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UFC Chile: Demian Maia vs. Kamaru Usman Toe-to-Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

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Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Maia vs. Usman for UFN 129, and everything you don’t about metaphor suits.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Demian Maia vs. Kamaru Usman headlines UFC Fight Night: Chile this May 19, 2018 at the Movistar Arena in Santiago, Chile.

One sentence summary

David: Another old fighter. Another potential eulogy.

Phil: Two guys that no-one wants to fight on the card that few want to watch

Stats

Record: Demain Maia 25-8 Kamaru Usman 12-1

Stats: Demain Maia +540 Kamaru Usman -660

History / Introduction to both fighters

David: Maia has reached that Dan Marino point in his career. He’ll never reach the top of Everest, but he’s traveled high enough for us to give him almost as much credit. Unfortunately his career has begun its presumed downward trajectory with a loss to Colby Covington, who has spent almost as much time training as he has lying about getting laid. It sucks that this is how it has to end, but so it goes. Another loss would be devastating insofar as we’d officially wave goodbye to any future title aspirations (both were complete slogs, so maybe it’s for the best).

Phil: You can never say never in MMA. But Demian Maia is never, ever getting another title shot. I never got the impression that Dana was wildly enamoured with him, and he’s had two shots in two different divisions. In both he was determined, and tried to get his game to work, and never game up, and both fights stunk. That’s OK, though. If and when he retires I’ll remember him as a grappling genius and a tremendous MMA innovator who pushed a physical frame and a style far further than anyone would have thought it could.

David: Kamaru Usman came into the ultimate fighter as a Che Mills-esque wrestle-boxing killer, and has since polished himself into just a bruising wrestle-boxer (Sergio Moraes KO notwithstanding). His quality of competition doesn’t have any big names (unless you count the Russian rapper). But I think Sean Strickland, Warlley Alves, and Emil Meek are very good fighters who Usman (mostly) outclassed. He’s doing what you’d expect a good prospect (age notwithstanding) to do, which is not lose thus far. Could Maia be the first to crack Usman’s bicep code?

Phil: The man who was ranked as BE’s #1 welterweight prospect is one of those fighters who is very good, and likely to make his opponents look very bad. While he’s not without charisma, he’s also had issues with making himself marketable. The whole “30%” thing after beating Meek was tremendously misjudged. Thus, he’s tended to struggle to get fights, and has had a slower run to the top than, say, Colby Covington, who largely amassed a weaker record but has gotten more aging vets. I am always down to watch Usman fight, though, and hope he does get put into top 5 matchups soon. I enjoy his swagger, and his absurd power wrestling game.

What’s at stake

David: A Maia win means the UFC will do everything to keep him away from Woodley. An Usman win means “fresh blood.” There’s something very mathematic about the stakes in this one with nothing much else to say.

Phil: Marketability hurts here. Covington and RDA are fighting for that nonsensical interim WW strap, so presumably the winner of that gets next crack at Woodley for the real thing. After that? There aren’t many contenders, aside from if Till beats Wonderboy. My expectation, though, is that Maia will get booked in low-reward, hail mary fights against young fighters with nothing to lose. If Usman wins, I think he gets a good win on his resume and then gets promptly rebooked against the Ponz.

Where do they want it?

David: Maia has commanded a great career precisely because he doesn’t fall prey to the usual trappings of being a great grappler who can’t strike or wrestle. The first thing I’d note about that is this: Maia’s striking has always been more limited than bad. As in, his mechanics are fine, and his timing is solid. If anything part of his flaws come down to not committing enough to low risk weapons (like his high kicks); similar to what Brian Ortega does with his leg attack. He never quite blended his offense with an actual rhythm. The end result is an elite fighter who can cut through Chael Sonnen’s takedown defense, but then struggle with a Mark Munoz and Jake Shields.

Still, it only takes one: one trip; one doubleleg; one single leg; one badly timed spinning back elbow from a white collar criminal to find yourself in a spider web of technical wizardly. Once on the ground, Maia is a surgeon of incredible core strength, and anticipation. He doesn’t have to explode into submissions because he sees all the angles.

Phil: Maia’s style has managed to be incredibly focused on a single area of the game, whilst taking in the lessons from the areas around it. As he showed against Woodley and Covington, he can be a surprisingly competent kickboxer, but mostly his footwork and flashing jab is just meant to push the opponent back into the cage where he can shoot, get his hands on the opponent and work his chained takedowns and trips into his top game. As BJJ Scout has pointed out, he identified some of the most common defensive techniques in MMA, like butterfly guards and half-guard sweeps, and built specific ways of killing them, by tripoding using his head to float his hips over the butterflys, or baiting the sweep into passes. That he just hasn’t been explosive or powerful enough to get the highest level of wrestlers he’s fought down seems to be more of an indictment of his age and physicality than it is his technique.

David: Usman’s style is somewhere between neo-wrestling and neo-boxing. As in, he’s a little more innovative than his wrestle-boxing profile might lend itself to. The biggest difference between Usman and most fighters with are stylistically similar is how Usman takes advantage of those bodylocks. He always takes the opportunity to torque his opponent into a position where he can sneak in or transition to strikes from top control (or go for a submission attempt). With a strong first step for his traditional takedown attempts, it’s hard for opponents to do anything other than lay flat on their back when he charges. Striking wise, Usman is still a modest work in progress. He can encroach with a jab, and fires very clean, quick, traditional one-twos. With his hybrid style successfully identified, he also does a good job of switching stances in order to land a sometimes more effective jab, but also to vary his clinch/takedown entries. In other words, this is a really awful matchup for Maia.

Phil: In terms of his striking, Usman has clearly been developed with an eye on fundamentals. He looks very much like a classically Hooft-trained Dutch-style kickboxer, focused on jabs, the left hook, and low kicks. Like his gym-mate Gilbert Burns, he’s a grappling convert who has occasionally worn that focus on fundamentals like an ill-fitting suit, metaphorically tugging at the collar as he tries to keep his stance stable and and throw the rote strikes that he worked on. This isn’t to say he’s a bad or even unconfident striker, as he throws everything with a ton of power, and often seems unconcerned about getting hit in return. When wrestling he’s a monster, with pace and power which just leap off the screen. Like the other prodigies Kevin Lee and Khabib his style has its own personality, but whereas they like the ride and the mount, Usman’s top game often reminds me a little more of Jacare: much closer and more crushing in terms of the top position, with a knack for the arm triangle.

Insight from Past Fights

David: Maia’s record against “wrestle-boxers” is not that bad, but not that great. Even in losing, other than Nate Marquardt, no one has ever just straight up freight trained the guy. It’s just that the one time he did, he was really freight trained. The biggest issue for Maia is that he’s gonna have to deal with Usman’s activity on the feet at the same time he’ll be struggling for options on the ground. That’s not a good recipe for success as he continues to age no less.

Phil: Whether the fights were competitive or not, it’s not hard to look at losses to Shields, Covington, Woodley, Munoz and Weidman and not see a pattern emerging. The Woodley and Covington fights in particular were damning. An odd thing is that I think he might even had been able to beat Covington if he’d just stuck to kickboxing: his insistence on blowing energy on takedown attempts became his own executioner... but if he didn’t try to grapple then he wouldn’t be Demian Maia.

X-Factors

David: A few things: Maia taking this fight on late notice, and Usman preparing for a drastically different style of fighter in Santiago Ponzinibbio. Normally, I think late notice fights are not the handicaps they end up being (statistically at least), but I think it’s a real factor—or at least more so than usual—in this one by virtue of the raw polarity of styles.

Phil: Yeah, it’s a strange one. I’m frankly impressed that Maia (a large welterweight) managed to make weight.

Prognostication

David: I just can’t help but get the feeling that Maia’s time is done. What’s worse is that he never went by his full (and superior) name: Demian Augusto Maia Baptista. It’s not quite Janigleison Herculano Alves (alter ego: Gleison Tibau), but it’d give the eulogies more impact. That’s where I expect us to be this weekend: singing eulogies for a truly great fighter, who just might be the classiest fighter the sport has ever seen. Before that happens, Usman will take advantage of the exchanges on the feet, and keep his seperation strength against Maia. Kamaru Usman by TKO, round 2.

Phil: Last time out, Maia had a full camp and took on a smaller, less physically imposing wrestler and struggled to get anything done. Usman throws less volume than Covington, but more heat. He’s a crushing force from the top, and hits hard. More than that, he has the confidence in his grappling. That makes him perhaps more likely to get himself swept into Maia’s bottom game, or give up a takedown, but it also indicates that he will hurt Maia pretty badly if he gets the chance. Kamaru Usman by TKO, round 3.