The world of MMA is changing, the UFC is no longer a meritocracy and fighters are given opportunities based on marketability rather than talent.
In an era of uncertainty, one fighter has managed to invoke the bushido spirit and ascend to the top of the sport on talent and hard work alone.
When Demian Maia enters the Octagon there are no surprises, no spinning heel kicks, no flying knees.
When Maia enters everyone knows what he is going to do, but right now he is unstoppable and on Saturday night we witnessed another mightily impressive performance.
How long can the UFC possibly hold out on giving this man his second world title shot?
Demian Maia is not the typical person that comes to mind when you think of a cage fighter. Maia was born to a middle-class family and was in the process of studying for a journalism degree when he was introduced to jiu jitsu at the age of 19.
While Maia was relatively old to begin grappling, he was a natural.
Over the course of 4 years, Maia mastered the gentle art and won the world championships as a purple belt, but it wasn’t until Maia ascended the ranks that his talents became well known.
Under the expert tutelage of Fabio Gurgel, Maia began saw success on an international level as a black belt and in 2005, he had a masterful run at ADCC before giving up size and weight in defeat to legendary Jacare Souza.
In 2007, Maia’s countless hours on the mats culminated in a performance of pure brilliance at the ADCC world championships, where he dominated all-comers before being crowned the best no-gi grappler on the planet.
While Brazilian Jiu Jitsu provided MMA with a lot of stars, the mid-2000s provided the sport with a lull in jiu-jitsu purists. Those who stepped out of the gi and onto the mat had suffered some disappointment in the years none more so than the iconic Marcelo Garcia, the pound-for-pound best grappler in the world at that point and close friend of Maia.
While his peers were failing to transition to MMA, Maia was a natural, his above average wrestling and ungodly strength led him to 6-straight victories before the UFC came calling.
While Maia would be initially successful in the UFC, he would eventually lose his way.
Maia’s UFC career began with 5 submission victories in a row, but during this run he lost his way.
Maia, ever intelligent, spotted that his grappling was far superior than his adversaries, but instead of continuing to sharpen his already razor sharp ground game, began to neglect his base and focus on diversifying his game.
In pursuit of well-roundedness, Maia lost his best asset and began to strike with strikers much to his detriment.
Heavy-hitting Nate Marquardt made light work of the Brazilian, knocking him out in seconds and Anderson Silva toyed with the grappler who inexplicably chose to stand toe-to-toe with MMA’s greatest striker.
Maia’s downfall was quick and it was brutal.
The mystique of Maia’s jiu-jitsu was erroneously torn apart by media members and fighters alike, but after dropping 2 out of his next 5 fights, Maia decided to cut to 170lbs and focus on his grappling once again.
Maia’s road back to the top has been interesting to say the least.
By focusing on his chain wrestling, Maia has made it almost impossible to avoid his ground game. Strong wrestlers like Dong Hyun Kim and Rick Story were easy victims to the grappling wizard and while he dropped fights at welterweight to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald, Maia had strong moments against two of the division’s best.
The success of Maia at 170 was no surprise and as he got used to his new weight class and his new mode of training, which limited sparring and focussed on his already great submission game, Maia went from strength to strength.
Spending time in New York with Marcelo Garcia has given Maia’s grappling a new lease of life and he has begun to focus on being the purest martial artist possible. Since his loss to MacDonald, Maia has won 7 fights in a row in one of the sports most difficult divisions and most impressively, he has done it with barely throwing any strikes.
On Saturday night, Maia faced one of the most underrated of our generation and looked absolutely amazing in the process.
Even though Jorge Masvidal is a highly-skilled striker with extensive experience of wrestling with top Cuban athletes, Maia was able to neutralise his assets and positionally dominate him. With this dominant victory, Maia has surely earned himself a shot at the title and he couldn’t be more deserving.
In a sport that encourages the diversification of skill and has led to a generation of unremarkable faceless athletes, Maia has ascended to the pinnacle of the sport by polishing his fundamentals to near-perfect levels and for that he deserves all the praise in the world.