Tomorrow night (Weds., Oct. 9, 2013) two of the finest grapplers in mixed martial arts (MMA) will meet in the main event of UFC Fight Night 29 when Welterweight Demian Maia and Jake Shields square off from Jose Correa Gymnasium in Barueri, Brazil.
The pivotal divisional showdown, which will air live on FOX Sports 1, holds dire implications for the surging Maia, who has recently found great success in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 170-pound landscape after returning to his roots of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Maia made his Welterweight debut by defeating Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 148, then impressed by finishing Rick Story at UFC 153. He was last seen taking out perennial contender Jon Fitch at February's UFC 156. It was a dominant decision resulting in a statement win that put Maia on the outside of title talks in a very talented division.
If he can get past Shields, his hype train will continue to roll as the championship picture hopefully gets figured out next month at UFC 167.
Shields has quietly put together a win streak of his own. He picked up decision wins over Yoshihiro Akiyama, Ed Herman and Tyron Woodley in his last three trips to the Octagon. The Herman win was turned into a "No Contest" after Shields failed a drug test.
Shields' UFC tenure has been an up-and-down ride. The former Strikeforce champ was practically gifted a UFC title shot against Georges St. Pierre after a controversial decision win over Martin Kampmann in his promotional debut. He then got finished by Jake Ellenberger his next time out, but that fight was directly following the death of his father and coach, Jack Shields.
Shields has righted the ship since that tumultuous spell, but it hasn't been pretty. He'll need a convincing win over Maia to keep momentum running and prove that he can hang with the top Welterweight fighters in UFC.
Both fighters possess a laundry list of grappling accomplishments and titles that could turn this into a high-level chess match once the fight hits the ground. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Demian Maia vs. Jake Shields.
Record: 18-4 overall, 12-4 UFC
Key Wins: Chael Sonnen (UFC 95), Jon Fitch (UFC 156)
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 112), Mark Munoz (UFC 131), Chris Weidman (UFC on Fox 2)
Keys to Victory: The No. 5-ranked Maia is a polished submission specialist who possesses one of the best Brazilian Jiu-jitsu games in all of MMA. The fact that he dominated Fitch so thoroughly on the ground is a testament to his skill, which may be the best in the world.
After his loss to Silva, Maia felt it necessary to improve his standup game and focused on it heavily in his next five bouts. While he found mixed success, it lead to losses in two of out of his final three fights at middleweight, prompting a reinvention at welterweight.
In going back to what got him to the UFC in the first place, Maia has found his groove. He's found a new home, and he won't be afraid to hit the mat against Shields. For most fighters that would spell certain doom.
But Maia is an entirely different animal.
While Shields may be one of the most dangerous grapplers in the sport, Maia will be out to prove that he is the best. And he just may do so. Defending takedowns and scoring some of his own is going to be paramount in winning this fight. With such a high level of ground skill on both ends, a decision could be likely here, so each point scored will be critical.
Perhaps Maia should actually return to some of the striking that became his downfall at middleweight. Maia obviously doesn't have the slickest standup around, but Shields' has been labeled nonexistent at times. Maia has three knockouts to nine submission wins on his record, but Shields has an iron chin that even withstood Henderson's vaunted "H-bomb" in Strikeforce.
For that reason, strikes will likely to be used to score points for Maia here. On paper, Maia is the more well rounded fighter, giving the edge to Shields only in pure wrestling. If he can transition well from strikes to takedowns and gain position on the ground, Maia will be in prime position to extend his win streak to four.
Key Wins: Dan Henderson (Strikeforce: Nashville), Martin Kampmann (UFC 121), Carlos Condit (Rumble on the Rock 9)
Key Losses: Georges St. Pierre (UFC 129), Jake Ellenberger (UFC Fight Night 25)
Keys to Victory: Shields has a solid mix of wrestling and grappling accomplishments that define his prowess on the mat. He won gold at the Pan-American Games in 2005 and was a collegiate wrestler at San Francisco State.
Problem is, he's facing off with one of the few men that can potentially outdo him at his strong point. Although Shields hasn't impressed in his recent wins, he's been able to largely neutralize the main offensive weapons of his opponents. His "American Jiu-jitsu" blends wrestling and submissions into an extremely potent skillset in the Octagon, but he's facing a step up in competition in Barueri.
To win, he's going to have to stay one move ahead of Maia, and that's no easy task. Getting put in a dominant position on the ground could find him stuck there for the bout's entirety like Fitch was. Shields will have to use his wrestling to find takedowns that don't leave him open to one of Maia's many submission holds. Shields has never tapped out, and while it's a possibility, it's unlikely.
Any submission finish in this fight would be one for the record books.
However, Shields needs a finish to truly make a statement and climb up the rankings. A knockout may be the best way to accomplish this, but Shields hasn't finished a fight with strikes since September 2007.
It will basically come down to whether or not Shields can handle a true wizard like Demian Maia on the ground. If it becomes a stalemate and turns into a lackluster kickboxing match, Shields will be at a disadvantage unless he's taken his standup to a new level.
Shields should go for broke and give it all he has to finish this fight. Losing to Maia won't cause too much of a hit to his standing because he isn't ranked all that highly to begin with -- and on paper, he's supposed to lose this fight. He's got the skills to finish top fighters, but he has to make a move to show that. Playing it safe will get him nothing at this point., and he's got a golden opportunity come October 9.
Bottom Line From Barueri: The bottom line here is that this fight features two of the best grapplers to ever fight in MMA. While that may translate to a boring bout that takes place mainly on the feet, we could also be in for an exciting match of skill if and when this fight does take to the canvas.
A big X-factor here is going to be the crowd. Shields is going into hostile territory for this fight, as Maia is a Sao Paulo native that will have the full backing of a roaring crowd to his benefit.
While Shields is an experienced warrior who's been in the game since 1999, he'll have to keep his nerves about him. He's not fighting for his job, but he hasn't really impressed the UFC brass with his slow-to-develop bouts in recent months.
If Maia can win -- especially with a finish -- he'll further the discussion of him being a legitimate title contender at welterweight. He's been truly flawless since making the cut, and a four-fight win streak will be tough to deny. If Maia wins at UFN 29 and St. Pierre takes out Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 this Nov. 17, we could definitely be seeing those two fighters squaring off for the belt in early 2014.
That's an exciting prospect, and it's one that gives a lot of weight to UFC Fight Night 29's main event. Shields looks to play the spoiler in his quest to get his own rematch with St. Pierre. While he is miles away from that goal, a win over Maia would shock the world and push him closer towards the top of a crowded division.
We could see a back-and-forth ground battle between two highly polished experts at UFC Fight Night 29, or we could get a stalemate that never takes off. What is your prediction for Demian Maia vs. Jake Shields?