Demian Maia is one of my favorite UFC fighters to watch. The reason is a world-class ground game that is arguably the best in the sport. At worst, it’s in a tier with other world-class grapplers like Roger Gracie, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and Fabricio Werdum. Maia has creative ways of attempting submissions and advancing positions that are rarely seen in the sport of MMA.
Here’s the thing: Maia has now gone six straight fights without a submission win. This started with Maia’s infamous one-punch KO loss to Nate Marquardt at UFC 102. Since then, instead of submitting all of his opponents, Maia has been going to decision against all of them, losing to Anderson Silva and Mark Munoz while beating Dan Miller, Mario Miranda, and Kendall Grove.
There are a couple of possible reasons for this. One is simply that Maia may be facing much tougher opponents. Subjectively (as well as according to SILVA), Anderson Silva, Nate Marquardt, and Mark Munoz are much better fighters than Jason MacDonald, Ed Herman, and Nate Quarry. Sure, one of Maia’s submission wins was against Chael Sonnen, but it’s well-known that Sonnen’s big weakness is his submission defense. It stands to reason that, as a fighter’s level of opposition increases, that fighter’s ability to finish those opponents diminishes.
The other possible reason is that fighters may be fighting Maia on the ground differently. This means that, instead of engaging Maia on the ground in an actual grappling match, fighters are going into full defense mode, merely trying to prevent Maia from submitting them instead of actually trying to win the fight on the ground. I feel that this situation is a combination of both reasons. Fighters do appear to be proceeding very cautiously on the ground against Maia, and Maia’s level of competition has risen significantly.
It will be very interesting to see how Maia’s upcoming fight against Jorge Santiago goes down. Santiago has very good jiu-jitsu, racking up 12 career submission wins while never being submitted himself. If this fight does go to the ground, there’s no guarantee that Maia would be particularly effective on the ground. I’ll take Maia’s ground game over anybody, but if fighters like Kendall Grove can avoid being submitted, it’s not particularly hard to see a fighter like Santiago surviving on the ground, or even mounting submission offense of his own.
Here’s the flip side: I think this is a horrible match for Santiago. The reason is that Maia has shown a surprisingly effective striking game, as he had Munoz hurt in the first round of their fight at UFC 131. In most cases, I wouldn’t be arguing for Maia having a significant advantage in the striking game, but because Santiago has six losses by KO/TKO, and was thoroughly out-struck by Brian Stann in his last fight, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to suggest that Maia may have the edge there. So, if Santiago doesn’t have an edge on the ground, and doesn’t have an edge standing, what does he have left?
SILVA PREDICTION: DEMIAN MAIA (44.11) OVER JORGE SANTIAGO (32.75)
Santiago’s best chance may be to throw power strikes early and look for the quick KO; he has a number of fast KO wins on his record. It’s also possible that Santiago could be able to take Maia down and win on points by operating out of top position on the ground. That’s about as risky as things get against Maia, though, and given Santiago’s history of being out-classed standing in the UFC, I just don’t see a reliable way for him to compete against Maia in this fight. When it comes to Maia, who I am legitimately a big fan of, I need to admit to wearing rose-colored glasses, but after looking at each man’s fight history and each man’s numbers, it’s clear that Maia needs to be the pick to win this fight.