Former UFC Middleweight title contender Demian Maia (13-2, 7-2 UFC) returns to the Octagon in hopes of placing his name back in the hunt for another title shot as he battles The Ultimate Fighter season 3 winner Kendall Grove (12-7-0-1, 7-4 UFC) on Saturday night. Both Grove and Maia are heading into this showdown with wins under their belts as Grove defeated Goran Reljic at UFC 116 via split decision while Maia defeated Mario Miranda at UFC 118 via unanimous decision. The similarities stop there.
The obvious difference from an objective point of view is in the competition they have faced. Maia challenged Anderson Silva for the UFC Middleweight title at UFC 112 in April while also fighting Nate Marquardt and Chael Sonnen, two of the division's elite fighters, in contests last year. In fact, Maia defeated Sonnen via triangle choke in only 2:37 seconds.
Grove has been facing far lesser competition on the ladder. He was defeated by Mark Munoz and Ricardo Almeida at UFC 112 and UFC 101 respectively while edging out Goran Reljic, submitting Jake Rosholt, and knocking out Jason Day over the course of his last five fights. His wins haven't been against the strongest competition, and his losses have been to middle-of-the-road talent looking to ascend up the ladder. That puts Grove at the top step of the stairwell into the basement.
I suppose the question produced from that analysis is why would the UFC be pushing Grove, a fighter who hasn't succeeded against even mid-echelon opponents, against one of the elite fighters in the division. Answer: The UFC is pushing to showcase Maia's talents, and it's likely that Maia will put himself in title contention in the next year. Furthermore, Sonnen's return and possible ousting of Anderson Silva atop the division lends credence to the push for Maia into title contention.
But let's not be hasty in discounting Grove completely. Grove does have a freakish 6'6" frame along with a reach advantage in this fight, and if he's training specifically to fight from distance -- he could have a chance at upsetting the Brazilian. Maia will have difficulty wading through that type of length, and his stand-up game has only improved slightly within the last year. Sure, Grove isn't a devastating striker nor has he proven to be overly effective in any of his bouts inside the Octagon, but reach can be a huge advantage against a fighter trying to gain takedowns repeatedly without success.
In the end, Maia should win via submission. Grove's lengthy limbs may put up a fight on the ground, but I imagine Maia will find a way to either take Grove's back or snap an appendage at some point early in the fight. Grove's best chance is to fight from distance and pepper Maia, but he lacks the skills to work that type of gameplan effectively.