In one of the most important nights in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship they feature a stacked triple header beginning with a middleweight tilt between former title challenger Demian Maia and world-class wrestler Chris Weidman.
Merely a week ago Maia was preparing for a clash with British poster-boy Michael Bisping but an injury to co-main eventer Mark Munoz threw a wrench in the works, eventually giving the Brit the opportunity to challenge Chael Sonnen in a title-eliminator.
That left Maia dangling in the wind, two week away from one of the biggest opportunities of his career with the chance of being seen by millions of new eyeballs but he wasn’t left sweating for too long before Weidman agreed to step up to the plate.
Although different in many ways, Maia and Weidman had similar paths to the elite mixed martial arts playground having been highly accomplished in other fields before jumping in with both feet into the sport.
Maia is a third-degree Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu having placed first in the ADCC World Submission Grappling Championships in 2007 and being a runner-up in 2005 – With these credentials under his belt when he made the transition to MMA he got noticed quickly.
After his sixth straight victory he got the opportunity to test his skills in the UFC and has added notable names like Nate Quarry, Dan Miller, Jorge Santiago & Chael Sonnen to his hit-list.
Weidman on the other hand was a two-time All-American NCAA Division I wrestler for Hofstra University under Ohio State coach Tom Ryan who himself learned the tricks of the trade from the legendary Dan Gable.
He made the seamless transition to MMA picking up the basics of striking and jiu-jitsu seemingly right away – In his first four professional bouts he went unbeaten, putting away two of them en route to winning the Ring of Combat middleweight title.
When Rafael Natal was unable to face noted striker Alessio Sakara last March he stepped up on 11 days’ notice to collect his first octagon victory and has shown no signs of stopping since forcing Jesse Bongfeldt and Tom Lawler to submit in the first round.
But facing Maia is a huge leap up in competition from anyone he has faced and a victory could mean being in the championship conversation.
Both men are known for what they can do on the mat and not so much their striking arsenal but have shown vast improvements when throwing around their four-ounce gloves around.
It was long said that the only missing ingredient from the game of the grappling wizard Maia was his striking game. While preparing for UFC middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva he hooked up with legendary muay-thai stylist Wanderlei Silva at Wand Fight Team and has worked on his striking regiment ever since.
Seemingly each time he enters the octagon he shows more and more confidence in his striking abilities, while I don’t expect him to be releasing any kickboxing instructionals anyitme soon he has morphed into a skilled striker being able to tough it out on the feet with Mark Munoz and Jorge Santiago in recent times.
Despite Weidman’s limited time hitting pads and developing his striking game he isn’t a chump in the department either, I’m not saying that he is going to be pasting fools and putting on a striking clinic when you see him in the octagon but he is a quality striker.
Last time we saw him in the octagon his opponent, the always entertaining Tom Lawler might have been there to get a laugh out of the crowd but he was not in the mood for jokes – Lawler who has proven to be a decent striker in his own right was rushed by the wrestler who used his strikes to find an opening so he could get the takedown.
Speaking of takedowns, that’s exactly what Weidman is going to be looking for the entire fight.
Weidman has been wrestling since childhood and is arguably the best wrestler in the division, the 27-year-old’s biggest strength of his wrestling game is his cardiovascular fitness – Weidman is a physically imposing 185-pounder who is able to bully his opponents around the cage until he gets them to the floor.
While most with that strategy would be ready to throw in the towel once the bell rings for the second round he has the fitness to continue this pressure until he gets what he wants, the finish.
Maia has only ever dealt with a high-end wrestler like his opponent once before in Chael Sonnen and he was able to trip the gangsta from the streets of West Lynn, Oregon and force him to submit in the opening frame.
Weidman will be relentless while searching for that takedown so the Brazilian better come prepared.
Maia has great wrestling of his own and has shown he can keep the action on the feet if he wants it but that may not be the case – Due to Maia’s grappling regiment he has spent more time on his back than my ex-girlfriend.
Maia is the best jiu-jitsu player in the middleweight division which comes with an ability to submit his foes from whichever position he can find an opening in.
The only issue with that is we’ve seen time and time again even if the All-American wrestler was fencing off submissions for 15 minutes judges’ typically rule in favor of the person in top position.
One of the major factors to pay attention to is whether Weidman will crack under the pressure when he steps into the cage at the United Centre in Chicago, Illinois – The hype-train for Weidman is in full effect with many, including myself expecting big things from him but it could be too much for him.
Maia has challenged for the middleweight crown and competed on the biggest stages while Weidman hasn’t even been on a pay-per-view main card.
The world-class wrestler has been groomed by former UFC welterweight champ Matt Serra and respected striking coach Ray Longo and will come prepared for the biggest fight of his young career but ahead of him will be the very best Demian Maia that we have ever seen who is looking to put the hype on ice.