This Saturday night (Feb. 22, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Rory MacDonald and Demian Maia will square off on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card of UFC 170 from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The fight presents a pivotal battle for both top 10-ranked combatants, as each lost their previous bouts. MacDonald was upset by current title challenger Robbie Lawler at UFC 167, adding on to the already considerable amount of criticism he received for his lackluster win over Jake Ellenberger at UFC on FX 8.
Maia also lost a bout he was supposed to win, dropping a decision to Jake Shields in a grappling war at UFC Fight Night 29. The defeat was particularly discouraging because Maia, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard, was defeated in his glaring area of strength.
MacDonald and Maia are in dire need of an impressive win at UFC 170, and that's something that definitely won't come easily. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for MacDonald vs. Maia:
Record: 15-2 overall, 6-2 UFC
Key Wins: Jake Ellenberger (UFC on FOX 8), B.J. Penn (UFC on FOX 5)
Key Losses: Robbie Lawler (UFC 167), Carlos Condit (UFC 115)
Keys to Victory: Long thought to be heir apparent to training partner, friend, and former welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, No. 4-ranked MacDonald hit a serious roadblock in his last two fights. Similar to St. Pierre, he admitted he had lost his fire for the fight game.
Supposedly, he's gotten it back for his fight against Maia; and he's going to need his motivation now more than ever.
Nothing but the sharpest focus and effort will prevail in Las Vegas, and MacDonald is more than smart enough to know that. He definitely wasn't his normally aggressive self last year, and he's very lucky to still enjoy a lofty spot in a tough division.
It doesn't take a master strategist to figure out that McDonald's edge here is going to lie in the striking department. Maia is an all-world Brazilian jiu-jitsu master, making it more than foolish to tangle with him on the ground by choice. MacDonald has a strong submission game, but his opponent has never been submitted, so a knockout is his best bet to put a stamp on Maia.
MacDonald should use his reach advantage to pepper Maia with jabs, keeping any potential takedown attempts at bay. But he shouldn't rely solely on the jab like he did against Ellenberger; he should use it soften up Maia and go for the kill. That's the only way MacDonald is going to gain any ground at UFC 170.
He has his work cut out for him.
Record: 18-5 overall, 12-5 UFC
Key Wins: Chael Sonnen (UFC 95), Jon Fitch (UFC 156)
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 112), Chris Weidman (UFC on FOX 2), Jake Shields (UFC Fight Night 29), Mark Munoz (UFC 131)
Keys to Victory: No. 6-ranked Maia experienced a huge setback against Shields in his homeland. Many thought Maia was primed for a title run, but now must now get by "Ares" first.
To do so, Maia should not surprisingly look to get this fight to the mat. He owns a long list of Brazilian jiu-jitsu awards and accolades that is rivaled by few fighters in MMA. Possessing a black belt of his own, MacDonald is also proficient, but few can contend with Maia on the ground.
Maia will be looking for MacDonald to utilize his kickboxing to disrupt his grappling game, so he'll need to be ready to bypass a high volume of pinpoint strikes. If MacDonald is truly reinvigorated and ready to live up to his full potential, his boxing will be able to give Maia fits.
Despite only one knockout loss on his record, Maia hasn't always had the best track record against solid strikers. For a while, Maia got away from his go-to skill set and focused on his stand-up, becoming embroiled in a long string of decision wins and losses from 2010-2012.
But in defeating top opponents like Jon Fitch and Dong Hyun Kim, Maia had seemingly gotten back to what got him here. That's what made his loss to Shields so deflating.
Still, that was a close chess match, so Maia shouldn't be too discouraged by his effort. He has to put that behind him and get ready to drag MacDonald into deep water this Saturday night.
Bottom Line from Las Vegas: The bottom line for this fight is that both MacDonald and Maia are dangerous after coming off losses in fights they were favored in. Another loss will signify a huge drop-off in momentum, so tension will reach a fever pitch at UFC 170.
In a division where top-flight contenders like Hector Lombard, Carlos Condit, Tyron Woodley, and Shields are all jockeying for a shot at the coveted belt, the stakes are high because there is absolutely no room for error.
MacDonald may have more pressure on his shoulders after his loss to Lawler. The jury's still out on "Ares," as his star dimmed quite considerably during 2013. There's no doubt he has the talent, knowledge, and skills to be the best 170-fighter on the planet; he just has to get past his own mental blockades.
If he doesn't, Maia will be happy to use him as a springboard back into the title picture.
Maia has been utilizing more of his world-class ground game in recent bouts. There's no reason to deviate from that strategy against MacDonald. "Ares" should come out motivated and ready to strike, and Maia just doesn't have the pure stand-up to contend with MacDonald throughout a long kickboxing match.
He might be able to hang for a while, but it's certainly no path to victory. With that said, each fighter has their own clear-cut area of advantage in this fight, so it's all going to rest on who can implement their gameplan most effectively.
A huge fight should await the man who does.
Coming off a pair of losses, ultra-talented welterweights Rory MacDonald and Demian Maia are looking to prove they deserve their high rankings at UFC 170. Has "Ares" found his fire, or will Maia extend his subpar run?