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Demian Maia Faces Unnecessary Roadblock to Title Fight

May 8, 2017 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Demian Maia

Demian Maia’s first try at a world championship in mixed martial arts came about unexpectedly. Fighting as a middleweight, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace won his first 11 bouts, and submitted his first five UFC opponents, but a 21-second knockout loss to Nate Marquardt sent him back down the ladder. Forced into a rebuilding phase, Maia toughed out a decision victory over Dan Miller in February 2010 before his fortunes changed.

Five days after Maia bested Miller, Vitor Belfort withdrew from an April title bout with Anderson Silva. The following day, UFC announced Maia as Belfort’s replacement, completing the pairing for what would become one of the most infamous title bouts in UFC history. On fight day, Maia showed up to compete, but Silva only intended to taunt and ridicule. Aside from a first round knee that floored Maia, Silva did little damage, instead investing his time showboating and shouting at his opponent, holding the audience – and his opponent – captive to indulge his artistic desires. Maia tried, but he didn’t have the ability to do anything of consequence to a fighter as talented as Silva that declined to engage. Silva won a unanimous decision, enraged the UFC, briefly turned off fans, and pushed Maia far away from the middleweight title.

Seven years have passed since that strange night, and Maia is once again being toyed with. Now competing at welterweight, Maia is among the most formidable forces in his division. He has been a winner in each of his past six bouts – the longest UFC winning streak of any welterweight in UFC’s rankings – and of late has developed a knack for breezing through opponents while receiving little damage. In his last fight, he carved through perennial top welterweight Carlos Condit, who is noted for tremendous durability. Maia submitted him in less than two minutes.

No welterweight is more deserving of a championship match than Maia, and yet he finds himself locked in to fight Jorge Masvidal on Saturday at UFC 211. Maia sat cageside as welterweight champion Tyron Woodley fought Stephen Thompson in November. The fight ended in a draw, the worst possible result for Maia, and UFC booked an immediate rematch for March. Through it all, Maia was content to wait for the title shot he had earned. He turned 39 just before Woodley and Thompson competed in November; if he kept active and lost before his title opportunity, it likely would have slammed his window shut. Unlike the UFC of late, Maia values the championship above all, going as far as saying he would rather compete for the belt than welcome Georges St-Pierre back to the cage in what would likely be the richest fight he could ever hope to be part of.

Days before Woodley and Thompson had their rematch, UFC paired Maia with Masvidal in a strange bit of timing. Why book Maia, the top welterweight contender, for a fight in mid-May when Woodley and Thompson were set for early March? It adds another strong fight to UFC 211, but the card had no need of strong fights, and if Maia is the next contender, it pushes the next welterweight title fight back a few months. “They asked me to take a fight,” Maia explained in a Facebook post, “and I was told that I’d have to stay active to get my title shot.”

Woodley, who finally edged past Thompson in March after 10 rounds between two fights, is aiming to fight in July. He has already begun his training camp, although at this point it is unclear if UFC has a welterweight title fight penciled in for July.

Maia faces a challenging task on Saturday. He must beat Masvidal, a much younger fighter that has looked outstanding in his last two bouts, which included a stoppage win over Donald Cerrone. For the best chance at getting the next shot at Woodley, Maia will also need to come away relatively unscathed – not easy to do against Masvidal.

If Maia is successful in both objectives? There is no promise he will get what he earned nine months ago in Vancouver by defeating Condit. The UFC has shown an interest in protecting certain money fights. Even as Georges St-Pierre delays his return past October, Michael Bisping will not defend the middleweight title. When the promotion wanted to put more steam behind Conor McGregor before a title shot, they put him in the cage with Dennis Siver, not a top contender.

Demian Maia is far from Georges St-Pierre and Conor McGregor; the UFC has made it clear by booking the Masvidal fight, and the time at which they booked it, that Maia is a dispensable title contender. If they come across a more lucrative option, Maia’s spot will be in jeopardy. If they need a main event on a certain date that Maia cannot make due to the timing of the Masvidal fight, someone else will take Maia’s place against Woodley.

All this, so UFC could send a message to its fighters to not sit and wait for title shots by denying Maia, by far the most deserving contender, the ability to sit until July to fight for the title.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

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Demian Maia, UFC, Dan Plunkett