May 11, 2017

UFC 211: Demain Maia Must Beat Masvidal While Convincing the Promotion He Can Draw

By Adam Martin

I think we can all agree Demian Maia should be fighting Tyron Woodley for the UFC welterweight title right now, not Jorge Masvidal at UFC 211. Maia, one of the finest grapplers in MMA, is currently riding a six-fight win streak, with victories over the likes of Carlos Condit, Matt Brown, and Neil Magny. A former middleweight title contender, since moving down to welterweight in 2012, Maia is 9-2, and he hasn’t lost in over three years. At 39 years old, it’s fair to say Maia is at the peak of his fighting career right now.

After submitting Condit in just under two minutes last summer at UFC on FOX 21, most figured Maia would get a welterweight title shot next. A month earlier at UFC 205, Woodley fought #1 contender Stephen Thompson and the fight was declared a majority draw. The UFC ultimately decided to book a rematch (although there was a slight chance Maia would have been given the title shot anyway), and Maia was more or less told he would fight the winner of the bout.

But inexplicably, about a week before Woodley and Thompson had their rematch at UFC 209, the UFC announced that Maia was fighting at UFC 211 against Masvidal, who was coming off of a huge KO win over Donald Cerrone. It made a lot of people scratch their heads and wonder what the UFC was doing, and Maia wrote a long letter on his social media explaining that the UFC told him he had to take the fight with Masvidal to keep his spot in the title line, even though he was told a few months before that he could sit and wait for the winner of Woodley-Thompson. But with new ownership in WME-IMG changing the way the UFC does business, and with the UFC’s analytics department apparently not liking Maia very much, he lost his title shot.

No one knows exactly why the UFC pulled a fast one on Maia, but the only guess is that the UFC doesn’t view him as a draw because of his fighting style, which is heavily grappling-based. The difference, of course, is that Maia is not going in the Octagon to lie down on guys and hold them on the mat for 15 minutes. He’s going in there to take his opponents to the ground and break their will, and no one in the sport does it better than him. Most educated fans would tell you Maia is a joy to watch. But the UFC is looking for casual fans to reel in, and in the eyes of the UFC braintrust, it’s easier to market a striker like Masvidal than it is to market a grappler like Maia.

You’d think Maia would guarantee himself a title shot if he can beat Masvidal, but that’s no sure thing. Recent rumors have surfaced linking Tyron Woodley to Nick Diaz. That’s right, instead of fighting a guy who could be on a seven-fight win streak while beating the top welterweights in the world, the UFC Welterweight Champion is rumored to be granting a title shot to Diaz, who hasn’t won a fight in six years. As far as merit goes, it would be a complete joke it this actually does happen, but from the UFC’s vantage point, it’s all about putting big fights on PPV and making money, and the company seems convinced that Maia is not going to be a PPV draw anytime soon. Although social media metrics point to Maia being one of the most popular fighters in the division, the UFC brass clearly feels like he’s not a guy who will sell PPVs, and they’ve done a great job freezing him out of the title shot he earned.

So not only does Maia have to go into the cage and defeat one of the best welterweights in the world in Masvidal just to keep his name relevant, but he now has to convince the UFC matchmakers that it’s worth it to promote him in a title fight. It’s going to be especially awful if Maia goes in there, taps out Masvidal, and then is screwed over by the UFC, denied a title shot in lieu of a guy like Diaz. But don’t put it past the UFC. Not only does Maia have one of the toughest fights of his career in Masvidal ahead of him, but he also has an even tougher fight in convincing the UFC he is worth promoting for a title shot. The only thing he can do is keep winning fights in impressive fashion and force the UFC matchmakers’ hand, but don’t be surprised if they do everything they can to keep him out of the title picture because he’s a grappler. It’s wrong on every level, but we’re in the WME-IMG era now.

UFC 211: Miocic vs. Dos Santos 2 takes place May 13, 2017 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

Click the stars to rate how good you think UFC 211 will be.

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