On paper, everyone knew Demian Maia was the favorite with his 9-2 record at welterweight, and his current six fight winning streak.
But in a matchmaking climate that favors popularity over skill, Jorge Masvidal seemed like someone you’d handpick to keep the grappling-centered Maia away from a title shot. He’s not as large as Rory MacDonald, but he’s more creative in his offense and has immeasurable power in his hands. Just like Cub Swanson was fed to Frankie Edgar, I figured Maia was bound to lose a title shot he’d already earned.
Instead, Maia worked Masvidal for three rounds and earned his title shot fair and square.
Then, he went cageside and politely asked Dana White for a title shot, stating that his seven fight win streak was more than enough to qualify him. Dana, cornered on the issue, acquiesced. A full decade after joining the UFC and dropping down to welterweight to nullify his strength disadvantage, and being just shy of 40 years old, Demian Maia has earned himself a second crack at a UFC belt.
Honestly, this shouldn’t have happened. The UFC is notoriously unkind to specialists. Striking specialists very rarely win belts anymore, but they have a good shelf life in the sport.
With the mainstream appeal of the UFC dependent on casual fans who get most of their information from highlight reels, a fighter who can knock out his or her opponent still has value, even if they lose half of their fights. Plus, every fight starts out on the feet so a striking specialist can apply their offense right off the bat.
Grappling specialists, however, are completely out of luck.
If a grappler doesn’t have a decent wrestling base, momentum is stacked against them from the get-go. Measured grappling is also far more draining than measured striking, so a few failed takedown attempts can leave a fighter gasping for air. Even if a fighter does manage to repeatedly win, they’re just not very fan friendly.
After all, landing a series of strikes without a knockout appeals to many fans (both casual and hardcore) in a way that a series of grapples without a submission does not. Grappling specialists are subject to the wrath of the UFC brass in a way that striking specialists simply aren’t.
Which is what makes Maia so special.
He’s on the wrong side of 30, not particularly charismatic or athletic, and hasn’t even come close to knocking out a single opponent during his UFC tenure. Yet he’s made absurdly dangerous fighters look like absolute amateurs by virtue of a single leg sweep and a squeeze that could break a bear’s ribs.
The fights in which he couldn’t submit his opponents were uneventful slogs, but they were slogs in which Maia’s dominance couldn’t be questioned.
Dana White, for all the praise he heaps on Maia, is still a business man. That means he didn’t want Maia to get anywhere near a title shot, especially when the then-champion (and fan favorite) Robbie Lawler was particularly vulnerable to grappling. So he fed him a hyped-up and dangerous, well-rounded rising star in the form of Gunnar Nelson.
Maia ended up dominating him.
Dana then kicked Maia down to the undercard with Matt Brown, a tough-as-nails brawler. Maia choked him out in the third round.
Carlos Condit was another fan favorite who had lost a controversial split decision to Robbie Lawler in a fight of the year candidate match, and I suspect he was there to kick Maia down the rankings and regain his title shot for a lucrative rematch. Maia swept him and choked him out in half a round.
While Maia’s previous matches hinted at the fact that he was being set up to lose a title shot, the Jorge Masvidal fight was pretty blatant.
Masvidal himself boasted that White had picked him to take out the guys that the UFC didn’t like, and having him be up for an alleged title shot after just two wins at welterweight did little to dispel the accusation.
Plus, Masvidal had just ripped apart Donald Cerrone and presented a serious threat to Maia. Yet Maia kept sweeping him, kept taking his back, and ground out a victory. Don’t let the split decision victory on the scorecards fool you; Maia most certainly won at least two rounds.
And Jorge Masivdal, whose decision losses were always a result of his own inactivity rather than a definitive beating, looked genuinely haggard by the time the final horn sounded.
Condit’s destruction, Cerrone and Thompson coming off losses, and Lawler’s inactivity has left Dana White a shortage of viable excuses. Demian Maia, without rocking the boat or being anything but an upstanding professional, got his title shot.
Enjoy it when it happens, because we will never see it again.
The UFC’s ultimate good guy has a chance to win the belt the way you’re supposed to.
Do you think Maia has purposedly been ignored by Dana White during his trek to become a title contender? WIll Maia finally win the belt in his next matchup? Share your thoughts with us below!