Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Demian Maia and Ryan LaFlare TONIGHT (Sat., March 21, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 62 on FOX Sports 1 from inside Ginasio do Maracanazinho in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Maia's path toward the welterweight title was derailed by Jake Shields, and a second loss to Rory MacDonald did not help his case. Since those losses, Maia look to begin anew with a victory over Alexander Yakovlev, but an injury kept him out of the mix until now.
Meanwhile, LaFlare is still on his own journey to the top, and Maia is simply another road block for the prospect. If LaFlare can defeat the Brazilian, he's undoubtedly earned a position inside the top 10 and is not far from a title shot.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for each fighter:
Key Wins: Jon Fitch (UFC 156), Dong Hyun Kim (UFC 148), Rick Story (UFC 160)
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 112), Rory MacDonald (UFC 170), Jake Shields (UFC Fight Night 29)
Keys to Victory: Maia is an incredibly talented grappler, a gold medalist in both the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) and Mundials. Judging by his nine submission victories and dominant control, it's safe to say his jiu-jitsu has translated quite well into mixed martial arts (MMA).
The game plan for this fight is pretty simple. Maia has proven to have the raw takedown ability -- through a combination of excellent wrestling and Judo -- to drag down just about anyone in the welterweight division, especially early on.
Therefore, Maia simply has to get on top and do what he does best. LaFlare loves to create scrambles, but that will play right into Maia's game. Whenever a fighter creates space, either man can capitalize on.
Considering Maia's impressive submission game, that's an exchange he can win.
While neither man is a conditioning machine, Maia does not want a lengthy war of attrition with LaFlare. In that situation, LaFlare's superior wrestling back ground could land him in better position throughout, making it important that Maia either finishes early or dominates opening portion of the fight.
Key Wins: John Howard (UFC Fight Night 39), Court McGee (UFC on FOX 9), Santiago Ponzinibbio (UFC Fight Night 32)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: An athletic and large welterweight, LaFlare also has a strong wrestling background. Above all else, LaFlare is excellent in transitions, whether it's on the mat or from strikes to takedowns.
In order to defeat Maia, LaFlare has to out-grapple Maia. Obviously, that's a big task, but it's necessary in order for LaFlare to secure the victory. While he may have the striking advantage, that's not likely a viable path to victory for LaFlare unless he's made major changes.
At its core, LaFlare's kickboxing helps set up his wrestling and relies heavily on it. LaFlare really isn't a sprawl and brawl fight; he overextends himself far too much for that. If LaFlare tries to keep the fight standing and pick Maia apart, he'll either get taken down in short order or adjust his kickboxing style so much that it won't work.
Instead, LaFlare needs to grapple on his own terms and drag Maia to the mat. Underneath Maia, LaFlare is at a big disadvantage, but he can likely hold his own while on top of the submission ace. Plus, it will fatigue Maia to carry his opponent's weight.
If LaFlare can consistently force his opponent to work from bad positions, the fight will slowly get easier for the New Yorker.
Bottom Line: This is an excellent test for one of the welterweight division's brighter prospects, and Maia's return to the cage.
At this point, it's not likely that Maia will ever contend for the welterweight crown. However, considering the ease with which he took down and mounted Rory MacDonald, Maia should still be considered a threat to anyone in the division. If the jiu-jitsu specialist does want to attempt an unlikely coup, victory over LaFlare is a must.
Should Maia fall to LaFlare, it's likely a signal that Maia is no longer a top 10 fighter. Again, he's always dangerous, but his time of consistently defeating top-tier opposition is likely over.
LaFlare appears to have many of the tools to be an elite fighter, now it's time for him to prove it. If he manages to get by Maia, he's worthy of a position inside the top 10 and potentially a title eliminator in his next match up.
On the other hand, LaFlare likely won't have many opportunities. At 31 years old, he should be in his athletic prime, ready to take on the best fighters in the world. If he fails here, he may never be up to the task.
At UFC Fight Night 62, Demian Maia and Ryan LaFlare will go to war. Which fighter will have his hand raised?