story is more of a nullifier in his offensive attack and that could result in a very unappealing bout.
Who will come out on top at UFC 153? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!