It's a tad premature to pencil in Demian Maia as the next likely Welterweight champion, but the tremendous display of grappling he put on Jon Fitch at UFC 156 last night (Feb. 2, 2013) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, showed the considerable gap between the Brazilian and, perhaps, virtually every other 170-pound mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter in the world.
Outside of Georges St. Pierre, nobody's ever dominated Fitch on the mat like that before, and Maia's strength at 170 pounds makes his good takedowns all the more effective, which amplifies how dangerous he'll be against other top division contenders.
The five-time jiu-jitsu world champ simply dominated the bout from the outset, getting Fitch's back in the opening moments -- no easy task -- and riding him from the backpack position for much of the first round. It was a performance that was brilliant for MMA purists, and boring for casual fans, who are accustomed to seeing fighters pound away from a superior position that Maia had for most of the bout.
So what's next?
Given the landscape of the welterweight division, a ton of plot twists and developments will emerge from UFC 158 on March 16, 2013. St. Pierre makes his long-awaited defense against Nick Diaz, with supporting bouts in Rory MacDonald vs. Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks vs. Jake Ellenberger. There are a zillion ways this could shake out. Obviously, the most likely outcome of that card is Diaz losing to "Rush" (much as Condit did).
A Diaz loss is almost certainly by decision, and he'd be a fascinating opponent for Maia because I can't even remember the last time someone tried a submission attempt against the former Strikeforce champion, much less threatened him positionally. But, it's quite likely Maia would be the rare Diaz opponent hoping to go to the ground with him. It's also a good match up for him, as power wrestlers and big bangers have at least some ostensible chance of sprawling and brawling on him -- Diaz's busy stand up style would open up all kinds of leg shots for the wily Maia.
There's also the loser of the Condit-MacDonald bout, which is a great matchup either way, especially to build Maia for a title shot (and I say "build" with the highest respect for either -- neither is an easy fight). In a sense, you still get the feeling that St. Pierre and MacDonald would need a lot of public push for that fight to happen, so if MacDonald loses to Condit, he's a natural for Maia. And Condit, a former title challenger, would be exciting against virtually anyone, especially Maia, as the "Natural Born Killer" comes to finish and is always aggressive.
Maia could definitely use a bit more striking on the ground, at least in the sense to be more exciting for fans. The win over Fitch certainly shouldn't label him as "boring" because his submission over Rick Story was a thrilling a sub as you'll see. It's a credit to Fitch's submission defense that he survived all three rounds.
And Maia's stand up, while evolving from non-existent to serviceable in recent years, still hasn't really been a big factor, and he'll probably need it a lot more to compete with the likes of St. Pierre. But at this point, the sheer fact that the guy can dive for a lower-leg takedown and magically turn into top position, or taking the back, is compelling enough to make him one heck of a welterweight.
Right now, that's probably not enough to beat St. Pierre. But, it's plenty for almost every other welterweight in the game to handle ... and that's saying something.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst