The Ultimate Fighting Championship machine chugs on with UFC Fight Night 162 on Saturday in Kallang, Singapore. Beyond the headliner, which serves as an interesting dream fight of sorts, the promotion did not make much of an effort to stack this card in terms of name value, but as always, there are some fun matches through which to pick.
The main card should provide some entertaining action. Intriguing prospects dot the lineup, like Ciryl Gane and Movsar Evloev, both of whom have the tools to rise rapidly in their respective divisions. Plus, it offers the promotional debut of Pancrase and Invicta Fighting Championships alum Konklak Suphisara.
Now to the UFC Fight Night “Maia vs. Askren” preview:
WelterweightsDemian Maia (27-9) vs. Ben Askren (19-1)
ODDS: Askren (-185), Maia (+160)
If nothing else, Askren found his way into the UFC record books, even if was not the way he envisioned. After 10 years of building his MMA legacy as an undefeated fighter, it all went out the window in five seconds, as Jorge Masvidal absolutely annihilated him with a flying knee in one of the greatest highlights in the sport’s history. While the way that fight played out was obviously on the extreme end of the spectrum, it did seem to cement that Askren’s career will be more of a case of what might have been than standing on its own merits. Askren ran through Bellator MMA with his wrestling-heavy game but found himself without much interest in North America once his contract was up, mostly due to a combination of the UFC’s typical bias against wrestlers and Askren’s prickly personality. As a result, Askren took his talents to One Championship, which did not tell anyone a whole lot, as his wrestling was still more than enough to take care of any opponent until the “Funky” one announced his retirement in 2017. However, MMA retirements never last, and a year later, the UFC saw the opportunity to essentially trade for Askren by giving up Demetrious Johnson, finally giving some answers as to how Askren’s one-dimensional game would fare against elite competition. Fight No. 1 was frustratingly inconclusive. Robbie Lawler nearly knocked out Askren early, but once the four-time NCAA All-American took over with his grappling, referee Herb Dean stepped in for an early stoppage that left everyone with a sour taste in their mouths. Then came the Masvidal fight. Again, while the quickest knockout in UFC history via spectacular flying knee is an outlier, it did lend some credence to the thought that Askren’s lack of striking defense would eventually cost him, if not quite in such stark fashion. Frankly, Askren is still enough of a personality that he might be able to rebound from this, but he needs to get some defining wins quick. First up is this grappler’s delight pairing with Maia.
As it turns out, Maia is still really good, even as he nears his 42nd birthday. Maia has quietly put together the template for high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu players to succeed in the modern game, even if few have taken advantage of the blueprint. Submissions rarely matter if they are not set up properly, and Maia rounded out things by becoming one of the best wrestlers in the sport, allowing him to control opponent after opponent until he either netted the finish or settled for the decision. Maia even showed the pitfalls of veering away from that plan. After his infamous title fight loss to Anderson Silva, fans were treated to a run of “K-1 Maia,” as the Brazilian started to fancy himself as a kickboxer. Maia was actually still somewhat effective in the role, but it was an obvious misallocation of resources that eventually stalled out his middleweight career and forced him down to 170 pounds. With the cut to welterweight came a refocus on the strongest parts of Maia’s game, and after a seven-fight winning streak that covered parts of four years, he eventually put together enough victories to earn himself another title shot. Unfortunately, the peak of Maia’s late-career success arrived as the welterweight division was becoming a murderer’s row of wrestlers, and the Brazilian’s loss to Tyron Woodley was followed by two more against Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman. Maia entered 2019 with some questions about his viability as a fighter, but thankfully, his two fights this year have proven he is still an elite welterweight when he is not facing some of the stoutest opponents in the division. He ran through Lyman Good without much trouble before turning away prospect Anthony Rocco Martin in June. One more gigantic winning streak to earn another championship fight is probably too much to ask, but it is nice to know that Maia -- one of the sport’s good guys -- will still be relevant by the time he decides to retire.
Even though Askren has a chance here, the contrast in this fight is a bit depressing and adds to the sense of what could have been. By facing a tough slate of competition, Maia has been forced to reinvent and round out his game and become a fleshed-out mixed martial artist, while Askren is still solely a wrestler. It seems unlikely that Askren can ever fully take over this bout, but he could take this on the scorecards just through sheer annoyance. Even if he does not have a ton of success accomplishing anything, he still could manage to control Maia through sheer aggression and take over as the Brazilian’s gas tank issues begin to manifest themselves. However, it seems just as likely that Maia can control Askren, and every other phase outside of the wrestling represents a clear advantage for the Brazilian. If Maia can keep his distance and pick his shots, it is entirely possible that Maia’s kickboxing fundamentals are enough to wreck Askren on the feet and eventually lead to the finish. This does have the feel of a fight that needed to happen, given the style and prominence of these two, but it would also be in line with the strangeness of Askren’s UFC career if he just went out and lost a striking match to Maia. The longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt probably will not lay on the volume or aggression enough to finish Askren, but this is his fight to lose. The pick is Maia via decision.
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