October 25, 2019

UFC Singapore: Upon Reflection, Maia vs. Askren Could Mirror Maia vs. Shields

By Raphael Garcia

Ben Askren and Demian Maia are two Top-15-ranked welterweights who will be headlining this Saturday’s UFC Singapore event, but even though this is a fight that has grappling fans intrigued, there’s a lot to suggest that they will be disappointed. Askren versus Maia is a fresh matchup, but with the way these two competitors fight, there’s a strong chance that Askren-Maia looks like a bout that Maia had six years ago: his decision defeat to Jake Shields at UFC Fight Night 29.

In October 2013, Maia and Shields were highly-ranked welterweights, but both were well outside of the title picture. In order to improve their respective standings in the division, they had to go through each other in the main event of a card in Barueri, Brazil. Just like the Askren-Maia bout, the pairing of Shields and Maia came with a grappling pedigree that surpassed most other bouts one might see in the Octagon. Both Maia and Shields medaled in ADCC, the most important grappling competition in the world -- Maia won gold in 2007 and took home silver in 2005, while Shields took home a bronze medal in 2005. Both were recognized as two of the best grapplers in the sport at the time, and this bout was supposed to determine who the better man was.


And after 25 minutes of back and forth grappling action, the judges awarded the fight to Shields via split decision. Maia was aggressive on the feet at pressuring Shields, using the cage, taking his back, and dragging him down to the mat. But once the fight hit the mat, Shields took over time and time again. Shields continually reversed the position in scrambling sequences, and he passed Maia’s guard an astounding five times. Although Maia was willing to wrestle with Shields, he was unable to fully hang with him in that area.

UFC Fight Night 29
Demian Maia vs. Jake Shields: Jake Shields def. Demian Maia via split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47).


The Shields fight is an important comparison point when looking at how this Askren fight may go. Once Askren gets his hands around an opponent, things usually go from bad to worse. Maia can’t wade into exchanges jabbing and attempting to grab Askren. Askren is willing to play that game in order to get the fight down to the ground. Maia is an excellent BJJ practitioner, but facing a wrestler that has Askren’s top pressure is not conducive to his fighting style. Maia isn’t the type of grappler that gets many sweeps from elevating his opponents, and his back takes might not work in the same fashion against Askren. Maia doesn’t want to be under Askren for extended periods of time, but it's hard to see this contest going any other way.


From a fan perspective, it's worth questioning whether mainstream MMA watchers will enjoy that type of fight. UFC Singapore is already scheduled to occur at an off time in the United States due to the time difference, so very few fans are expected to adjust their schedules to watch. Askren has been able to build a fan base through his quirky brand of trash talk, but his fighting style isn’t the sort that excites fans. And unlike Jorge Masvidal, Maia isn’t the kind of opponent that is explosive enough to bring about a change in fighting style on his own; that sets this fight up to less exciting than anticipated.

There are fights that are needed within the UFC's weight classes to keep contenders moving toward the top. Ben Askren vs. Demian Maia is such a bout, in that it helps build momentum for the winner while keeping both fighters away from the newer names at 170 pounds. But fans looking forward to this fight based on perceived excitement need to understand that it may not shake out to what they’d like it to be. Instead, they should expect a low-intensity, grappling-heavy contest, with much of the bout consisting of both men fighting for every inch on the mat. If that's your cup of tea, great. But a lot of viewers might find it pretty tough to enjoy.

UFC on ESPN+ 20
Demian Maia vs. Ben Askren

UFC on ESPN+ 20: Maia vs. Askren takes place October 26, 2019 at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore.

Click HERE for more UFC on ESPN+ 20 Pre-Fight Analysis


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