The fact that UFC 112 is being held Saturday in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, is really like something out of Laurel & Hardy. Here’s hoping there’s nothing wrong according to Sharia law with paying to see two men hit each other.
As for the actual fistic business at hand, this has card-of-the-year potential all over it. Pound-for-pound impresarios Anderson Silva and B.J. Penn defend the middleweight and lightweight titles respectively in bouts that will either continue to nail down their status as all-timers or turn the rankings into a jigsaw puzzle. Batting behind the double headliners is a funky collection of violence including the return of the wrestling Paul Bunyan, Hawaii’s second favorite son and some guy who comes from this Gracie family I keep hearing about.
In preparation for this Saturday’s pay-per-view mega-card, you know you best get some knowledge in your system in time for the fights. So get reading and remember that if you hated me that much, you wouldn’t keep reading.
Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia
The Breakdown: Circumstance is a funny thing in fight sport. Demian Maia finds himself in the position of challenging arguably the greatest middleweight of all time, despite the fact that he wasn’t supposed to. Vitor Belfort was supposed to be the man making the trip to Abu Dhabi to face Silva for the middleweight title, and when injury forced him out, Chael Sonnen was supposed to be waiting in the wings to take his spot. Injuries did in Sonnen the same as Belfort, though. Now Maia’s so-called luck has him in a position to either make himself an instant legend or an instant highlight clip for the reigning and defending UFC middleweight champion.
Normally a bout of this caliber would be a bit more nuanced than a simplistic striker vs. grappler archetype, but the fact is that Maia will get the Phinneas Gage treatment if he doesn’t get Silva down with the quickness. This is where it gets interesting. Scoring takedowns has never been a problem for Maia, as he’s quite adept at closing the pocket and either pulling guard or using throws and trips to take top control.
Closing the pocket on Silva is theoretically a good idea the same way building the Large Hadron Collider is a good idea as long as it doesn’t explode the universe. In Maia’s perfect world, he gets inside on Silva, quickly executes a takedown and goes to work on a submission before his notoriously clumsy striking gets his head lopped off. The first step of that perfect fight is fraught with pain potential, though. Silva excels at catching fighters trying to crowd him, and even when opponents do get their hands on him, Silva’s Thai clinch does more rhinoplasty work than a Hollywood plastic surgery clinic.
All the training and preparation in the world won’t make Maia good enough to trade strikes with Silva -- his only hope is perfectly timing a takedown attempt. The margin of error for Silva is much wider. His grappling skills have improved significantly over the years, and if Maia is forced to settle for pulling guard, he then has to worry about the oft-ignored but incalculably lethal ground-and-pound of “The Spider.”
What really makes you wonder about Maia’s chances, though, are his UFC bouts against Jason MacDonald and Ed Herman. Both competent grapplers though certainly not on Maia’s level, they managed to survive for a considerable time while grappling with someone who is supposed to be a Deus Ex Machina on the mat. Simply put, even if Maia gets Silva down, it’s going to take time to turn him into a human pipe cleaner and time doesn’t favor the man who needs perfection to win.
The Bottom Line: In his bout with Silva at UFC 97, Thales Leites was obviously terrified of engaging a fighter known for mercilessly exploiting the tiniest of mistakes. Fear won’t cripple Maia. He’s as game as they come, but that won’t help him win. Watch for Silva to use his reach to pick at Maia from afar early on, but Maia won’t allow that to last for long. Silva will anticipate Maia’s aggression beautifully and turn it into an opportunity to put him away with a grotesquely beautiful combination late in the first round.