Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight title challenger, Demian Maia, is set to scrap with up-and-coming wrestler, Ryan LaFlare, this Saturday night (March 21, 2015) inside the Ginásio do Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
After returning to the win column against Alexander Yakovlev, a nasty staph infection prevented Maia from getting back into the Octagon. Now fully recovered, Maia is ready to begin another title run inside the welterweight division.
While Maia ultimately lost a decision to Rory MacDonald last year, he did prove that his grappling is still a threat to every fighter in the division. If Maia can continue dragging opponents to the mat, the 37 year old may be able to have a major impact on his division.
Let's find out if he has the skills to overcome the highly-talented LaFlare.
After getting blitzed by Nate Marquardt several years ago, Maia put some serious effort into his striking. The result is a reasonably-technical kickboxing attack bolstered by Maia's considerable aggression. He's not the most powerful striker, but Maia has come a long way and is fairly effective with his kickboxing.
Pawing around with his lead hand and an occasional jab, Maia is usually just lining up his straight left hand. He will step into his left pretty hard, which can lead to him falling off-balance or eating counters. However, it can also end up with Maia punching into the clinch, a position from which he excels.
Maia is more than willing to come forward with a hard combination of punches. Frequently mixing his clubbing right hook with his straight left hand, Maia's punches have to be respected. After stepping forward with his punches, he will frequently look to transition into a double leg or the clinch.
Unlike many submission fighters who decide to become strikers, Maia is thoroughly unafraid to scrap with his opponent. For example, Maia shocked Rory MacDonald by fearlessly stepping forward with punches in the first round, tagging the Canadian with left hands.
Maia will throw round kicks pretty often with some decent power. Thanks to his Southpaw stance, Maia is commonly kicking at an opponent in the opposite stance, which makes it easier for Maia to land hard kicks. Maia doesn't always set up his kicks -- which led to his lone knockout loss against Nate Marquardt -- but he's gotten better about it in the last couple years.
Defensively, Maia simply isn't the savviest striker around. He's still relatively inexperienced and thus makes the common mistakes, such as backing straight into the fence. Plus, his aggression does leave him open to counters and openings that a quality striker will abuse.
Maia has become an incredibly suffocating wrestler, particularly since his drop to welterweight. He's been training Judo for quite some time, which helps explain his excellent clinch game, but has also proven that his shot is equally dangerous.
When Maia took on Jon Fitch, he surprised the mixed martial arts (MMA) world by utterly controlling the longtime contender with takedowns and top control, teaching Fitch what many of his past victims felt. Surprisingly, Maia scored many of his takedowns by shooting for a single leg. Once in on his opponent's leg, Maia would either run the pipe or transition into a double leg, overpowering the Purdue wrestler numerous times.
One of Maia's favorite strategies is to shoot for the single leg takedown and then transition into the clinch. He's often able to secure the back clinch as his opponent attempts to defend the single leg. From there, Maia is in great position to land a takedown or climb onto his opponent's back.
From the clinch, Maia is a very dominant wrestler. He's incredibly aggressive, constantly trying to work trips and foot sweeps. One of the most important aspects of his clinch wrestling, and the rest of his grappling for that matter, is his pressure. Maia doesn't allow his opponent to breathe, sticking tight to them and attempting takedowns until he gets the fight where he wants it. Even very slick wrestlers eventually succumb to his chained attempts, and Maia doesn't need much to begin implementing his incredible top game.
When mentioning Maia's takedown ability, his incredible toss of Chael Sonnen simply must be mentioned. Sonnen wanted no part of Maia's submission game and was pushing the Brazilian away from him with double underhooks. As he did so, Maia applied pressure on his overhooks and attempted a lateral drop. Not only did he toss the dominant wrestler through the air, but he landed directly in a submission hold.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Maia is a fourth degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and is about as decorated a practitioner as the UFC has or will see. Notably, Maia is an Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) gold medalist and Pan-Am champion. Maia's jiu-jitsu knowledge is incredibly deep -- he's technically excellent with moves he rarely relies on -- so I'll aim to pinpoint a few things he routinely does inside the Octagon, especially at welterweight.
Since Maia's recent focus has been his top game, the ability to control his opponent is vital. When Maia takes his opponent down, he doesn't stay super tight. Instead, he'll look to pass his guard immediately, often by hopping over the leg(s).
For example, Maia landed a gorgeous pass directly into mount against Rory MacDonald. The Canadian attempted to create space with a butterfly hook, a technique he is very talented with, but Maia turned it against him. As MacDonald elevated his leg, Maia slid his knee forward and to the side, pinning MacDonald's hips and legs to the mat. From there, he applied pressure, which halted MacDonald's movement almost entirely, and slowly climbed across him into mount.
Once Maia begins passing, his opponent can either choose to give up side control or attempt to explode to his feet. If he chooses the latter, Maia will more than likely transition to his back in the ensuing scramble.
Even if Maia's opponent chooses side control, he'll still force his way to his back. All top notch jiu-jitsu players have one goal, back mount. Far and away the most effective position in jiu-jitsu, a skilled grappler can safely control, damage and eventually finish his opponent from the back mount.
Maia is already an extraordinary grappler, but he's especially great from the back. In MMA, he's shown that he loves to use the body triangle. When he combines this with his upper body control, Maia's back mount becomes incredibly difficult to escape. Additionally, Maia is able to control the upper body even if he loses the body triangle and his opponent stands up, leading him right into a takedown that lands him on his opponent's back once again.
Maia's ability to get the choke relies mostly on his opponent's attempts to get out of his back control. If his opponent has poor defense or is hyper aggressive, Maia will find the neck. If his opponent remains calm and slowly tries to work out, Maia will ride them until the end of the round or an opportunity arises. There's always a chance he'll just crank the choke as well, a trick he pulled out against Rick Story.
For the most part, Maia likes to look for sweeps from his back. He mostly attacks from the butterfly and half guard, positions that favor reversals rather than finishes. Once Maia has an underhook, he'll begin elevating his opponent or scooting underneath/out the back door, respectively. This causes his opponent to fall off balance, allowing Maia to come up on a single leg attempt or body lock.
The exception to Maia's sweep focused bottom game is the triangle choke. His technique here is not anything crazy, as Maia mostly just looks to shove one of his opponent's arms through his legs. However, he times it well, often looking for the submission when his opponent's posture is broken or if his opponent is trying to pass. Once Maia locks in the choke, his squeeze is extremely tight, and Maia will roll his foe into mount if that's not enough.
Best chance for success
LaFlare is a wrestler who thrives in transitioning, both on the mat and from his striking to takedowns. Since a pretty huge part of his game involves grappling, there's a very good chance Maia will find opportunities to get this fight to the mat.
It's important for Maia to get his opponent out of there early. At his age, it's questionable whether Maia can fight five hard rounds, while LaFlare has proven to keep putting on the pressure even when tired. Therefore, Maia should look to take his opponent down early, move onto his back, and sink in a choke.
LaFlare has the tools to win, but his jiu-jitsu is nowhere near Maia's level. Considering his penchant for scrambles, Maia simply needs to find his moment to either catch a submission or get on top. From there, Maia can force in a submission.
Will Demian Maia began building another win streak, or can Ryan LaFlare catapult himself up the rankings?