Many fans feel that Demian Maia has done enough to earn a title shot. The number three ranked welterweight in the world is 9-2 in the UFC since moving down from middleweight. He currently rides a six-fight win streak into this fight with Jorge Masvidal. The number five ranked Masvidal has gone 4-2 since moving up to welterweight with the two losses being close split-decisions, something he seems to specialize in. His last three losses have been split-decisions that many think he won. He brings a three-fight win streak to this battle.
There those who think Maia should not have taken this fight, including current welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. If Maia does win there is some heat building there between him and Woodley based Maia’s response to Woodley’s comments on the latest episode of the UFC Unfiltered podcast.
A Maia win would also give him a seven fight win streak. That should have earned him a title shot but in today’s UFC you never know. If he and Woodley could develop a rivalry that would help solidify his chances. If Masvidal wins he could be next. Especially, if he finishes Maia in a spectacular manner.
Finding the balance between caution and aggression
Both Maia and Masvidal have struggled with not being aggressive enough at times. Masvidal’s three-fight win streak could easily be a 10-fight streak, but for the three split-decision losses. Before the streak he went 1-3 in the previous four fights. Since then, Masvidal has upped the aggression resulting in the three straight wins with the last two being finishes of Jake Ellenberger and Donald Cerrone.
Maia struggled with valuing position over submission. He started his UFC career with five straight submission wins. After that impressive start he secured one submission win out of his next nine wins. The same number of TKO/KO wins during that time.
Not what you would expect from Tapology’s number one ranked MMA grappler of all time. However, in his last four wins Maia secured three of them by submission. Gunnar Nelson is the only fighter to survive during that run. Masvidal is not looking to just survive and if he can stop the takedown he will stop Maia’s win streak.
It really is that simple or strengths and weaknesses
It is easy to see Maia’s strength’s and weaknesses, great grappling/ground game with below average striking. In today’s modern MMA, Maia is an anomaly, a throwback to a different time. In the UFC it is rare to see a title contender that is so one-dimensional.
Maia is one-dimensional in the sense that he is a grappler but he has evolved from being just a jiu-jitsu fighter into a grappler. He added stronger takedowns and started to incorporate ground strikes into he arsenal. The ground strikes are not to finish the fight themselves but to open up a submission. The result has been three submissions and a dominant win over a talented grappler in Nelson.
The ground strikes have been a nice addition but he is still very weak in the standup. That was glaring in the loss to Rory MacDonald. In that fight, Maia landed two takedowns in 22 attempts. After a strong first round Maia looked weaker and weaker with each failed attempt. Against Condit, he did try to jab his way into a takedown but the three jabs were pathetic; since Condit has woeful takedown defense it still worked. The same sequence against Masvidal is more likely to get him knee’d in the face than scoring the takedown.
For Masvidal, his main strength is his completeness as a fighter. His striking is sublimely dangerous, he’s shown strong defensive jiu-jitsu, and underrated wrestling. On the same above Unfiltered Podcast, Din Thomas talked about Masvidal consistently out-wrestling division one wrestlers in practice on a daily basis. Masvidal checks in with a 79% takedown defense compared to Condit’s 39%.
He is mostly a defensive grappler using it to keep the fight standing. Since the three split-decision losses in four fights Masvidal has been a beast. He dominated Ross Pearson, stopped Ellenberger, and TKO’d Cerrone twice in one fight. All three fighters with strong standup themselves. Cerrone, is the number nine ranked Knockout Artist in the UFC. And while the standup is a strength, the ground is not generally a weakness for Masvidal, but it is for this fight.
Paths to Glory or it really is that simple
Where this fight takes place will determine the winner. Maia needs to get this fight to the ground where he will need to get the submission or keep Masvidal there. As big as of an advantage for Maia on the ground Masvidal will have a bigger one in the standup.
For me this fight exposes the issue for Maia and his title chase. Any fighter with a strong takedown defense is a bad fight for him. If Maia gets past Masvidal it is difficult to see him beating a wrestler at the level of Woodley.
Masvidal is good at managing distance, has a good jab, uses combinations, and has strong knees. When you mix in his strong, underrated wrestling and it looks like a long night for Maia.
The winner of this will be the fighter who manages his aggression the best. Both fighters enjoy their recent success because they upped their aggression. But, if they are too aggressive in this fight it will cost them. If Maia struggles to get takedowns, starts to shoot from too far away, he is in danger of catching a knee. If Masvidal gets aggressive with his strikes, gets a little off-balance he exposes himself to the takedown. On the ground being too aggressive to get back up puts him in danger of getting submitted. Neither can afford to be passive either.
I like Masvidal’s takedown defense to holdup and put himself in a position to fight for the title. I do like the feisty Maia we have seen recently and if he can channel that then I like his chances more.
This is a risky fight for Maia if he wants a chance at the title. The welterweight division is one filled with talent and several legitimate title contenders. Also lurking on the outside are former champion Georges St-Pierre, the ubiquitous Conor McGregor, and the ‘he may never fight again’ Nick Diaz.
A loss for the almost 40-year old Maia, will put him behind a long list of fighters that are bigger PPV draws. The UFC appears reluctant to give him a title shot. His impressive six fight win streak earned him a tough fight with Masvidal. For Masvidal, a loss would be setback but he is younger and able to put together another run.