UFC Fight Night: Maia vs. Usman (also known as UFC Fight Night 129) is in the books and did not have a particularly exciting main event. According to Fightmetric Kamaru Usman has a 100% score in takedown defense. This is not the opponent Demian Maia should be fighting on late notice.
Demian Maia had his first MMA fight in 2001. That is 17 years of training in striking arts. He has decent speed and technique but no power (maybe because he does not commit to punches). In order to develop punching power, all strikes in training must have the intention to hurt your opponent. It takes time and determination and of course natural talent.
Maia has a basic boxing and wrestling game but where he fails the most is his ability to combine strikes with takedowns. And unfortunately he has no plan B if he cannot get the fight to the ground.
The fighting game is a complex one. The battle is both intellectual and physical as there are generally five ways to win a fight:
1. Block your opponents’ escape routes and use overwhelming force (striking power or grappling strength) to smash them.
2. Use the element of surprise and catch opponents with a finishing technique or combination they do not expect.
3. Survive and save energy as opponents get tired and finish them when they get exhausted.
4. Outpoint opponents blow for blow, position after position to get a victory no matter how narrow.
5. A combination of all of the above.
In order to win using one of the ways listed above you need to think like a mixed martial artist, not like a specialist. All fighting disciplines are like streams flowing into the sea that is MMA. Georges St-Pierre, for example, is able to get so many takedowns because he uses the element of surprise and combines strikes with takedowns - but he also has a plan B in place that will guarantee him a win via decision should he fail to knock out or submit his opponent. He plays the game of MMA in his takedown tactics, not the game of wrestling.
Demian Maia told Combate that his Jiu-Jitsu mentality is one of the main reasons why he doesn’t employ ground and pound in his game:
“Jiu-jitsu is my origin, so I will always look for the submission and to control the fight. In this martial art we love so much, we look to tap our opponent out, not hurt him with strikes. Of course I’m there to win, but this mentality is completely intertwined with me. I will hardly try to hurt my adversary rather than submit him. That’s a part of jiu-jitsu and that’s why it’s the best martial art in the world. As an athlete, I must improve that.” (source)
Maia has the mentality of a BJJ practitioner and not that of an MMA fighter. And this has cost him in his MMA career. This is sad for me as a fan. I have to admit that I always root for him to win.
That being said we will provide below a breakdown of memorable techniques from the Maia vs Usman fight and the rest of the card. Our goal is to to expand our understanding of the art as we try to determine a blueprint for success in the most complicated combat sport in the world.
Keep in mind thst this is not a complete fight breakdown of the card, but an analysis of specific techniques. These techniques were successful because they rely on solid concepts of the MMA game and as such can be trained and incorporated in a fighter’s arsenal. Such moves can also help MMA fans appreciate the science behind our exciting sport.
Fight: Frankie Saenz vs. Henry Briones
Description: Henry Briones attacks with a lead right hand and Frankie Saenz ducks under and gets a double leg takedown. Saenz pushes with his left foot to move his opponent to the right thus landing in perfect position with his feet on the far side of a possible guillotine. In order to get the takedown this way, fighters need to close the distance without hesitation and their head should reach the right hip quickly as a right knee is a possible counter.
Fight: Claudio Puelles vs. Felipe Silva
Description: Felipe Silva is punching Claudio Puelles from top-knee-shield position (a half guard variation). Puelles uses a right underhook to control Silva’s left thigh and is able to slide his right foot under his opponent’s left armpit in order to go for a beautiful kneebar. In order to finish the submission Claudio places the back of the foot under his armpit. Here is an instructional video on how to get the submission:
More on this by Dean Lister with some options on how to finish the submission:
Description: Supporting legs are great targets as they are often overextended and thus unable to absorb blows. Enrique Barzola attacks with a right kick and Brandon Davis grabs the kick under his armpit and lands a hard right low kick to Barzola’s supporting leg.
Description: Enrique Barzola attacks with a right high kick and Brandon Davis pulls back and partially blocks the kick with his left hand. As Barzola’s foot falls to the ground in a southpaw stance and before he can retract it, Davis attacks the leg with a perfectly timed right low kick. Timing is very important in fighting and the split seconds following an attack, before opponents can re-establish proper defending posture are often the best time to counterattack.
Description: This is a rarely seen takedown option by Enrique Barzola. He has connected his hands almost behind Brandon Davis’ back and uses his right foot to kick his opponent’s right calf. He capitalizes on this by twisting his opponents body to the left thus getting a takedown.
Description: Andrea Lee has control of Veronica Macedo’s waist from the side and is using her left hand to control Macedo’s left wrist from the back and her right hand to control the same wrist from the front. This is an interesting 2-on-1 wrist control. She uses this control to load Veronica’s center of gravity on her hips taking her down with a beautiful hip throw. All this while keeping the 2-on-1 wrist control. It is an interesting way to get a takedown and this is just one of the variations she used. Below we will examine a second one.
Description: Andrea Lee uses the same 2-on-1 grip form the side, this time to control Veronica Macedo’s right wrist. Lee uses the control to lift her opponent off the ground then twists her hips to the right to finalize the takedown. I really enjoyed this fight. Lee seems a little slow in standing exchanges but is physically strong and explosive.
Fight: Kamaru Usman vs. Demian Maia
Description: Maia has often exhibits glimpses of solid boxing. Demian is in a southpaw stance and Usman traps his right hand and goes for a jab. Maia just pulls back to make Usman miss and lands a right hook from the top. Great technique, but Maia does not commit to punches with force and this is not a good tactic for a grappler like him who wants to get a hold of his opponent. Instead, he likes to box and shoot for takedowns from a distance and this is not a good combination.
Description: In this example Demian is able to project striking power by using a “stop-hit” punch. A “stop-hit” is a strike that lands in the middle of an opponent’s attack, stopping the attack before it fully extends. Both fighters are in a southpaw stance and Usman goes for a left low kick. Maia steps in and catches him with a solid overhand left before the kick fully lands.
Description: Here Demian, in a southpaw stance, attacks with a straight left. The punch misses its target although Kamaru does not even move his head. As Maia pulls back, Usman catches him with a beatiful right hand and drops him. A basic problem in Maia’s striking game is that he often punches with his eyes closed. This happens with fighters more than one would expect. It is a natural reaction. In order to fully project devastating, penetrating force you need to look at a target, or rather aim behind it. This, of course, does not mean that “blind” strikes cannot deliver damage.
Usman tried to press the action in a careless manner and this enabled Maia to counter him more than he should.
That will be all for now. Please join me next week for another breakdown. For a list of my previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.
About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).