A former middleweight title challenger drops down to take on a top UFC welterweight this Saturday night (July 7, 2012) as Demian Maia challenges "The Stun Gun" Dong Hyun Kim on the main card of UFC 148 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Demian Maia was once one of the most feared middleweights on the UFC roster but a rough patch in which he's only won four of his last eight UFC bouts forced him to try his hand at 170 pounds instead. The veteran still has a very unique and dangerous skill-set if he's willing to use it and a victory over Dong Hyun Kim would put him immediately into the crowded mix at 170 pounds.
Dong Hyun Kim was on a roll in the UFC before current interim champion Carlos Condit handed him his first official loss in the Octagon. He bounced back in impressive fashion late last year, trouncing Sean Pierson with his new and improved stand-up skills. Now, he's hoping to return to contention with an impressive showing against a former title challenger.
Can Maia channel his 2008 self and bring back the pain? Or will "Stun Gun" be too electrifying for him? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Demian Maia
Record: 15-4 overall, 9-4 in the UFC
How he got here: No one made a brighter entrance to the UFC than Demian Maia. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) 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.
In his last bout, 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.
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. The less often he uses his ground game, the less likely he's going to be outstriking anyone.
For this fight, I'm begging, I'm imploring Maia to go back to his roots. Kim is more powerful, longer and is at least as strong as Maia on the feet. If Maia tries to turn this fight into a kickboxing contest, he's probably going to lose.
If he's smart, The Brazilian will try to clinch Kim and work his excellent trips and judo-style takedowns along the fence. Getting up close and personal with "Sun Gun" will be a priority as Maia has a tremendous feel for the game and can catch Kim napping in one direction as he puts him on the ground in the other, even someone with a solid judo background like his South Korean foe.
Putting Kim 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 Kim'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. After his last performance, he needs to prove to the public and the UFC brass that he's still someone that deserves to be kept around.
Dong Hyun Kim
Record: 15-1-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 6-1 (1 No Contest) in the UFC
Key Losses: Carlos Condit (UFC 132)
How he got here: Dong Hyun Kim actually retired from his promotion in South Korea after winning his second professional fight. He would reemerge nearly two years later in Japan fighting for the Deep promotion where he would go 7-0-1 over the course of one and a half years.
After fighting to a draw in his last fight in Japan, Kim was signed by the UFC to fight Jason Tan at UFC 84 where he would win his UFC debut with big elbows on the ground.
After fighting to a close split decision victory over Matt Brown, Kim would lose a decision to Karo Parisyan but would have the result overturned when the Armenian tested positive for banned painkillers.
Since the Parisyan fight, Kim has fought three times and scored three consecutive unanimous decision victories. He's primarily used his judo and improved wrestling to stifle fighters and take them out of their games, most notably in his two bouts against Amir Sadollah and Nate Diaz.
His improving resume earned him a shot against Carlos Condit at UFC 132 but "Stun Gun" would be caught by a huge flying knee via "The Natural Born Killer" and would be finished for the first time in his career. Kim responded well to his first loss, beating Sean Pierson from pillar to post in his Octagon return last December.
Now, he's going to be taking on another solid and experienced foe in Demian Maia.
How he gets it done: Kim primarily used his wrestling and judo to defeat his opponents to start out his UFC career, but the improvements in his striking that he showed in his last fight against Sean Pierson are a very good sign. He looked so strong in the stand-up there that I actually think he should just keep the fight in that position against Maia on Saturday night.
I am hoping Kim uses his grappling and judo skills defensively to keep Maia standing with him. Once there, expect to see the taller, longer Kim go to work with jabs, straights and big leg, body and even head kicks.
Maia has really put an effort to be a better striker, so if Kim comes out swinging, there's a very good chance that Maia obliges him and stands with him the whole fight, even if he's losing.
If Maia tries to take him down, Kim has a pretty solid grasp on judo and balance to either reverse the Brazilian and land on top or to simply fend him off and stay standing. Kim should try to stay on the edge of the pocket and pick Maia apart. The only reason he should step inside is if he hurts the former title challenger or if he sees a huge opening for a power strike.
Fight X-Factor: There are two X-Factors for this fight. The first, of course, is Maia's weight cut. He was a title challenger at 185 pounds and now he's dropping down to 170. How will that affect him? It even looked like he was starting to put on more muscle mass at the end of his run at middleweight so he likely had to drop a significant portion of that to move down another 15 pounds.
The other factor is, which Demian Maia is going to show up? Will the elite world champion Brazilian jiu-jitsu monster arrive and try to take Dong Hyun Kim to school? Or will this "Maia 2.0" arrive which has slightly improved stand-up but is just an average all-around mixed martial artist. If the same Maia shows up that fought Chris Wiedman at UFC on Fox 2 earlier this year, just 15 pounds lighter, then I don't know how he could win.
Bottom Line: There is some intrigue with this fight because of Maia's drop down to 170 pounds, but there is a serious likelihood that this one is a snoozer. Maia just hasn't been the most entertaining ever since he lost to Nate Marquardt. He's put too much focus on all his other skills instead of keeping his world class Brazilian jiu-jitsu sharp. Dong Hyun Kim looked impressive in his last bout against Sean Pierson, but against tougher opposition, he always seems to slow the fight down and try to win with points or control. I'm going into this fight with extremely low expectations and hopefully both men can prove me wrong.
Who will come out on top at UFC 148? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!