November 6, 2019

GMF: Demian Maia Won't Get A Fancy UFC Belt, But He's A BJJ Role Model Worth Celebrating

By Raphael Garcia

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has always occupied a special place in the world of mixed martial arts, as many of its practitioners stand out as pioneers of the sport. Last month at UFC Singapore, Demian Maia cemented his legendary status as a BJJ fighter with his masterful use of the skill set to overtake Ben Askren in that event's headliner. BJJ practitioners around the world continue to recognize his in-cage success, but it's also worth highlighting his out of cage role as an ambassador for their sport. As MMA continues to highlight "BMF" brashness and verbal antagonism, Maia is a shining example of something altogether different, making him a figure in the sport that we're not likely to see again.

Against Askren, Maia needed nearly four rounds to overcome the former Olympic wrestler, as Askren cut Maia with his unconventional striking and took the Brazilian down four times. But what Maia also put on display was an application of BJJ levels beyond much of the field. For example, in the third round Maia used a modified version of a foot sweep, which many current practitioners use as an entry into a leg lock. But Maia used the technique to sweep Askren to his butt, setting up what would later be the finishing sequence.

Maia’s proficiency with his BJJ is a core component of what makes him such a dangerous fighter. Maia has steadily improved his wrestling and striking, but it’s his ability to maintain a highly active BJJ game that makes him a constant threat inside of the Octagon. Maia never seems to stop passing the guard or reversing opponents from bottom. His fight strategy has been built around his ability to produce results off his back, and that’s an approach that has begun to influence other BJJ players in MMA, like Ryan Hall and Garry Tonon.

No other fighter has shown the ability to cut through an opponent's defenses on the floor the way that Maia does. Opponents may devise counter-strategies and talk about stifling other BJJ players’ games, but with Maia their best bet is to stay off the ground completely, as Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, and Kamaru Usman all managed to do en route to their decision victories. That being said, it's no small feat, and we've seen the consequences when fighters give Maia multiple chances to run his BJJ game on them.

Outside of the cage, Maia remains a breath of fresh air in the two sports. Many other fighters and BJJ practitioners turn to trash talk and shameless self-promotion to build up their names, but Maia frequently talks about the honor that comes from representing BJJ and challenging his style against big name opponents.

Following the Askren win, Maia posted this message on social media:
“Last night meant a lot to me, cause it’s no secret that representing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is more than a mission for me, it’s a life long choice that I made. You don’t represent a martial art only by fighting, let alone winning, you do it day by day, through the examples we set and the legacy we leave for our people. I feel privileged to be able to deliver my best and represent our martial art.”

In many ways, the BJJ community is facing the same ills that plague MMA. Toxic voices are gaining more and more steam, and as those voices grow, it becomes more and more important to have fighters who uphold the ideal that training BJJ is a type of higher calling that brings out the best of people. Maia stands an example, a throwback to what many of the pioneers of BJJ would claim the sport represents.

Demian Maia is a type of fighter that the MMA world may never see again, and with two bouts remaining on his UFC contract, his time in the Octagon is limited. The main event win over Ben Askren could be the last truly great moment in his career, so fans should take this opportunity to appreciate what he’s done, both within the sport of MMA and for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a whole. Because after he hangs up the gloves, it’s hard to see anyone else embodying positivity on and off the mat the way that Maia has.

UFC on ESPN+ 20
Demian Maia vs. Ben Askren: Demian Maia def. Ben Askren via submission (rear-naked choke) at 3:54 of Round 3.

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

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


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