Styles make mixed martial arts (MMA) fights, and for grappling geeks, the 170-pound bout between Jon Fitch and Demian Maia on the UFC 156 pay-per-view (PPV) fight card from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, tonight (Feb. 2, 2013), promises some intense, intricate and world-class mat work once it hits the ground.
When he emerged as the next big thing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight division, Maia's otherwordly ability to apply Brazilian jiu-jitsu in an MMA context made him a terrifying assignment. It's rare when a guy pulling guard is a legitimately offensive move, and Maia's outstanding takedowns make any clinch situation with him one that can go terribly south in a hurry.
Fitch's ability as a hard-nosed grinder is well-proven, and his redemptive showing in a career-defining decision over Erick Silva last October displayed every ounce of his resilience, experience and unbreakable will. He weathered the furious storm of an exceptionally gifted and dangerous young buck, broke him down and dominated in a brilliant display that showed value of gameplanning and veteran experience.
Since his drop to Welterweight, Maia has rekindled some of that same buzz that made him a treat to watch during his early middleweight days. His steamrolling and submission of the tough Rick Story, executed on the same UFC 153 card where Fitch outlasted Silva, was a clinic on the fine points of world-class submissions. His penchant for diving at a guy's lower leg, and then chaining transitions and takedown attempts into a finishing sequence was a masterpiece, and against Fitch, he faces an opponent with the best submission defense in the history of the UFC (Fitch has fought stymied some 25 attempts to tap him -- he's one of the toughest outs in the history of the sport when it comes to subs).
Maia's improved stand up will be key in giving him options to work. He can't merely expect to take it to the ground, especially by pulling guard, as Fitch's smothering top game and intensity will probably make that a bad proposition, especially in a cardio-intensive bout, where Maia has at times tired.
Check out a complete breakdown of the UFC 156 main card Welterweight showdown between Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia below:
Fitch's stand up is somewhat overlooked, mostly because it's like the rest of his game -- not flashy or highlight-reel quality, just basic, well-honed nuts and bolts fundamentals. He knows how to protect himself and deliver shots, keeping guys honest enough to constantly threaten with takedowns if you overextend.
Maia's southpaw stance opens up lead-leg attacks with kicks, which might be a good idea if Fitch isn't wild about shooting in early and forcing a ground battle, when both are relatively fresh, dry and subs are easier to come by. Conditioning is a huge factor in this bout, and the bigger a factor it is, the more it favors Fitch, who is incredibly hard to gas out in a taxing distance bout.
In fact, Fitch might want to look to toss of counter rights and pick spots, as he's in against an opponent who probably can't hurt him standing. If Fitch can dictate where the fight goes, that makes him even tougher, as he's usually content to concede the standing advantage because of his exceptionally solid ground game.
It's also key to not panic with Maia on top of you (and virtually impossible not to, given the ninja-like way he is always several moves ahead on the mat), but Fitch ranks up there with the best of them. He didn't lose his head for tactics when previous opponents like B.J. Penn, Diego Sanchez, Silva and Roan Carneiro went for chokes, and the prospect of seeing him try and ride one out from the ultra-dangerous Maia is worth the price of admission alone.
Fitch is on the hard road back to a title shot, and he knows it. Since getting starched by Johny Hendricks, it's obvious the UFC is lining him up against guys they want to build into title contenders. Maia is the latest, and at 170 pounds it's clear that he will be a vexing handful for almost any opponent, especially given the relatively good takedowns he has for a jiu-jitsu ace now that he's at welterweight.
However, it's hard to think of a better style than Fitch's to defuse him, outside of a numbing sprawl-and-brawl banger. Fitch will stuff takedown attempts and cleanly transition out of bad spots, while forcing the eminently taxing grind-em-down style fight. He'll push Maia in clinches, work against the cage, and land basic counters in the first round to set the tone.
Midway through the second, Fitch will opt to take it to the mat, sealing the stanza in his favor while testing the dangerous water's of Maia's guard. He'll also shake off a slick submission attempt or two, and repeat the trick in the third while carefully opening up his ground-and-pound attack, battering Maia and dominating from the top while wearing Maia down. It will be a tense, dramatic and intensely contested bout, with Fitch's headiness and top-notch gas tank proving the difference in a unanimous decision win.
Fitch via decision
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the UFC 156 PPV main card action, which is slated to start promptly at 10 p.m. ET. Up-to-the-minute updates and fight-by-fight coverage will begin to flow earlier than that, however, around 6:30 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook and FX.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst