The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its first trip to Chile this Saturday when it touches down at the Movistar Arena in the city of Santiago. The UFC has gone to Brazil on 32 occasions and now broadcasts from a different South American country for the first time.
This card -- and the two that follow it -- suffers from UFC 225 being so stacked. While it’s great having a slate to look forward to that actually justifies the $65 price tag, the quality of the weeks surrounding such cards falls off precipitously. UFC 225’s FS1 prelims are stronger than the main cards of the three Fight Night events that precede it. In fact, nearly all the main card bouts outside of the headliners of those cards would not look out of place as Fight Pass prelims. The matchmaking here should produce action and competitive scraps that hardcore fans won’t mind catching, but there is virtually nothing to tell your casual buddy he has to tune in for.
As is customary in this space, let us quickly reflect on what was supposed to take place at this event. One half of the featured attraction was slated to be occupied by Santiago Ponzinibbio, an Argentinian. I guess when they looked at the calendar and saw Chile, the UFC brass plugged in “the Ponz” (as he is fondly known to us ugly Americans) and said “close enough.” The venomous American Top Team striker would have perpetuated the ATT vs Blackzilians feud from which headliner Kamaru Usman emanates. Their meeting also would have provided another iteration of the striker vs grappler matchup. Instead, Brazilian jiu-jitsu wunderkind Demian Maia steps in to face his third consecutive decorated American wrestler. He lost to the previous two.
The original co-feature between Mauricio Rua and Volkan Oezdemir also fell off this card, and a flyweight contest between Ray Borg and Brandon Moreno - rescheduled from UFC 223 - was scratched as Borg attends to his sick infant son. Moreno stayed on the card and is paired with Alexandre Pantoja in a rematch of their sublime first encounter on TUF 24.
Let’s get to the analysis and picks for UFC Fight Night 129: Maia vs. Usman.
Maia vs. Kamaru
Odds: Usman (-450), Maia (+360)
“The Nigerian Nightmare” finally gets the top-five matchup he’s been after for the past year and change, and it comes in the form of Maia. The Brazilian presents a wholly different matchup for Usman than his original opponent, and we largely know the book on him at this point. Aside from Fabricio Werdum and Ronaldo Souza, Maia’s jiu-jitsu is maybe the most feared in MMA history. If he can force the fight to the mat, he has run circles around other top grapplers like Gunnar Nelson, Carlos Condit, and Jon Fitch. After a period in which he focused too much on his developing but pedestrian striking, the Sao Paulo native strengthened his wrestling and refocused on his greatest strength. Maia pressures forward, and his straight left hand and body kicks are enough of a threat to keep opponents honest. But he mostly just feints, at least early on. In doing so, he conserves his gas tank and avoids getting countered while edging closer and forcing his adversary toward the cage. Once they get anywhere near it, he’ll shoot in and press them into the fence, where he can chain takedown attempts together or threaten to gradually sneak around to the back. His wrestling in this spot is very effective as he switches between doubles, singles, trips, and go-behinds. If Maia has to, he has no issue pulling his foe down into half guard where he’ll latch onto a leg and sit up into a single or sweep. If the former middleweight title challenger gets the back, it is the rare fighter who can resist the choke, let alone escape.
Usman has been putting his D-II national championship wrestling pedigree to use in the Octagon, pairing it with monstrous strength to physically dominate, smother, and suffocate his opposition. He is undefeated in the UFC, going 6-0 over increasingly talented opposition following his victory to win season 21 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” His power has translated to his striking as well. The former Blackzilians standout continues to train under Henri Hooft at Hard Knocks 365. His defense and head movement still need work, especially since his pressuring style exposes him to more shots than a typical fighter. Before he melted Sergio Moraes with a straight right in September, Usman ate several haymaker overhands from a fighter primarily known for his BJJ.
Maia has dropped consecutive decisions to wrestlers he was unable to ground in champion Tyron Woodley and top contender Colby Covington. Usman figures to join their company atop the welterweight mountain and as victors over Maia. The Nigerian-born Floridian is nine years the junior of Maia, who turned 40 last year, and has wrestling and strength at least on par with, if not surpassing, the aforementioned American Top Team representatives. Both men shut Maia out on takedowns. The Brazilian had some success boxing up Covington early but faded down the stretch, becoming increasingly desperate to get the fight into his world. He fell into a vicious spiral of exhausting himself on failed takedown attempts, but he would continue to shoot because he didn’t have the breath to stand and trade. Usman will stuff the shots as well and then put Maia in the hurt locker. More technical and dangerous than Covington with his hands and boasting outstanding cardio, Usman hammers a fading Maia for a TKO victory in the second round.
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