UFC Welterweight ChampionshipTyron Woodley (17-3-1) vs. Demian Maia (25-6)
THE MATCHUP: Though his wrestling background might suggest otherwise, Woodley really is an out-fighter. His explosive speed makes him dangerous, and when he darts in with flurries of right hands, shoots for a reactive double-leg or smashes home a round kick, he can do phenomenal damage without having to push too hard of a pace. Clinches, however, are less to his liking. Inside, Woodley’s explosions are less useful. He can land powerful short strikes, but the grinding, straining, back-and-forth nature of clinch wrestling tends to tire him out.
This is Maia’s style of wrestling. Though known for his jiu-jitsu, wrestling is Maia’s second love. He was introduced to the art through MMA, and during his time at welterweight, he has completed an average of three takedowns per fight. That may not sound like a lot, but opponents rarely manage to get up once Maia has taken them down, and when they do, it is usually with the Brazilian latched firmly onto their backs. As noted, Maia’s style of wrestling may serve to wear down Woodley. He lacks a powerful shot, but uses masterful angles to find trips, foot sweeps and single-legs. One of Maia’s best tactics is to shoot for a single, pull half guard when it does not work and then hook the leg of his opponent before popping up to reshoot. The half guard pull gives opponents a boost of confidence, and then Maia uses the position against them to wind up on top.
Woodley has only been taken down once -- by Rory MacDonald -- in the UFC, but in truth, few have really tried. It will certainly be interesting to see how Woodley responds to Maia’s suffocating wrestling tactics -- and whether it is he or Maia who tires first. To get there, however, Maia will have to close the distance. Maia’s striking is often underrated. He pressures well, forcing his opponents into the fence where he can begin chaining takedown attempts. He stays close and fires a chunky straight left when the opportunity arises. These tactics could yield results against Woodley, who has gained a reputation for backing himself into the fence as he waits for an opening. Maia is 39 years old, however, and lacks the spring and speed of a younger man, particularly one like Woodley.
It is a safe assumption that the more time Maia spends with Woodley on the feet, particularly at range, the better the champion’s chances are. As noted above, his speed and power are truly potent, and he has far more craft in setting up his strikes than most give him credit for. Woodley is also quite good at cutting off the cage and pressuring his opponent. He uses this approach only in short bursts, often after staggering his opponent. It showed up rarely in his two fights with Stephen Thompson, but then again, Maia is no “Wonderboy” on the feet.
THE ODDS: Woodley (-210), Maia (+167)
THE PICK: The first man to beat Woodley, Nate Marquardt, used the clinch to wear him out. Like Maia, Marquardt was a former middleweight and strong for the division. Maia is a better wrestler than Marquardt, but he is also less capable of delivering quick, smashing punches at range. In addition, he lacks the steady output of MacDonald, the only other man to beat Woodley; and since we are comparing records, it is notable that Maia also lost to both Marquardt and MacDonald. Woodley does have the power of Marquardt, who knocked out Maia. He does have the takedown defense of MacDonald, who outlasted the middle-aged grappler down the stretch. Woodley simply has too many physical and stylistic advantages in his favor, and Maia’s long-awaited title shot happens to be against the most dangerous puncher he has faced in eight years. The pick is Woodley by first-round KO.
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