This Saturday night (May 31, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Demian Maia and Alexander Yakovlev will face off on the main card of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil" 3 Finale, airing live on FOX Sports 1 from Ginasio do Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
After winning three straight bouts to start his stint at welterweight, No. 8-ranked Maia was once thought to be a future title contender. However, he's suffered a steep drop down the rankings after consecutive losses to Rory MacDonald at UFC 170 and Jake Shields at UFC Fight Night 29. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend needs a win badly, and he received a step down in competition against the debuting Yakovlev.
A 10-year veteran of mixed martial arts (MMA), Yakovlev was last seen defeating UFC castoff Paul Daley in November 2013. With a three-fight win streak intact, Yakovlev will attempt to score his biggest-ever victory over Maia this Saturday.
He'll just have to win in extremely hostile territory to do it. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Maia vs. Yakovlev:
Record: 18-6 overall, 12-6 UFC
Key Wins: Chael Sonnen (UFC 95), Jon Fitch (UFC 156), Dong Hyun Kim (UFC 148), Rick Story (UFC 160)
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 112), Chris Weidman (UFC on FOX 2), Rory MacDonald (UFC 170), Jake Shields (UFC Fight Night 29), Mark Munoz (UFC 131)
Keys to Victory: It's time for Maia to return to what got him here, his all-world Brazilian jiu-jitsu credentials. After getting picked apart on the feet by MacDonald and smothered in a close bout against Shields, Maia has an excellent opportunity to get back into the win column against the lesser known but dangerous Yakovlev.
Maia should be looking to get this fight to the mat as soon as possible, so transitioning his strikes into a takedown attempt will be his initial gameplan. Once the fight hits the ground, Maia's knowledge and skill should take over, as Yakovlev has dropped three of his four losses by submission.
Maia wasn't able to exercise his submission prowess against two of the top welterweights in his last two bouts; this fight should be completely different.
He has to be careful to avoid Yakovlev's aggressive striking game. He's only been knocked out once in his career, but the stand-up should be where Yakovlev can potentially end this fight.
It won't be easy, however, as Maia will have the full and roaring support of the Brazilian crowd behind him. The stage is set for Maia to pick up a win; the pressure is on him to make sure it happens.
Record: 21-4-1 overall, 0-0 UFC
Key Wins: Paul Daley (Legend - Part 2: Invasion)
Key Losses: Rashid Magomedov (M-1 Challenge 35)
Keys to Victory: Yakovlev faces a very tough test in his UFC debut against Maia.
To come out on top with the huge upset, Yakovlev obviously has to keep this fight standing. He has eight knockout victories to his name, and while it's going to be more than difficult to add a ninth this Saturday, it's a much better gameplan than trying to figure out Maia on the ground.
Yakovlev can't fight too defensively. He should be on the offense from the outset, looking to disrupt Maia's strategy with power strikes. He has to bring sharpened takedown defense to the Octagon, as getting into any disadvantageous positions on the canvas could spell an untimely end for him.
If and when he does get taken down, Yakovlev will be in serious danger. With his one glaring weakness being submission defense, Yakovlev is up against the wrong opponent. Maia has a veritable arsenal of dangerous holds that could arise from all angles, making him the underdog here.
But even with that dynamic working against him, Yakovlev is a proven finisher who could surprise this weekend. Maia has been faltering as of late, so if Yakovlev can capitalize by making this fight a kickboxing match, the potential for a huge upset will be there.
Bottom Line from Sao Paulo: The bottom line for this fight is that Maia requires a victory to retain any degree of relevancy in the stacked UFC 170-pound landscape.
They gave him one of the best possible scenarios against a debuting fighter in his homeland. The Octagon jitters have proven to be very real, and we all know Brazilian fans are definitely the rowdiest in the sport.
But looks can also be deceiving. You'd think Maia would be a bit more of a favorite than he is, yet Yakovlev has the skillset to give him fits. The fact that he beat noted kickboxer Daley by decision is a testament to his striking ability.
Maia has also proven that top-level stand-up fighters can disrupt his ability to take the fight to the mat where he holds the edge.
If Yakovlev shows up with the laser-sharp focus that Russian fighters are respected for, this could turn out to be a dogfight. Expect a stand-up battle to turn the tides for Yakovlev, while a grinding affair will showcase Maia's insane ground skill.
This fight is going to tell us how much the 36-year-old Maia has left in the tank, and just how far the 29-year-old Yakovlev may go.
After a recent slide against top competition, Demian Maia will attempt to rebound by defeating debuting Alexander Yakovlev in Sao Paulo. Is it time for him to pass the torch to a rising young talent?