Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight title contender, Demian Maia, challenges fellow Abu Dahbi Combat Club (ADCC) submission wrestling medalist, Jake Shields, in a pivotal Welterweight mixed martial arts (MMA) match up at UFC Fight Night 29, which takes place this Wednesday (Oct. 9, 2013) at Jose Correa Gymnasium in Barueri, Brazil.
Maia began his professional MMA career hesitantly, only fighting six times in six years. It was enough to get into the Octagon, however, where he sliced through the 185-pound division with painless ease. Winning his first five fights via submission, including a complete destruction of Team Quest (Ed Herman, Nate Quarry, Chael Sonnen, etc.) set Maia up for a No.1 contender eliminator match against Nate Marquardt.
Maia was unable to capitalize on the golden opportunity, getting knocked out in about 20 seconds. After this loss, Maia would go to the judges scorecard in every one of his next seven matches. Although he had unsuccessfully challenged Anderson Silva for a his world title during that time period, it seemed like Maia's time as a serious title contender had expired.
However, a refocus on jiu-jitsu and a 15-pound drop in weight class seemingly changed that fortune.
After throwing Dong Hyun Kim hard enough to cause muscle spasms, Maia fans were excited again. His next fight, a two minute strangling of Rick Story, cemented his place at Welterweight. But it was next fight that thrust Maia back into true title contention, a 15-minute domination of the ultra-tough Jon Fitch.
Tomorrow night, Maia takes a surprising step down the ladder to fight the recently underwhelming Shields. Nonetheless, can he continue to work his way back to the title with a victory over the Californian?
Let's find out:
Maia entered the Octagon as a pure grappler, but is now a well-rounded mixed martial artist. His striking isn't perfect nor particularly powerful, but Maia's kickboxing has greatly improved.
Maia is a rather aggressive striker. He often begins his attack by with a pawing jab before following it up with a straight left. Maia often leans into his punches a bit more than is necessary, which can open up counters, but it also can land him in the clinch.
Unlike many grappling specialists, Maia is not afraid to get into a scrap with his opponent. He's usually the aggressor, pushing forward with long punches. As he gets near the fence, he'll wing straights and hooks, before closing in for a takedown.
Maia still doesn't always set up his kicks, which is the cause of his sole knockout loss, but they have gotten better. In particular, he throws a furious left high kick. Maia can afford to throw plenty of kicks simply because he doesn't mind being taken down where his jiu-jitsu is deadly enough to end the fight even against a jiu-jitsu-minded opponent like Shields.
In my article about Shields (read it here), I talked about some specialists preferring to train in their area of expertise. For example, Shields trains almost exclusively on the mat, which is obvious to anyone who has seen him strike. On the other hand, Maia dedicated a lot of time to his kickboxing after his Marquardt loss, which produced interesting results.
During that time, Maia's striking ability soared, peaking in his fight against Mark Munoz, during which he out-struck "Filipino Wrecking Machine" for the majority of three rounds. However, Maia's devotion to striking seemed to take away from his jiu-jitsu. Since he has gone back to his grappling roots, there's a chance that his kickboxing his taken a similar dive, but he hasn't spent enough time standing at Welterweight to be sure.
Maia, who has prior Judo experience, is a talented wrestler. What's more, Maia has trained with talented takedown specialists like Judo world champion Tiago Camilo and two-time NCAA champion Jake Herbert.
Historically, Maia has always been more of a clinch wrestler. However, against Jon Fitch, he repeatedly took the Purdue wrestler down with shots. Maia was able to overpower Fitch with double legs against the fence or trip out his legs with sneaky singles. Maia's ability to grind Fitch with takedowns was incredible, considering that wrestling his opponent into the mat has long been Fitch's wheelhouse.
Maia will often shoot for a takedown and try to work into a dominant clinch position rather than attempt to finish the shot. This is what he did against Kim -- shoot for a single-leg and then work for the back clinch.
From the clinch, Maia is a very dominant wrestler. He's incredibly aggressive, constantly trying to work trips and foot sweeps. One of the most important aspects of his clinch wrestling, and the rest of his grappling for that matter, is his pressure. Maia doesn't allow his opponent to breathe, sticking tight to them and attempting takedowns until he gets the fight where he wants it.
Maia has two incredible wrestling moments in his UFC career, and the first was his domination of Fitch. The second was his incredible judo toss to triangle he landed on All-American wrestler Chael Sonnen. Maia attempted a couple of takedown and guard pull attempts, but for the most part, the early action of the fight took place on the feet.
Maia managed to clinch up, but Sonnen had the advantage with dual underhooks. Maia overhooked both of his arms and attempted a lateral drop, simultaneously sweeping his foot as he dropped backward. Sonnen flew through the air and landed right into one of Maia's submissions.
Maia has never been particularly concerned with takedown defense. It's suicide for most fighters to dive into his guard, so it's basically a moot point. That said, Maia did unceremoniously stuff all of Fitch's takedown attempts, which says good things about his takedown defense at welterweight.
Maia, a fourth degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, is about as decorated as a practitioner can be. An ADCC gold and silver medalist, Pan-Am champion and winner of countless other tournaments, Maia's jiu-jitsu knowledge is so deep it's impossible to cover it all, so I hope to highlight a few of the key points in his technique.
Since Maia's recent focus has been his top game, the ability to control his opponent is vital. When Maia takes down his opponent, he doesn't stay super tight. Instead, he'll look to pass his guard immediately, often by hopping over the leg(s). Considering his guard passing ability, his opponent has two options:
Either try to explode to his feet or deal with Maia in side control.
Most choose to attempt to burst back toward their feet, which gives Maia an opportunity to take their backs. Even if Maia's opponent chooses side control, he'll still force his way to his back. All top notch jiu-jitsu players have one goal, which is back mount. Far and away the most effective position in jiu-jitsu, and I personally think this remains true in MMA, a skilled grappler can safely control, damage and eventually finish his opponent from the back mount.
Maia is no ordinary grappler, but he's especially great from the back. In MMA, he's shown that he loves to use the body triangle. When he combines this with his upper body control, Maia's back mount becomes incredibly difficult to escape. Additionally, Maia is able to control the upper body even if he loses the body triangle and his opponent stands up, leading him right into a takedown that lands him on his opponent's back once again.
Maia's ability to get the choke relies mostly on his opponent's attempts to get out of his back control. If his opponent has poor defense or is hyper aggressive, Maia will find their neck. If his opponent remains calm and slowly tries to work out, Maia will ride them until the end of the round or an opportunity arises.
Of course, Maia has shown that he can force a choke when he wants to, which is what he did to Rick Story. Originally wrapping his arms around "The Horror" Story's chin, he didn't technically have a rear naked choke. That didn't prevent him from cranking the hell out of Story's jaw. Story is a very tough guy and really tried not to tap, but his chin eventually raised just enough for Maia's forearm to slip under and complete the choke.
From his back, Maia relies on sweeps before submissions. He often works from the butterfly or half guard, where sweeps are more available than full guard. Between those two guards, he likes to use the same sweep. He'll get an underhook, and then either elevate his opponent with a butterfly hook or just start scooting out the back door from the half guard. Once his opponent is off balance, he'll hook a leg and begin coming up for a trip.
Maia has a very good basic butterfly sweep as well, but coming up for a takedown off of his back has long been one of his best techniques. He frequently used it in jiu-jitsu competitions and has adapted it to MMA beautifully.
When Maia is in full guard, his go-to submission is the triangle choke. Maia's set ups are not revolutionary -- he mainly relies on feeding his opponent's arm through his own leg -- but it's quick and he times it well. He often waits until his opponent has poor posture or is trying to pass the guard. Once the choke is locked in, Maia has a very tight squeeze, although he sometimes neglects getting a proper angle first.
Best Chance For Success
If there is one rule Maia must follow in this fight it is this: Do not allow Shields to dictate the pace. Shields has an incredible habit of forcing the fight to go how he wants it, dragging it to a snails pace and winning an unpleasant battle.
That can happen to Maia ... and he must be careful to avoid it.
The first step for Maia is to be the aggressor on the feet. He's more than capable of walking through Shields' wimpy jabs and soft kicks to land harder shots of his own. In addition, if the fight stays standing -- and Maia is the one moving forward throwing in volume -- there's no way he loses the decision.
Everyone -- including Maia, Shields, fight fans and UFC -- would prefer this fight goes to the ground. Considering Maia's new pressuring style, there's a good chance he'll seek the takedown from the clinch. This is a good idea, but he has to be cautious. He cannot allow himself to sucked into a prolonged clinch battle with no takedowns because Shields won his fight versus Woodley in precisely that situation. If Maia can't get a takedown quickly, he should disengage, land some strikes, then try again.
Can Maia continue his rise to the top of Welterweight division,or will Shields play spoiler in Brazil?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Shields be sure to click here.