The dominance of Demian Maia’s win over Gunnar Nelson was one of the most unifying topics of conversation last week in Vegas, despite Conor McGregor’s melding of the two featherweight championships in his stunning main event showing.
While Maia was securing dominant position after dominant position on ‘Gunni’, a man considered as Irish as a pint of Guinness by the traveling support in attendance, the roars of the crowd that were witnessed over the weekend became a meek squeak.
The bout was billed as one of the greatest meetings between decorated jiu jitsu champions to ever happen inside the Octagon. Nelson, a prodigious talent who earned his stripes by controlling a near 300 lbs Jeff Monson at ADCC the first year he was invited to the event, would meet the three-time Brazilian jiu jitsu World Cup champion for all of the marbles. Although Maia had an obvious advantage when it came to straight grappling, a lot of people believed Nelson’s technique was better adapted for MMA.
Within minutes of the first round, Maia gained mount and battered the stoic Scandinavian, who did well to stay in the contest. The Brazilian would continue his assault in rounds two and three where he used a body triangle to lock Nelson to him before he landed more crucial blows that clearly identified him as the winner over the three rounds.
The most impressive thing about the victory is, everyone knows how well versed Nelson is on the ground. In his successful outings, he has finished all but one of his beaten opponents via choke. Maia underlined his status as an outlier in terms of the grappling realm with the win, and really, Nelson did well to make it to the end of the bout considering the overwhelming aggression of 38-year-old veteran.
Maia is usually not the kind of person to force situations from his employers, but after such a dominant outing, you couldn’t blame the jiu jitsu icon for trying to align himself with the championship elite. As far as he is concerned, the rankings have not been as beneficial for him and his four-fight win streak as some others in the bracket, so he let UFC know that he is ready for a date with the title.
“People are influenced by marketing and whatnot,” he told Joe Rogan in his post-fight interview. “I think the ranking system should be defined with a mathematic formula or something and not just someone’s opinion over who’s the better fighter.
“I beat Magny, a ‘Performance of The Night,’ by the way. After that, he fought twice and defeated Erick Silva and Kelvin Gastelum, but Gastelum, who lost to him rose two spots. I don’t know what's up with that. I’m ready for the title, I’m a much-improved fighter.”
The Monday after his jiu jitsu showcase, Maia arrived in the top five of the bracket. However, it’s not clear how the Brazilian will lay claim to a title shot with so many of the top tier fighters already tied up.
Champion Robbie Lawler defends his title against fourth-ranked Carlos Condit at UFC 195. In the number one ranking spot, Rory MacDonald is rumored to be looking at a bout with the returning Hector Lombard. Tyron Woodley waits for the winner of Lawler and Condit in second place in the rankings having been guaranteed the next shot by Dana White after Johny Hendricks missed weight for their number one contender bout at UFC 192. Hendricks will look to get back in the title conversation after his weight cut mishap when he meets Stephen ‘Wonderboy Thompson at UFC 196.
Although his advancing years may be a cause of concern for some when considering his title credentials, Maia outlined several reasons why he believes he has proven his capabilities when it comes to mixing it with the championship elite.
“My team bring (the best) out of me every time,” said Maia. “Since Eduardo took over my career, my manager and head coach, when I moved to welterweight, he gave me the right strategy. Our training camp is very methodical; we don’t just do things that we feel we have to do.
“We bring in guys that we think we need, every day I’ve got the set training that I need to do and how much intensity (I should work with). I’m feeling better every day. I think I’m in my prime right now and, like I said, I want to go for the title. I want to have that chance.
“I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that I can beat anyone. I’ve had nine fights in this division, I’ve won seven fights with dominant performances. I won every round of those fight. In those fights, many said I was going to lose, like this one.
“One fight that I lost was to Rory, that was ‘Fight of the Night’ and I won one round, I was dominant. The other fight that I (lost), I don’t think I lost, against Jake Shields. I think I have the tools to be a champion in this weight category.”
It’s important for UFC to match Maia up as soon as possible. Although the majority of the top level fighters in the bracket are tied up at the moment, Maia might only need one more well-regarded scalp to really fortify his place as a contender at welterweight.
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