Undefeated welterweight prospect, Ryan LaFlare, looks to continue building his win streak against former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title challenger and submission specialist, Demian Maia, this Saturday night (March 21, 2015) inside Ginásio do Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
LaFlare has been quite impressive thus far. While his finishing ability hasn't yet carried over from the regional scene, the talented wrestler has unanimously defeated four straight fighters inside the Octagon, which is quite an achievement.
Now, LaFlare will look to break into the top 10 by taking out Demian Maia. This is a major step up in competition, and LaFlare is intent to prove that he is worthy of being known as one of the world's best.
Let's take a look at his skill set and see if he can live up to the hype.
LaFlare may not be the most polished striker in the division, but he might be the most active. A tall, muscular, and overall athletic fighter, LaFlare's constant stream of offense and threat of takedowns make him a formidable kickboxer.
Working out of the Southpaw stance, LaFlare is very effective with his lead hand. He's constantly shooting out jabs -- which is fairly uncommon for Southpaws -- and will commonly hook off his jab.
Before long, LaFlare will follow up his right hand punches and feints with his straight left hand. He's quite accurate with the punch and will also lead with it once he settles into the fight. After scoring with his left, LaFlare will commonly finish his combination with a right hook.
LaFlare frequently attacks his opponent's body. While he'll occasionally fire off single straight lefts into the bread basket, he usually strikes low in combination. For example, LaFlare likes to dig a pair of hooks to the body before going high with his right hook.
The New Yorker is also fairly dangerous with kicks. Against Orthodox opponents, LaFlare is very effective at firing hard kicks towards his opponent's liver. Usually, he'll disguise the kick with a right hook but will also throw the kick naked. Similarly, LaFlare will use a rear knee strike if his opponent closes the distance.
After landing the kick, LaFlare will build off the strike well. He commonly lands punches both as the kick comes forward and as he brings the leg back into his regular stance. In addition, LaFlare will mix the superman punch into his attack once his kick feint is established.
LaFlare commonly looks to punch his way into the takedown or clinch. While the actual takedown part of his game will be covered in the next section, it's worth mentioning that LaFlare's clinch striking is excellent. Whenever LaFlare locks horns with his opponent, he's consistently digging dangerous knees into the body or aiming high.
Additionally, LaFlare almost always lands a solid strike on the exit of the clinch. Once he realizes that he won't get a takedown in this exchange or simply decides to back away, LaFlare either spins his opponent away with a sharp knee or uses an elbow strike to create distance.
Although he's very effective offensively, LaFlare is pretty average in terms of defense. He mostly relies on his length to evade punches rather than head movement, which means he's been pretty hittable by fighters competent at getting inside.
A high school state champion and short-term collegiate wrestler, LaFlare's takedown talents have transitioned into mixed martial arts (MMA) quite beautifully. Like his stand up, LaFlare's offensive wrestling is more impressive than his defensive grappling.
While he utilizes a number of different takedowns, many rely on the same principle. Against Orthodox opponents, LaFlare is excellent at hooking his opponent's lead leg as he drives forward. LaFlare does this constantly, often from in the clinch as a fairly standard but highly effective outside trip, but also immediately with his single leg.
To land this technique, it's important to set it up. Usually, LaFlare will shoot after throwing his lead hook, as it allows him to disguise the forward movement of his lead leg, the one that hooks his opponent's leg. Once LaFlare trips the leg or simply gets his knee directly behind his opponent's leg, it's very easy for LaFlare to drive through the shot.
LaFlare will also use more standard double legs on occasion. To set them up, he'll usually lean into his straight left a bit more than usual, which puts him in good position to step into the double leg.
Perhaps the most unique part of LaFlare's wrestling game is his impressive scrambling ability. Regardless of where he starts, LaFlare is more than excellent at creating enough space to cause a wild exchange of positions that results in him either progressing to a better position or ending up on top.
It's hard to explain intangibles like scrambling ability, but I can point out a couple of things that LaFlare does well. For one, he's excellent at timing his explosions. For example, he scored a very slick hip bump on John Howard, an experienced top player. From his back in half guard, LaFlare pushed away his opponent. When Howard attempted to flatten LaFlare back down, LaFlare bumped hard into Howard, who's own momentum rolled him over.
In addition, LaFlare does a very nice job latching onto his opponent's head in the midst of scrambles. Not necessarily chokes -- though his jiu-jitsu skill definitely plays a major part in his scrambling ability -- but LaFlare is very quick to find a grip on his opponent's head and neck. Usually, this is a deciding factor in scrambles, as the body cannot move if the head is pinned or under control.
Now, LaFlare usually scrambles back to his feet or top position before long, but it's definitely important that LaFlare is far from impossible to take down. He overextends himself on punches, likely because he's looking for his own clinch, which can leave him in very bad position if he misses.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
A purple belt in jiu-jitsu, LaFlare has yet to really demonstrate his submission talent inside the Octagon. He submitted a pair of opponents early in his career via arm bar and has proven to be a quality grappler, but it has yet to translate into a finish.
It's more than obvious LaFlare is a very smooth guard passer. His preferred way to finish the takedown lands him in half guard, and LaFlare works quite well from that position. From there, he'll cross face his opponent and keep a tight grip on the far underhook, allowing him to apply heavy shoulder pressure. Eventually, LaFlare will wiggle his leg out, often by pushing with his free leg.
In terms of submissions, LaFlare has attempted very few so far. Against Howard, he used a nice d'arce choke set up to keep "Doomsday" from performing a getup from half guard. He also used the guillotine a few times for a similar purpose, as it forced Howard to use his hands to fight the choke rather than stand.
Additionally, LaFlare did use an omoplata to quickly sweep Santiago Ponzinibbio in the final round of their fight. LaFlare had been caught by a decent punch and fell to his back, only to reverse Ponzinibbio with the shoulder lock as the Argentinian looked to land a big punch.
Best chance for success
Since LaFlare's style generally revolves around scoring the takedown, it would be an extremely difficult challenge for him to switch up his entire method of attack in order to deny Maia's takedown, which is exactly what he'd need to do in order to make this a kickboxing battle. If LaFlare hopes to use his current striking style and just defend takedowns as they come, he'll end up on his back quickly.
Rather than give Maia exactly what he wants -- a takedown that lands Maia in a dominant position or one he's quite familiar with -- LaFlare needs to do something a bit risky. The New Yorker must initiate the wrestling exchanges, otherwise he will find himself in a bad position early.
Obviously, grappling with Maia is always a dangerous prospect. But LaFlare is a talented grappler and scrambler, and if he prepares with this game plan in mind, should be prepared for it. Maia has lost due to top control before, and his recent conditioning issues definitely make this the best game plan for LaFlare.
Otherwise, Maia will almost certainly score a takedown. All of Maia's welterweight matches have ended up on the mat at some point, but LaFlare needs to ensure it's on his own terms.
Will Ryan LaFlare continue to climb the ranks, or can Demian Maia find another submission victory?