Something I love to point out about mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters is just how unimposing they can look at times. Fedor Emelianenko, Kenny Florian, Joe Lauzon, Rich Franklin ... the list goes on and on.
However, no man perpetuates this more to me than UFC welterweight Demian Maia.
He's not built like a professional athlete, much less one known for putting other men into positions where they'll have to submit to him or he'll take their limb or their consciousness. But, that is just the man he is, a submission ace who has been around for what seems like forever. He's always been a good-to-great fighter, and although he's never been regarded as championship caliber, he's been in there with some of the best.
Unfortunately for Maia, his career didn't look so hot after 2010, as he compiled a 1-2 record and seemed to be hitting a serious plateau. Maia took an unexpected option, making the decision to drop to the welterweight division, and now the rest is history.
With two quick wins over fighters who should have been extremely difficult style match ups for the Brazilian, Maia has brought new life to his career, and a fresh face for the 170 pound ranks. He's recaptured the tenacity he had in his early career, a tenacity that brought him swift submission wins over notable fighters like Chael Sonnen, Nate Quarry, and Ed Herman, and I'm inclined to say Maia has never looked better.
Now, with a serious step up in the ranks, Maia will be put to the test yet again this evening (Feb. 2, 2013) at UFC 156, which takes place at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jon Fitch is an easy fight for no man, and when considering Maia's area of expertise, it'll be a tall order for the Brazilian to get his third straight win.
Fitch is a seasoned grappler, known for his domineering wrestling and a black belt in Dave Camarillo's Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu, one that has kept him safe from submission attempts 25 out of 25 times they've been tried on him in the UFC. This is certainly an impressive background to have, but if any man is to submit the unsubmittable, it would be Maia.
So then, how does Maia take on such a tough opponent? With the B.J. Penn approach. When Penn had his fight with Fitch at UFC 127, he was able to find success in the first two rounds by pressuring Fitch against the cage and then on the ground, successfully neutralizing a man regarded as the better wrestler.
Maia is no stranger to this approach, as his early career and recent wins have shown that he'll relentlessly attack opponents all over the cage, sticking to them like glue until they make a mistake for him to capitalize on. Against Fitch, this method will be put to the test, as Fitch is definitely ready to avoid getting taken down at all costs.
If Maia is to pull off the big win here, in what would be a pretty big upset, he'd set himself up for contendership not even a year after dropping down to welterweight. With his Jiu Jitsu and his finely-crafted approach, he could pose problems for many of the best fighters around.
It isn't inconceivable for Maia to have his hand raised later tonight. With a win over Fitch, Maia would not only prove just how good of a fighter he is, but he'd also set himself up for a pretty good comeback story. If he can impose his game on Fitch, Maia will be a fresh addition to the top ranks of the 170 pound division, and that's the reason he is your "Fighter to Watch" this evening.