Welterweight grappler Demian Maia will take on the well-rounded and dangerous Jorge Masvidal at UFC 211 in May. If the Brazilian manages to get his hand raised, as he has in his last six outings, the UFC has to make him next in line for a title shot.
It wouldn’t be the first time the 39-year-old has fought for UFC gold, having lost a five-round decision to the great Anderson Silva at UFC 110 almost eight years ago. That was at middleweight, with Maia having entered the world’s leading fight organisation as an inexperienced 185-er and employed his world class jiu jitsu to strangle and submit his way to contendership.
The loss to Silva and an earlier knockout defeat to Nate Marquardt seemed to encourage the Sao Paulo native to focus more on his stand-up skills, moving away from his grappling-centric base and attempting to go toe-to-toe with opponents.
The tactical switch may have made Maia a more rounded martial artist, but it yielded mixed results; following a reverse to Chris Weidman in January 2012 he decided to try his hand in the welterweight division.
The drop in weight class also inspire Maia to re-emphasise the skill set that got him to the UFC in the first place. A fourth-degree jiu jitsu black belt with multiple world titles to his name, the Brazilian is perhaps the best grappler in the UFC’s history — with a size and strength advantage at 170lbs, few can hang with him.
An initial three-fight win streak evidenced Maia’s superiority on the mat, even seeing him out-wrestle perennial contender John Fitch for three rounds at UFC 156 in February 2013.
Back-to-back defeats to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald threatened to end Maia’s hopes of ever getting his hands on a UFC championship by early 2014, with the fighter reaching his late-30s.
However, those setbacks only served to redouble Maia’s drive and determination, and he has run through every man put in his path since then – six fights, six victories, three submission stoppages.
The most recent of which, in August last year, saw Maia take on former interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit, a dangerous striker with a savvy ground game.
Maia immediately dragged his foe to the mat, slid through his guard like a hot knife through butter, constricting and suffocating Condit before forcing a first-round tap via an expertly executed rear-naked choke.
It was the kind of win that made the MMA world sit up and take notice of Maia, and should have been more than enough to earn him a shot at Tyron Woodley’s title.
But the 24-6 veteran was overlooked and will instead have to prove himself all over again against Masvidal. If he can produce more of the same against the American Top Team fighter, the UFC will have to take notice of Maia and give him the title shot he is long overdue.