The stakes are undeniably high for two accomplished Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweights who have lingered in title contention late in their careers.
Demian Maia will meet former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Carlos Condit in the UFC on Fox 21 main event this Saturday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia. In the featherweight co-headliner, Roufusport star Anthony Pettis makes his 145-pound debut opposite Charles Oliveira. The rest of the four-fight main card features a women’s strawweight clash pairing Paige VanZant with Bec Rawlings and a lightweight rematch pitting Jim Miller against Joe Lauzon.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC on Fox 21 matchup, with analysis and picks:
WelterweightsDemian Maia (23-6) vs. Carlos Condit (30-9)
THE MATCHUP: After his thrilling and controversial loss to Robbie Lawler on Jan. 2, Condit was not keen to accept any fight other than a rematch. Even with that on the line, he entertained thoughts of retirement. After 14 years and 39 fights, many of them gutsy wars of attrition, who could blame him? It is something of a surprise then that Condit accepted a fight with Maia less than half a year later. Maia is something of a trap fight for Condit, as he is for all welterweight contenders. The 38 year-old is widely regarded as the best grappler in the sport, a stifling jiu-jitsu specialist who excels at holding down people and submitting them.
Maia’s jiu-jitsu is complemented by an excellent wrestling game. While not one for explosive shots, Maia has an uncanny ability to drag opponents into his world. He chains together his takedowns extremely well, using the body lock to threaten trips, only to change levels and run the pipe to bring down his enemy, switching to sacrificial back takes when that does not do the trick. Maia’s striking is his greatest weakness, though it is not as bad as it seems. Maia’s ropey, unpredictable punches and kicks have caught such skilled fighters as Rory MacDonald and Chris Weidman off-guard, and they enable him to hide his relentless takedown attacks.
Of the two, Condit is undeniably the better striker. As Maia’s striking is better than it looks, however, Condit’s is sometimes worse than it appears. He has always been vulnerable to counters, relying heavily on one of the best chins in the sport to carry him through. Condit’s striking seems to be based on a principle of negative reinforcement. He shifts forward, chains together a practiced series of strikes and eats a counter. Instead of backing off and defending when this happens, he will launch the same attack again, changing one or two of the pieces to suit his opponent’s counter. He ran into Thiago Alves’ counter hook repeatedly but capitalized on the pattern by launching an elbow instead of a punch, shattering Alves’ nose and setting him up for the finish. Had he not suffered a gruesome knee injury in his fight with Tyron Woodley, there is no doubt the “Natural Born Killer” would have found some way to make Woodley pay for the powerful but predictable right hand that he had repeatedly planted on Condit’s chin.
Stamina is perhaps Condit’s biggest advantage in this fight. His awkward striking will leave him open to Maia’s takedowns, but even with a dangerous guard, there is virtually no chance that he will be able to outgrapple Maia on the ground. Like MacDonald before him, however, he can make Maia work to keep his position and wear the middle-aged grappler out. Maia faded badly after a dominant first round against MacDonald, and he was ripe for the picking in the fifth round of his fight with Ryan LaFlare -- although that bout was changed from three to five rounds shortly before it took place.
THE ODDS: Condit (-120), Maia (+100)
THE PICK: If Condit can tire out Maia, he will be uniquely capable of pressing his advantage in the latter rounds. Condit has one of the best gas tanks in the sport, even outpacing Nick Diaz in a five-round fight. Like MacDonald before him, Condit could leverage this stamina into a comeback win. Condit has never possessed MacDonald’s defensive wrestling, however, and has indeed been willing to fight from his back throughout much of his career; and even MacDonald came dangerously close to losing to Maia before reversing a third-round takedown. Maia is less likely to gas if he can control Condit in the early going, and Condit’s wide-open striking will give the Brazilian opportunities to continue taking him down as the fight wears on. Do not count out a win for the “Natural Born Killer,” but the pick is Maia by unanimous decision.
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