Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight elites Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia will collide this Saturday (July 29, 2017) at UFC 214 inside Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
Few expected Woodley to become champion, but he’s done an admirable job of holding the strap nevertheless. He certainly pushed for some high-profile “super fights,” but Woodley is about to face a true top contender for the third time since winning the strap a year ago. Three years ago, a 36-year old Demian Maia lost his second fight in a row, and most assumed that was the end of his title run. After returning from injury, however, Maia scored seven straight wins opposite some of the division’s best, earning a second shot at the strap.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Robbie Lawler (UFC 201), Stephen Thompson (UFC 209), Carlos Condit (UFC 171), Kelvin Gastelum (UFC 183)
Key Losses: Rory MacDonald (UFC 174), Jake Shields (UFC 161)
Keys to Victory: When Woodley broke onto the scene in Strikeforce eight years back, he was a two-time Division I All-American wrestler and not much else. Over the years, Woodley’s focus has shifted more and more to his striking.
It may be slow at times, but Woodley’s attack is punctuated by spots of extreme offense.
Woodley’s bizarre habit of putting his back on the fence has cost him in the past, and there’s never been more of a time to stop doing it then right now. Maia wants the takedown, and allow himself to be trapped on the fence makes that far easier. Instead, Woodley should look to stay in the center of the Octagon and keep his feet moving. As Maia comes in, Woodley would be wise to kick his legs. Woodley kicks with absurd power, and Maia has shown a distaste for low kicks in the past.
If Woodley can stop Maia from getting a clean shot, he doesn’t have to worry about being sucked into his world on the mat. The longer the two trade on the feet, the better the chance that one of Woodley’s massive crosses connects and ends this one early.
Key Wins: Jorge Masvidal (UFC 211), Carlos Condit (UFC on FOX 21), Neil Magny (UFC 190), Rick Story (UFC 160), Gunnar Nelson (UFC 195)
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 112), Rory MacDonald (UFC 170), Jake Shields (UFC Fight Night 29)
Keys to Victory: Maia’s return to Welterweight also brought about his return to grappling. Since rededicating himself to tackling and strangling foes, Maia has surged forth to become a top contender once again. He’s also one of the division’s larger fighters, which is hugely helpful in grappling exchanges.
Maia’s biggest key to victory in this match is pressure and consistency. Woodley does not respond all that well to pressure, backing up into the fence and waiting. When he fought Jake Shields — another jiu-jitsu specialist — Woodley was able to defend every takedown but still lost via volume and control simply because he didn’t do anything.
If Maia cannot secure a takedown, that’s the back up plan for victory.
However, there’s a real chance that Maia will find a way to bring this one to the mat. Woodley doesn’t wrestle as often for a reason: he’s older now, and long wrestling exchanges will make him feel that age more than anything else. No one is pretending Maia is a spring chicken at 39, but he’s also been wrestling/grappling non-stop in all of his fights. That prepares him for a long grappling match, and if he can secure a takedown, he’ll be able to rest while his opponent burns energy.
Bottom Line: It’s a damn fine stylistic match up with a title on the line.
Woodley is making the most of his time as champion; it’s refreshing to see his strap defended so often! At this point, another successful title win helps build his legacy, but it doesn’t exactly secure his grip on the title, as there are some seriously dangerous contenders on the rise. If he loses, well, Woodley had his period as champion, and Maia can deal with those pesky up-and-comers.
Meanwhile, Maia has a tremendous resume and has been a top contender since he fought Anderson Silva back in 2010. His Welterweight career has been spectacular, and he’s one of the last specialists still thriving in the Octagon. There are so few fighters who do one thing well enough to overwhelm just about everyone, and Maia is among that list. A championship belt would be fitting for the end of his great career. Alternatively, a loss is a setback Maia probably cannot afford at his age. There’s always a chance he could bounce back quickly — particularly if Woodley loses the strap — but it’s also possible that he retires.
At UFC 214, Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia will compete in the co-main event. Which man will leave the cage with the strap?