Jon Fitch 2.0 is on a mission, and that mission is to return to welterweight title contention after going without a win for more than two years.
The American Kickboxing Academy product got himself back on track by defeating rising prospect Erick Silva at UFC 153, but a win over former middleweight title challenger Demian Maia on Saturday would give him an even bigger boost toward the top of the 170-pound division.
Maia recently moved from middleweight to welterweight after hitting a rough patch of his own. The change appears to have reignited the Brazilian's career, as he won his first two 170-pound fights against Dong Hyun Kim and Rick Story.
A win over Fitch would mean Maia has officially arrived as a significant threat to elite welterweights.
With this important 170-pound contest being only days away, let's take at where each fighter holds their most significant advantages.
Neither Jon Fitch nor Demian Maia are known for their stand-up prowess. However, with there being potential for both fighters having their ground games negated, the welterweights will need to be at their personal best when this fight is standing.
If this fight stays standing, fans are going to be really disappointed with the contest that results. For all their experience in MMA, Fitch and Maia still have a lot of room for improvement with their striking.
A two-inch reach advantage may be all that separates Fitch from Maia when both fighters are standing. Having trained at American Kickboxing Academy for years, Fitch's stand-up game has also evolved a bit more than Maia's, but it's still doubtful he'd put together an overly impressive performance.
When Maia finds himself on the ground, he focuses almost completely on grappling, and that makes sense considering he's a world champion jiu-jitsu practitioner. While ground-and-pound could enhance Maia's grappling ability in an MMA setting, he hasn't often needed to strike on the ground.
Fitch does not have the pure grappling credentials of Maia, so he's needed to diversify his ground game to maximize his effectiveness on the canvas. Against a more one-dimensional opponent, Fitch's ground striking could be a difference maker.
Fitch and Maia have each only been knocked out once, and those losses came against big hitters in Johny Hendricks and Nate Marquardt respectively.
Neither of these welterweights carry much punching power, so a standing knockout would seem highly unlikely.
OVERALL STRIKING EDGE: Fitch
Jon Fitch and Demian Maia have made careers out of taking opponents to the ground and controlling them. At UFC 156, something will have to give.
There's a chance that the grappling defense of both fighters will completely negate all offensive grappling in this fight. However, there's an equal chance that this matchup will be decided in which fighter gets the best of what could be constant scrambles for positioning.
While Maia is one of the best grapplers on the planet, jiu-jitsu practitioners are not known for possessing the explosive takedowns that wrestlers like Fitch have.
Both of these fighters have successfully defended more than half of the takedowns attempted against them, but Maia has been much less effective offensively with his takedowns than Fitch, scoring on only 31 percent of his attempts (via FightMetric.com).
Both of these welterweights are great from the top position, but Maia is more willing to risk position for submissions than Fitch.
Fitch was more active than usual when on top in his most recent fight against Erick Silva, but he could reel it back in against a more dangerous grappler like Maia.
It will be difficult for either fighter to escape if they are taken down, but Fitch leaves even less openings for sweeps and stand-ups than Maia does.
Neither Fitch nor Maia has ever been submitted inside the Octagon, so it's unlikely either fighter will be forced to tap in this bout. However, an advantage would have to go toward Maia in that category if one has to be given.
While Fitch has not submitted an opponent since March 2007, Demian Maia is coming off of one of the most nasty submission wins of 2012, a neck crank so tight that it caused blood to pour from Rick Story's nostrils.
OVERALL GRAPPLING EDGE: Fitch
In terms of pure athleticism, Jon Fitch and Demian Maia aren't going to blow anyone away. Instead, they impress with their technique and tenacity.
This fight will be won by the fighter who makes the fewest mistakes, not the competitor who is the biggest, strongest or fastest.
Fitch and Maia aren't the fastest 170-pound fighters in the world, but they aren't the slowest either. If either fighter has an edge in this category, it's negligible.
A former middleweight, Maia has gained a size advantage over some of the fighters in his new division, but Fitch is not one of them.
Fitch is a sizable welterweight who could probably make some noise at 185 pounds if he wanted to. He won't be out-muscled in this matchup.
Maia is not known for having serious problems with his conditioning, but he is still adjusting to the weight cut to 170 pounds and hasn't made it out of the first round in either of his fights at welterweight. The Brazilian has to prove on Saturday that the drop in weight has not affected his cardio.
There's a good chance this fight isn't going to end so quickly, and Maia won't want to fade against a grinding opponent like Fitch.
OVERALL INTANGIBLES EDGE: Fitch
Either fighter is capable of winning this fight and becoming one of the top welterweight contenders, but Jon Fitch's wrestling and submission defense should make the difference.
Demian Maia is a great grappler, but he has had trouble with high-level wrestlers with solid submission defense in the past. Losses to Chris Weidman and Mark Munoz were likely what led Maia to make the move to welterweight, and Fitch has been morphing his wrestling for MMA purposes for much longer than those middleweights.
As great as it was to see Fitch taking chances against Erick Silva, he'll need to be more conservative against Maia. Fitch is a smart fighter who understands the magnitude of this matchup, so its unlikely he'll take any unnecessary risks this time around.
Fitch defeats Maia by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).