Photo by Esther Lin via MMAFighting.com.
With his drop to 170-pounds, Demian Maia gives his career a compelling boost, especially in light of the talent-heavy welterweight division, which is exceptionally stacked at the top.
With standup that evolved from non-existent to serviceable, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace has overlooked wrestling and a wonderful submission game that heralded what seemed, during his first few fights, to suggest a trend shift back toward the days of Brazilian jiu-jitsu dominating the UFC.
Then, Nate Marquardt happened. Maia's one-punch, 21-second blowout loss sent his confidence south, and exposed the glaring holes in his standup game. To his credit, he's worked hard to shore them up.
Kim, meanwhile, is in dire need of a win after a Jon Fitch-like creep up the welterweight ranks. Though bereft of flash and such in the way of meathead-pleasing highlight reel stuff, the Korean was a grinding, pressing worker-bee type who managed to outwork Nate Diaz for his fifth win in the organization. Then, Carlos Condit pulled one of the memorable knockouts of 2011 out of his hat, and Kim had to rebound with a ho-hum decision over the marginal Sean Pierson.
Follow me after the jump for a complete breakdown of the UFC 148 main card match up pitting Dung Hyun Kim vs. Demian Maia:
Maia, should he make the weight cut comfortably, could be a fascinating entry at 170 pounds, particularly if his standup continues to improve. Along with Rousimar Palhares and the Diaz brothers, he's one of those rare guys that opponents truly think twice about taking down, because his submission game is insanely good. He's also got slick wrestling -- witness the Russian lateral drop he used to plant Chael Sonnen on the mat -- when he chooses to use it, and he's getting the feel for fighting as a southpaw, which when fully maximized means being disruptive and difficult while making the other guy react.
Kim's upper-body strength and plodding standup make this one a pretty simple game plan for Maia - stick and move, mix in a few kicks, and antagonize Kim enough to goad him into a making a mistake. Kim is awkward with slow feet, and raw standup, but he's tough as nails, especially in tie-ups, where he simply overpowered Nate Diaz.
Maia has grown very comfortable on the feet and the real question is if he shows a proclivity to test the waters and mix in wrestling, or if he's just comfortable taking a decision outpointing Kim.
If Maia uses takedown shots, that's a huge element in opening up all the phases of his game, as Kim will have to respect that which will open up him to being hit as well. While weight-class drops have had mixed results for guys in recent years, Maia looks like he has the frame to make 170-pounds reasonably well. Look for him to throw a little bit of everything at Kim, while utilizing movement and a good one-two while scooting laterally to give Kim angles and frustration galore. Kim's best chance is to force a big exchange and test Maia's chin, but Demian's weird advantage is that if you drop him, you're actually making it worse for yourself by going to the mat with him.
Maia could be a real player at 170 and this is an interesting entry point - he should have enough standup and good wheels to frustrate Kim and then switch gears for a takedown late in the second round, where he'll wear Kim down and sink in a fight-ending submission.
Maia via submission in round two
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Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst or firstname.lastname@example.org.