As I mentioned before this card is fuckin staaAAAAaaaAAcked so I’m going to write a little about it each day (nerdgasms everywhere) and then do the usual preview Friday. Today I’m going to cover the subtleties behind the Welterweight Championship fight between Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia.
You can’t blame Tyron Woodley.
He didn’t make his pro MMA debut until he was just shy of his 27th birthday and he did not get his first major title shot until he was 30, a loss in Strikeforce to Nate Marquardt.
He made his way to the UFC after that fight, beating a couple big-name welterweights such as Carlos Condit but losing to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald. “The Chosen One” then put together his current undefeated streak(4-0, 1 draw). His delayed ascension wasn’t over though, as he was expected to face Johnny Hendricks in a #1 Contender’s fight at UFC 192 but Hendricks was pulled from the night the day before due to what became a string of bad weight cuts. Woodley defiantly showed up to weigh ins and made weight anyway, angrily promulgating the professionalism that is making wait.
Woodley finally got his shot 7 months later at UFC 201, his patience and frustration leaving his body in the form of an explosive right hand to the face of Robbie Lawler. Woodley was now the champ, and would put on two classics against Stephen Thompson next, a draw then a win, both via razor sharp decisions.
During and after his trilogy with Thompson, now in his mid-30’s, Tyron Woodley began seeking out the “money fights” that have come to define this era in the UFC. He wants PPV fights against big names that will earn him the most money on the back end and through merch sales as possible. With his delayed stardom and thus delayed top-tier paychecks, I ask again – who can really blame him? He’s sought fights with Michael Bisping, on camera and on Twitter. Nick Diaz is a name you’ve heard come out of his mouth multiple times. He has mentioned Georges St. Pierre a couple of times as well, the Québécois seemingly having no interest in a fight with Woodley, whose name is still not considered by many as deserving a top billing. The one man Woodley has sort of avoided, not out of fear or strategy, but due to what it WON’T do for his bank account is Demian Maia.
Maia, arguably among the top 3 (I’d go Jacare, him, Werdum) BJJ players competing succesfully at this high of a level in MMA, has put together a borderline inaudible 7-fight win streak and has not lost in over 3 years. His fighting style is, to say the least, not exactly aesthetically pleasing. He uses solid boxing and movement, as well as some underrated wrestling, to get in range to grab his opponent – and then he doesn’t let go. If he doesn’t execute one of his patented, slicing guard passes to get in position for a submission, he will grind, flatten, and knead his opponent for the duration of a fight. He’s a Brazilian Jon Fitch incarnate, except he’s only 3 months older than the Boilermaker. In short, people, especially those without specially educated eyes, don’t shell out to see Demian Maia fight, which is a shame.
Before dropping to welterweight in 2012, Maia actually was a very successful 185er, going 15-4. He even earned a shot at Anderson Silva for the Middleweight title in what is considered one of the WORST title fights in UFC history. That last note probably did not help his case in pursuing the 170lb title, to say the least. Maia, in the minds of many, should have received his shot from the UFC after his 1st round submission of Carlos Condit at UFC On Fox 21 last August, but they made him pass one more test still, seemingly in hopes, for their sake and Woodley’s, that the measured, cerebral, fan-unfriendly way Maia fights would not have to be brought to the big time – again. Alas, Jorge Masvidal also to stop his momentum in May.
It is important to note that Demian Maia is widely, if not unanimously, regarded as one of the nicest and most polite fighters in all of the sport. He is a true professional, a gentleman who publicly stated he was a bit frustrated about his delay in getting a title shot, but refused to go beyond that, quietly going about his business and grappling Masvidal into oblivion for 3 rounds. He is the personification of the sport he came from, the gentle art.
5 weeks before UFC 214, Demian Maia was hesitantly given his title shot. 5 weeks. A short notice camp for a big-time fight. Not that Woodley was any more prepared, but this is the 39 year old Maia’s last chance to climb through the tiniest opening in what has been a rapidly closing window. More than likely the UFC tried like hell to find Woodley another opponent, or considered leaving him off the card altogether. In the end, they decided this was the perfect time to give Maia his opportunity. They probably are hoping he’ll fail, that they won’t have to survive a title reign of a fighter that many fans consider to be boring. However, whether you like their fighting styles or not, the top two welterweights currently in the UFC (it’s true) are going to do battle Saturday to see who is truly the best. That’s exciting enough.