Demian Maia entered the UFC as a prolific submission artist, and now he’s evolved into the most effective fighter on the roster on the cusp of a title shot.
Wrap your mind around this fact: Demian Maia has absorbed only 13 strikes in his last four fights. That is only 13 strikes combined between opponents Carlos Condit, Matt Brown, Gunnar Nelson, and Neil Magny. Such a statistic is astounding, but it is made even more impressive considering he debuted as the best submission artist seen in the UFC since Royce Gracie.
When he arrived in the UFC in 2007, he reeled off five straight submission victories to make his name in the middleweight division. His prowess on the mat became one of the most highly regarded in the organisation
.He had his stumbles, most notably his five round nightmare of a contest against Anderson Silva and unimpressive loss to Chris Weidman when the latter had only three weeks to prepare for the bout and make the 185 weight limit.
When he dropped down to the welterweight division in 2012, it was clear his frame and size were much better suited for the weight class. He would go on another three-fight win streak with impressive victories over Rick Story and Jon Fitch.
After losing back-to-back bouts against Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald, Maia would go on his most recent run: a six-fight win-streak that has him on the cusp of a title shot. At another time, he would have received a title shot already following his first round destruction of Condit. However, the welterweight division had other plans. Champion Tyron Woodley had just won the title and Stephen Thompson was the number one contender. Both Nick Diaz and Georges St-Pierre were rumoured opponents and the surging Donald Cerrone was also a player in the division.
All of the aforementioned fighters have settled their business and Maia finds himself facing Jorge Masvidal. The one-time Strikeforce title challenger recently stopped Cerrone in stunning fashion and finds himself in a pivotal match against Maia. A victory over the Brazilian after defeating Cowboy would all but assure him a title shot after having been a perennial contender for most of his career.
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Maia, however, has other plans. He has become arguably the most economic fighter in the entire UFC in his ability to avoid taking damage in his bouts. First, he has improved his striking over the course of his career.
He is not about to become a vaunted striker like Anthony Pettis at this stage, but it is clear his understanding of range and timing has improved incredibly. Secondly, his efficiency in getting the fight to the mat has improved as well. If anything, he has almost become more lethal in using “the gentle art” to smother and finish opponents.
Against Masvidal, avoiding his boxing will be the key. “GameBred” hurt Cowboy early with his hand speed and took the striker off his game from the opening bell. Maia will look to do what he has done in is last several bouts. Carefully avoid combinations on the feet before setting up a single-leg to take the fight to the mat. Masvidal by this point is prepared for this strategy, it will only be a matter if he will be able to defend it.
Should Maia be victorious, he locks in a date against Woodley sometime this summer. After his first failed attempt at UFC gold in 2010, it would appear he is in the form to finally have his best chance to wrap the belt around his waist. In sports, sometimes the most difficult thing to do is win when you’re supposed to win. But if Maia has proven anything, it’s that he is up to the task.