Most pundits are giving Demian Maia little or no chance to unseat middleweight champ Anderson Silva at UFC 112.
This is in spite of the fact that Demian Maia is one of the most credentialed jiu jitsu practitioners to ever fight for a UFC title. Maia has won the world jiu jitsu title three times and has also won the Abu Dhabi Combat Club submission grappling championship. Forget BJJ black belts like Thales Leites and Rousimar Palhares. Anderson Silva may have excellent jiu jitsu, but Maia is on a different plane as a grappler. He's in that rarefied air where only the best of the best contend. His peers are Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Roger Gracie, Xande Ribeiro and Marcelo Garcia. And not only is Maia among the very elite of the jiu jitsu world, he's shown that he is the rare fighter who goes for the kill every time out with 8 of his 12 wins coming via submission and four of those subs sweet enough to win the UFC Submission of the Night bonus.
The overwhelming odds in Silva's favor are set despite the fact that Silva isn't the most difficult fighter to take down. Because of his confidence in his jiu jitsu skills, Silva is very aggressive with his striking and has there fore been taken down by Travis Lutter, Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, and even poor Thales Leites managed to get Silva to the floor. And as formidable as each of those fighters are on the ground, Maia is in a whole 'nother league.
There are two reasons why people are less intrigued by this fight than they should be:
- The memory of Maia getting KTFO'd by Nate Marquardt at UFC 102 is very fresh in people's memory. In that fight, Maia got sloppy and aggressive on the feet and threw three straight low kicks at Marquardt while dropping his hands each time. On the third kick, Marquardt blasted Maia with a right hand that ended the fight. Silva is a far more dangerous striker than Nate the Great.
- The colossal dud of a fight that was Thales Leites vs Anderson Silva at UFC 97. Even though Maia is head and shoulders above Leites, fans have a "once-bitten-twice-shy" attitude about seeing Silva in the cage with a Brazilian jiu jitsu master. No one wants to see a five round butt scooting vs knee punching exhibition again.
But there is nothing in Maia's history to indicate he'll do anything but fight hard with a kill or be killed mentality. And unlike many BJJ-based fighters, Maia has a very innovative bag of tricks to get a fight to the ground. He's been featured in a couple of technique posts here before: Demian Maia's Bait and Switch by Mike Fagan and this Judo Chop on the half-guard to dogfight take down he pulled on Nate Quarry.
So review those and then join me for a look at how he managed to take down and submit the decorated Greco-Roman wrestler Chael Sonnen in the full entry. Con animated gifs and a break down of Maia's wrestling by Earl Smith of the great Division 1 College Wrestling web site.
Gifs by Chris Nelson.
First on the right we see Maia coming forward at Sonnen, first blocking a fairly lazy jab from Chael and then following it up with a looping overhand righ and a left hook, neither of which connect. But they do accomplish their tactical goal and manage to back Sonnen up against the cage. From there Maia puts his wrestling skills to work.
Here's Earl Smith of Division 1 College Wrestling describing the take down:
Demian Maia used a version of the amateur wrestling move called a lateral drop to take down Chael Sonnen. Maia starts the position with two overhooks, his left is most visible. The move can also be executed with one overhook and one underhook. As is the case for most throws, Maia needs Sonnen's momentum to fully complete the maneuver. You can see that Demian gets momentum from Sonnen by delivering a knee to the body, and then momentarily waits for Chael to charge into him. Also necessary for a successful throw is for Maia to get his hips close to Sonnen. It doesn't need to be for very long, but if you try a move like a lateral throw with your hips away from your opponent, you will likely just pull him on top of you.
Finally, after Sonnen pushes into Maia, he is left with all of his weight on his left foot. Maia promptly sweeps that leg and is able to toss Chael to his side. Demian finishes in good position, meaning that he falls to his own hip, but quickly off of it and is ready for a scramble. Throws like this can occur without the foot sweep, but in those cases it would require either more upper body strength or an opponent to make a "Brock Lesnar-like" bull rush to get the necessary momentum.
From there it's another day at the office for Maia. He quickly gets the mounted position and traps Sonnen's right arm in the crook of his left elbow. Then he gets his right leg behind Sonnen's head. At this point Sonnen is in great danger and he does the exact wrong thing by bucking his hips and rolling to top position. This merely makes it easier for Maia to hook his left leg around his right ankle and lock in the triangle choke.
From here it's pretty much a formality to secure the tap out. On the left check out the cool from above angle from the post fight highlights. You can really see how Maia uses Sonnen's own energy to cinch in the choke. Classic jiu jitsu!
This fight serves as an important reminder that although Marquardt crushed Maia and Sonnen crushed Marquardt, there is really less distance between the three top contenders than many think. Of course there appears to be a considerable distance between any of them and Anderson Silva.