Yesterday, the UFC announced another booking for UFC 202 on August 20: a war of opposites between Demian Maia and Carlos Condit. One is a jiu-jitsu aesthete who choked out Chael Sonnen after hardly throwing a punch and said he wanted to show "that you can win the fight without hurting your opponent." The other is a human porcupine who uses the pointiest parts of his body to draw someone else's blood while gleefully shedding some of his own. And on a title-fight-free evening in Vegas, Condit versus Maia is among the most characteristic bookings: two fighters denied a chance to fight for the 170-pound strap, fighting to determine the final curve of their careers instead.
For Condit, the son of a former New Mexico governor's chief of staff, getting a blessing to start his MMA career back in 2002 must have been a minor miracle. But here he is 39 fights later, a violent gentleman, undefeated World Extreme Cagefighting champion and former interim UFC champ, and one of the most relentless finishers in the game—in 30 victories, he's stopped all but two opponents. Even in his recently checkered past, facing defeat never meant that the 32-year-old Condit looked defeated: after his razor-thin split-decision title loss to fellow sadist Robbie Lawler, observers checked their notes and tallied significant strikes to find consensus in the plasma-soaked aftermath, and plenty found themselves at odds with the judges' decision. Considering he renounces self-preservation in combat, Condit's durability is something to behold. Outside of an injury TKO against Woodley in 2014, you’d have to go back a decade—the days before his terrible WEC reign—to find the last time Condit was finished, a rear-naked choke loss to Pat Healy.
Meanwhile, Demian Maia clings to his opponents’ backs like a baby koala that hates its mom, and RNCs are his specialty. He's won five straight in his career's second act at welterweight, and his last three performances have looked thoroughly fatalistic. Against Gunnar Nelson in Vegas, a chess match between grappling geniuses turned into one-sided suffocation. Against Matt Brown, Maia reminded us that even hardheaded tough guys can't fight with compressed carotids. Against Neil Magny, Maia dominated so completely that Magny went to one of Maia's seminars afterward to figure out what the hell happened.
And yet when it comes to fighting for a belt again, neither has anything but hope. Lawler defends his title against Tyron Woodley at UFC 201, and to hear Woodley tell it, his American Top Team training partner Lawler advocated for him getting the next crack instead of Condit. A look at the win-loss column certainly didn’t help Condit's case: he's gone 4-2 since 2012, including a failed bid to unify the welterweight titles against Georges St. Pierre. And while his close, bloody loss to Lawler was a testament for humans' capacity for punishment, the outcome was also heartbreaking enough that he openly contemplated retirement and sought a rematch at the same time. He voiced his fears about what might be waiting for him after nearly a decade and a half of go-for-broke fighting. "I still feel great. I think my concern is the long-term neurological stuff," he told Joe Rogan. "You see me fight, I don’t go in there and not take damage. I fucking take damage."
As Maia has racked up wins, he's quietly campaigned for his first title shot since a mind-bending middleweight bout against Anderson Silva in the desert six years ago. After beating Brown at UFC 198, Maia used his post-victory mic time to implore the "jiu-jitsu community" to rally behind him and advocate for his status as a contender—apparently to no avail.
Both fighters are aging in one way or another. Maia is closing in on his 39th birthday. Condit is entering the 14th year of his career. There are almost 70 fights worth of mileage between them. Whoever loses on August 20 won't be shoved out the door, but they'll see the end of everything a little more clearly. Then again, in a world after Lawler-Woodley where Georges St. Pierre suggests a return outside of welterweight and where there's no clear succession of contenders, Condit-Maia is fertile ground from which to pluck the next 170-pound title challenger. With the Nate Diaz-Conor McGregor rematch headlining UFC 202, maybe the publicity boost will allow the winner of Condit versus Maia to leapfrog Stephen Thompson and, with all those eyeballs, emerge as an heir apparent at welterweight. Whatever comes next, Condit versus Maia promises 15 minutes of violence and elegance. It will be beautiful.
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