Demian Maia has dominated at 170 pounds. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Brazil continues to be a popular destination for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, as the Las Vegas-based promotion on Wednesday touches down in the jiu-jitsu-crazed nation for the sixth time in 2013. The UFC Fight Night 29 bill is highlighted by Demian Maia, who attempts to improve to 4-0 at welterweight with a victory over fellow grappling whiz Jake Shields in the main event.
Two other bouts with serious top-10 implications are set to take place on the main card, as Erick Silva battles Dong Hyun Kim at welterweight and T.J. Dillashaw clashes with Raphael Assuncao at bantamweight.
Here is a closer look at the UFC Fight Night 29 card, with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC Fight Night 29 Free Fan Pick’Em
WelterweightsDemian Maia (18-4, 12-4 UFC) vs. Jake Shields (28-6-1, 3-2 UFC)
The Matchup: Maia is a new man at 170 pounds, posting a 3-0 record with victories over Dong Hyun Kim, Rick Story and Jon Fitch. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt was in rare form against Fitch, as he made his opponent look helpless for the majority of their UFC 156 encounter thanks to long, dominating stretches of back control. A former title challenger at middleweight, Maia might not be far from getting a similar opportunity in his new division.
Also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Shields would appear to be better equipped to handle Maia’s onslaught than the Brazilian’s most recent competition. However, the Cesar Gracie protégé has not been nearly as dazzling as Maia of late.
A failed drug test following a UFC 150 triumph over Ed Herman resulted in a six-month suspension, as well as the victory being overturned. Although his return to the Octagon at UFC 161 resulted in a split verdict over Tyron Woodley, it was not the type of effort that would forecast big things for the former Shooto, Strikeforce and EliteXC champion.
With two accomplished grapplers squaring off, there is always the possibility that one man’s strength will cancel out the other’s and force more striking exchanges than originally anticipated. Neither Maia nor Shields possesses knockout power, but the Brazilian has improved his standup over the years, most notably taking an aggressive approach on the feet in a loss to Mark Munoz at UFC 131. Since moving to welterweight, however, Maia has wasted little time in bringing the fight into his realm. At his best, the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist will use his striking to close the distance, where he can use trips or throws from the clinch or his underrated takedowns to get the fight to the ground.
In this case, Maia will be facing a like-minded foe, as Shields has excelled at grinding down foes in the clinch, particularly Woodley, a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler. However, despite underrated wrestling skills, Shields may struggle to impose his will against the fence against Maia, who also excels in tie-ups. While Shields wields a good single-leg takedown, he will not be able to consistently maintain his base against someone as skilled as Maia. Attempting to ride out a conservative victory from top position, especially when Shields has experienced conditioning issues in the past, is simply not an option.
While Shields might have a slight edge in wrestling, recent history has demonstrated that Maia will not be denied in battles for positioning. Even if Shields can fend off multiple submission attempts, he is likely to fatigue as the bout progresses. In a five-round affair, eventually Maia is going to find an opening.
The Pick: Maia wins by decision or late submission.
Next Fight » Erick Silva vs. Dong Hyun Kim