It's BJJ vs. Judo at UFC 148 Dong Hyun Kim welcomes longtime middleweight Demian Maia,
Dong Hyun Kim (15-1), aka "Stun Gun," is the UFC's second Korean representative behind the infamous shoe-throwing Joe Son of old-school lore. Kim initially retired after scoring consecutive decision wins to lead off his career, but got the hunger back after taking up training at the Wajyutsu Keisyukai school in Tokyo, Japan; a Judo factory that bred the likes of overseas talents Yushin Okami and Akira Shoji.
Kim re-emerged with a vengeance in the Deep promotion, throttling 5 of his next 7 opponents by TKO and submitting another. The last TKO victim in that stretch was Deep middleweight champion Hidehiko Hasegawa in a non-title fight and controversy ensued in their immediate rematch, which resulted in a sketchy draw for Hasegawa and allowed him to retain his title. The Judoka jumped ship and signed with the UFC, where he's notched wins in 6 of his 8 matches with a No Contest to Karo Parisyan (who tested hot for painkillers after winning by split decision) and a definitive beating at the hands of interim welterweight champ Carlos Condit.
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Demian Maia (15-4) is among the most gaudily decorated sport BJJ players who's crossed over to MMA. He made his Octagon debut as a middleweight at UFC 77 in 2007 with a record of 6-0 and proceeded to justify the hype with 5-straight submission wins; a stretch that crescendoed with a jaw-dropping throw and triangle choke on the burly Chael Sonnen.
Nate Marquardt's quick and tidy knockout of Maia was not only the Brazilian's first loss, but it triggered the mediocre 4-4 sequence that subsequently inspired his drop down to welterweight. Though he hooked up with Wanderlei Silva to make drastic improvements to his kickboxing game throughout his UFC tour, every fight in that closing 8-fight stretch was decided by the judges and Maia seemed to have drifted away from his core competency despite rounding out his arsenal.
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This match up poses some intriguing style dynamics: in the Free-Movement Phase, they're similarly-sized southpaws with comparable striking and Maia must traverse through Kim's specialty -- which is clinch and takedown prowess -- in order to impose his submission venom. On the mat, Kim is adept at passing guard and muffling subs while Maia excels at manipulating catches with one of the deadliest guards in existence.
Additionally, along with his striking, Maia's made noticeable strides with his Judo and wrestling game, well enough to hold his own in entanglements with D1 wrestling phenoms Mark Munoz and Chris Weidman. It's likely that timing, intelligence and circumstance will dictate the pivotal battle for control -- that is, if the fight plays out with Maia seeking takedowns and Kim looking to stay upright.
While that scenario might transpire, the kicker is that Kim's clinch tactics have rarely been employed defensively to force a striking match -- rather, he's been offensive-minded with the intention of wreaking havoc from the top with methodical positioning, passing and pounding. This means that Kim's standard M.O. would play right into Maia's hands and adopting a sprawl-and-brawl routine doesn't offer much of a benefit because of their evenly matched striking.
In plain terms, Kim's advantage is with the element of control more so than with offense. His wrestling and Judo combination should enable him to dictate where the fight takes place and it's readily available, whereas Maia has the offensive edge with astronomical submissions, but only if he can strong-arm Kim to the floor. The only fighter who was regularly successful in moving Kim around the cage was the sport's alpha-Judoka, Karo Parisyan.
Though this is from a microscopic view, I'd assess Maia's striking to be at a level slightly higher than Kim's. He's grown confident with spearing his stiff straight left down the pocket with a lot of heat and side-stepping to his right to load up a hefty left body kick. Kim has quicker hands and is tighter with his stance but the edge in power, diversity and timing goes to Maia by a small margin.
As always, cardio is a factor for a virgin run at a lower weight class, and Maia's occasional decline in activity during later rounds at middleweight multiplies that concern. Kim is not only stable in the cardio department but pressures relentlessly from bell to bell and the burden of matching that frenetic pace just stresses the importance of Maia's cardio even more.
This could account for Kim's slight push on the betting lines, which shakes out to somewhere between -140 and -160. There are sensible arguments for either fighter and I expect this to be a close one, but will take a small chance by siding with Maia for his minor edge in offensive firepower through submissions and striking.
My Prediction: Demian Maia by decision.