At UFC 148 this weekend, before Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen battle it out for the UFC Middleweight title, another former Middleweight title challenger will be in action. Demian Maia, who challenged Silva back at UFC 112, will square off against Dong Hyun Kim. And, for the first time, he'll be fighting in the Welterweight division.
When fighters move to a new weight class, it most often signifies that they feel they've reached a plateau in their current division. Maybe it's because they're giving up too much size or maybe it's a dominant champion, but for whatever reason, these fighters typically see a brighter future in leaving the division. For Maia, that idea is true, as he seemed unlikely to once again crack the top of the Middleweight division. So will a move to Welterweight revitalize him?
No, it won't. That's because Demian Maia's problem is not that there's a too dominant champion (though, obviously, there is); it's not that he is too undersized.
Demian Maia's problem is that he is squandering his talent.
Maia brings a wealth of talent to the UFC, specifically in the area of submissions. He's a tremendous jiu jitsu ace, able to submit top contender Chael Sonnen with apparent ease, while also engaging in classic ground battles with the likes of Jason MacDonald and Ed Herman. Yet ever since he was knocked out by Nate Marquardt, we've seen a changed Demian Maia, and it's not a change for the better.
There's an idea that sometimes losing can be the best thing for a fighter's career. Any many times, that's true. But it depends what lesson you take from the loss. Unfortunately, Maia took the absolute wrong lesson from the Marquardt loss. He lost that fight because his striking game was not developed and he got hit. The lesson to be learned is obvious - improve your striking. The problem is, Maia took that lesson too far. Instead of "improve your striking," he decided the lesson was "become a striker." But Maia is not a striker, he's a grappler. And he's shown that in increasingly poor performances since the Marquradt KO.
In every fight since, Maia has chosen to primarily keep the fight standing and engage in a kickboxing battle. He does so without knockout power, without particularly good technique. The results have been mixed, with losses piling up. But more problematic than the losses is the general style of his fights. Demian Maia fights have become, in a word, boring. The man who put on those great fights to start his UFC career with a bang has now been viciously booed in his last two outings. The message behind those boos is clear - fans want the Demian Maia of old. They want the scintillating submission stylist. Instead, they're getting the plodding kickboxer. And they're not impressed.
Against Dong Hyun Kim, Maia has a chance to revitalize his career, and to put the bad taste of the Jorge Santiago and Chris Weidman fights behind him. But in order to do so, he needs to do more than win - he needs to entertain. Another plodding stand-up decision will do him no favors.
For Demian Maia to truly be a winner at UFC 148, he needs to remind us that he is a dangerous man on the ground. He needs to stop letting his incredible skill go to waste. If he does that, he will immediately be a threat at 170. If not? Then perhaps it's time for him to go polish those kickboxing skills in some other organization.