When you think of future potential title challengers in a dangerous UFC welterweight division, for some reason Demian Maia is a name that doesn’t jump to the forefront. However, the Brazilian veteran let everybody know that he shouldn’t be overlooked any longer after his lopsided triumph at UFC 194 over Gunnar Nelson.
The matchup between the Octagon mainstay and the talented Icelandic prospect was expected to be a competitive grappling showcase. However, Maia turned in a tremendous performance and dominated the fight. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace controlled and battered “Gunni” at every turn in securing a unanimous-decision victory. The striking disparity was evident in the judges’ scoring that featured a pair of extremely rare 30-25 scorecards. The damage inflicted was quite evident on Nelson’s face.
After his latest win in Las Vegas, Maia made it clear of his title aspirations in asking top brass for the opportunity to face the winner of the UFC 195 championship bout between Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit. While a No. 5 ranking and a four-fight win streak have Maia inching closer to his lofty goal, you just get the feeling that his request will fall on deaf ears. There’s likely more business to attend to.
Maia began his lengthy UFC tenure as a middleweight with a reputation of being one of the most outstanding BJJ practitioners in mixed martial arts. His adept ground skills have contributed to 10 submission triumphs in his 22 career victories. He’s compiled a 16-6 record during his time with the promotion and had a failed previous 185-pound title shot against Anderson Silva at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi.
While the 2010 unanimous-decision loss to the legendary Silva wouldn’t ordinarily be anything to be ashamed of, it was unfortunately one of the worst title fights in UFC history. It likely doesn’t help the 38-year-old Maia in his quest to secure one final shot at a winning a belt. Maia doesn’t have the most fan-friendly style and isn’t a flamboyant personality. He’s just an immensely skilled fighter who goes about his business in an efficient, successful manner. As we’ve seen these days, that may not be enough.
It was thought that Maia was on the down side of his career after suffering back-to-back losses to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald. The split-decision loss to Shields at Fight Night 29 in Brazil cost him a possible title shot against then-champion Georges St-Pierre. Maia rebounded from those losses by producing a rather uninspiring win against Alexander Yakovlev. He’s added consecutive victories over Ryan LaFlare, Neil Magny and now Nelson. His dominant second-round submission of Magny at UFC 190 in Brazil was vintage Maia. He secured a Performance of the Night bonus and ended Magny’s impressive seven-fight win streak. Maia has gone 7-2 while campaigning as a welterweight after another technically brilliant effort against Nelson.
In taking a look at the current 170-pound landscape, there are some attractive options to explore for the surging veteran. Having Maia face the winner of the UFC 196 matchup between Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson is definitely worth considering. If the former champion Hendricks is successful on Feb. 6, a clash against Maia could make for an intriguing future title eliminator. If Thompson is triumphant, the talented kickboxing specialist could face the Brazilian in a matchup of the division’s two hottest contenders.
Other potential opponents to ponder for Maia could be aggressive No. 6 contender Matt Brown or South Korean powerhouse Dong Hyun Kim. Kim asked for a rematch with Maia after his recent win at Fight Night 79 in Seoul. Maia may not be too keen on revisiting that matchup as he already owns a previous TKO win over the No. 7-ranked “Stun Gun.” Both competitors are exceptional grapplers.
There’s no doubt Maia’s most recent performance proved that he remains in peak form. He’s likely going to need at least one more win against to work his way into the title conversation. He’s traditionally not an easy chore for anyone. While he may be limited in the stand-up department, Maia has the ability to finish anyone if he gets the contest to the ground. His drive for another title opportunity is definitely gathering some steam.