July 28, 2017

Demian Maia: The Jiu Jitsu Champion That the UFC Needs

By Raphael Garcia

UFC 214 is less than 24 hours away, and the MMA world is focused on the main event, which features the rematch between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. While that bout deserves all of the attention, the co-main event contains a compelling storyline of its own, even though it isn’t well-promoted or advertised. On one hand, there’s a champion who is struggling to find his place in the promotion. But on the other hand, there’s a challenger who has jumped through multiple hoops to get to his second shot at a UFC belt. On Saturday night, Demian Maia has a chance to become a champion that embodies all that is right with martial arts.

At 39 years of age, Maia is scheduled to step into the Octagon for his first opportunity to win a UFC title in seven years, since he challenged Anderson Silva for the middleweight title at UFC 112. Since then, Maia has gone through a transition that not only includes moving down to welterweight, but a return to his roots of grappling-infused MMA.

His 10-2 tear through the 170-pound division has created highlight after highlight of Maia forcing his will on an opponent, finding control, and finding a submission. Whether it was twisting Rick Story’s neck in grotesque fashion, dominating Gunnar Nelson on the mat, or submitting Carlos Condit in less than two minutes, Maia has continued to captivate audiences with his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu acumen. A throwback to the early days of UFC events, Maia’s performances have been compared to Royce Gracie’s, but there’s a staunch difference in what he’s doing today. Maia’s not submitting men that are unfamiliar with BJJ; instead, he’s defeating opponents that are well-versed in his fight style, but struggle with stopping him.

At the same time, Maia’s personality embodies many of the principles that make martial arts a central part in millions of lives throughout the world. Time and time again Maia has referenced principles that he’s brought with him to MMA, which point towards his strong foundation in BJJ:

"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," Maia said in 2015, as reported by Lucas Rezende of Bloody Elbow. "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."

Instead of being a fighter that presents the idea of enjoyment in causing bodily harm, Maia is a man who wins while showing you don’t have to be malicious. While more and more fighters embrace the brash mentality that comes with big fights, Maia remains a testament to the ideals of honor and respect for opponents, which many teachers preach to their students. While this hasn’t helped him get to a title shot any faster, it’s refreshing to see a professional at this level stick to his guns when money and career opportunities are on the line.

Today’s sports world rewards brash talkers and flashy personas; in some cases, it doesn’t even matter if the victories come with such actions. Maia has taken a different route, one that’s ingrained in the teachings of martial arts. A win at UFC 214 may not make him the most popular champion, but it would give the organization a champion it can truly be proud of, in more ways than one.

UFC 214: Cormier vs. Jones 2 takes place July 29, 2017 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

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