When we last left our heroes...It's been awhile since we've seen Maia in the cage. But he's proven himself a force below Middleweight where his style has translated well. Even at 185, Maia managed to contend for the title. For most fighters, cutting weight can be an act of desperation. For Maia, the move down has proven to be a very good fit.
This is really the narrative moving forward. Can Maia get another win for a potential title shot. A fight with GSP is intriguing because Maia has the wrestling and fundamentals to potentially avoid GSP's stifling top control. Sure we've heard this all before ("finally a really good matchup for GSP"), but Maia really does represent a unique challenge.
But where Maia is moving up in the Welterweight world, Shields is looking like a spent force. He didn't set the world ablaze with his win over Tyron Woodley. Before that he failed his drug test after beating Ed Herman. And so on...
Shields was always the symbol of non-UFC excellence; proof that world class fighters could exist away from Zuffa's Dr. Clawesque grasp on the MMA world. But he hasn't really lived up to that expectation.
Instead he keeps annoying technique snobs with a jab that does a better job of stabbing eyeballs than doing legal damage, and his head is always held high enough to get penetrated by a soaring bald eagle.
Flaws aside, he's still one of the top competitors at 170 around.
So how do they match up?
What both men can do: Both men are well scouted. Maia is probably the better grappler on paper. Where Shields has only ever gone as high as bronze in the ADCC (2005), Maia received gold in 2007, in addition to his many achievements on the CBJJ circuit.
However, that's not to say this fight isn't competitive in practice. For one, they're both top control specialists. They rely on the takedowns to transition to mount through surgical guard passing.
Shields might actually be the strictly better guard passer in my opinion. He has a knack for slicing those knees past someone's guard. While it won't happen against Maia, it's still an intriguing dynamic.
Same for Maia. Though his real advantage is in the tricky ways he can get a fight to the ground. His lateral against Chael Sonnen was the most famous, but he's been dummying bigger guys for years with a simple double leg. Needless to say, Maia is a solid wrestler who will continue to find success at WW as a result.
What both men can't do: Let's start with Maia, since Shield's flaws are endless. Something that was almost comically apparent in the Nate Marquardt fight is that if Maia plays the standup game long enough, you can turn him into the gas station villains from Loaded Weapon (skip to 3:14 for the reference).
Shields has a good chin, which is why he gets away with the glaring weakness in his standup. I'm tempted to argue that it's not that bad because well, he nearly jabbed GSP to death, and the only time he was really laid to waste was against Jake Ellenberger. But I'm certainly not gonna argue it's good. He has zero power in addition to being wide open for overhand rights.
He has sneaky left low kicks, but I don't feel they'll be the difference against Maia.
The reason I favor Demian is that he's developed some solid boxing over the years. It's nothing dramatic but he seemed to be throwing heaters against Mark Munoz. I like his ability to keep Shields from taking him down while landing strikes on the feet.
X-Factor: See Esther Lin's always brilliant photography for the potent x-factor. Could Maia's retina be in trouble? Will Jake Shields treat Demian's eyes like a Dario Argento film? Anything is possible when nobody in the MMA world, be it refs or fighters, treat eye injuries like the serious business that they are.
Prediction: Demian Maia by Decision.