Ageless perennial Welterweight contender, Demian Maia (No. 8), was out to add another name to his ridiculous hit list tonight (Sat., June 12, 2021) in the form of Belal Muhammad (No. 12) at UFC 263, which took place inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., and streamed on ESPN+ pay-per-view (PPV). The Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist hinted that this could be his final appearance inside the Octagon, but he did/didn’t mention it after ...
Belal came out pumping a jab, looking to keep a safe distance from the submission specialist. Maia went down to a knee, then popped Belal with a nice shot on the way back up, using that threat of the takedown to set up his offense. Maia actually went in for a shot moments later, getting a single-leg and pushing Belal up against the cage on one leg. Maia finally dumped him to the canvas, with Belal in a seated position up against the cage. Belal was able to return to his feet and then snuck his leg out of Maia’s grasp. On the break, he bounced a hard jab off the Brazilian’s forehead, with Maia responding with a hard left of his own. Maia once again went in on a single, but Belal once again was able to slip out his leg. The two jockeyed for position, with Belal showing off incredible balance as Maia essentially dragged him around the Octagon by one leg for the final two minutes ... much to the chagrin of the boo-birds in the audience.
After a rather pedestrian opening frame, it was on Belal to create distance and punish Maia’s single-minded approach. And he did a much better job in the opening minute, looking to land shovel hooks and land punches from odd angles. Nothing significant landed, but the stance-switching and angles definitely seemed to fluster Maia. He went for a lazy single two minutes in, but settled for landing some decent punches on the break instead. Belal defended another takedown, then drilled Maia with a hard left cross. Maia fired back with a straight left down the middle, but it was Belal who was putting together his punches better. With one minute remaining, Maia was able to get deep on a single, but once again Belal was able to remain upright. Belal drilled him with short elbows while hopping on one leg until the round came to a close.
It was a close fight heading into the third and final frame, with Maia needing to get the fight down the ground and Belal needing to remain standing. Indeed, it was a matter of who was going to implement their gameplan best in the final five minutes. Belal defended his thirteenth takedown attempt early on, then stung Maia with hard shots from distance. Maia continued to press forward, but Belal was doing serious damage with his counter shots. He tried another takedown or three, but it was the same result.
What a great display from Belal. It wasn’t the greatest fight, but he showed maturity and incredible takedown defense. Normally an in-your-face pressure fighter, Belal was content to potshot Maia from the outside and avoid staying off the canvas.
Not sure what the future holds for Maia, but there isn’t much left for him to prove at this advanced stage of his combat career.
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