Demian Maia's not just a wildly entertaining force.
UFC 156, another of the organization's annual contributions to Super Bowl Weekend, did not disappoint. The night featured several scintillating fights, a shocker or two and the featherweight title bout that saw champion Jose Aldo successfully defend his strap against Frankie Edgar.
Consequently, Maia's decimation of everyone's favorite layer-and-prayer, Jon Fitch, will be overshadowed, and justifiably so.
Let's face it: The Brazilian thoroughly dominated the 15 minutes of action en route to a unanimous decision over his American counterpart, but it wasn't exactly chock-full o' highlights. Making matters worse, it was sandwiched between the grip-and-rip slugfest that saw Joseph Benavidez turn back Ian McCall on the one side, and Antonio Silva's upset of Alistair Overeem on the other.
Measuring up to those bouts—a frenzied jitterbug and a brutal knockout, respectively—was going to be tough sledding for any scrap. Let alone a scrap featuring a couple of mixed martial artists in the true sense of the phrase, but notoriously vanilla ones.
Check his resume and you'll see that, since the beginning of 2008, Fitch has only been must-see TV when he's gotten the tar beaten out of him (e.g. loss to Johny Hendricks, draw vs. B.J. Penn, loss to Georges St-Pierre). Forget the Fight of the Night at UFC 153; that bonus was more an indictment of the rest of the card's one-sided or muted nature than a glowing reflection of Jon's work against Erick Silva.
Even if you disagree on that latter point, Fitch's overall pattern was a bad omen given his adversary.
Maia has improved his striking over the years, but the 35-year-old is still one-dimensional if you're talking about truly elite weapons. Against the cream of the crop, and Fitch is most certainly that, Demian is simply not much of a threat on his feat. You knew Jon-boy was likely to escape with tar intact.
Put another way, this baby figured to be tame nine times out of 10.
Sure enough, Fitch had no answer for Maia's ground game and was borderline helpless fighting his takedown attempts. Although, calling them "attempts" implies that some were unsuccessful, and I'm not sure that's accurate.
Regardless, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu savant had his way with Fitch, dragging him to the ground and putting him in compromising positions with ease. Only Jon's superb submission defense and bottomless gas tank kept him breathing with blood flow to the brain until the final minute of Round 3.
When all was said and done, Maia emerged with a 30-27 victory on all three judges' scorecards, and it wasn't even that close.
Jon Fitch is no longer the maniac who went 24 fights and almost a decade without losing to anyone other than GSP. Much of the bloom was off his rose after the Prodigy blistered him for two rounds before bottoming out in the third, and Bigg Rigg Hendricks steamrolled him in 12 seconds at UFC 141. Despite those blemishes, though, most publications still had him inside the welterweight top 10 (Fight! Magazine had him at No. 9).
So it's a big win for Maia.
It's even bigger when you consider the suffocating fashion in which he did it, and the fact that the win moved him to a perfect 3-0 since dropping to 170 pounds. In the wake of his neck-crank submission of Rick Story at UFC 153, the victory at UFC 156 also gave Demian a second straight impressive showing opposite top-tier competition.
The UFC's welterweight division is already a crowded and dangerous field.
St-Pierre, one of the greatest champions the sport has ever seen, presides over a court of challengers that includes a legitimate psycho (Nick Diaz), a natural-born killer (Carlos Condit), an on-rushing semi (Hendricks), a god of war (Rory MacDonald), a juggernaut (Jake Ellenberger) and a slew of other guys with slightly less intimidating games and nicknames. As divisions go, the 170-pounders had a good claim on being the UFC's deepest division.
That claim is even stronger, now, because it's time to add Demian Maia to that list.
This is a cat who wasn't exactly chopped liver at middleweight.
His tenure at 185 pounds will most likely be remembered for the unfortunate freak show at UFC 112, which isn't at all fair. Maia was only in the Octagon because Vitor Belfort couldn't go as originally scheduled and, though it's true he was hopelessly outclassed that night in Abu Dhabi, it was against Anderson Silva.
Anderson. Freakin'. Silva.
If memory serves me, many a UFC warrior has looked foolish against the greatest champion the sport has ever seen. It didn't take bizarre extracurriculars from the Spider in the vast majority of cases.
Get beyond that ugliness, however, and you see that the Brazilian boasts a decent track record at middleweight. He submitted the great Chael Sonnen in less than three minutes, wobbled Mark Munoz before dropping a split decision and stood toe-to-toe with Chris Weidman for three rounds. Maia ultimately lost a unanimous decision to the media's latest "Anderson Better Watch Out for This Guy" guy.
So we're not talking about some daisy who's been forced down a division in a last-ditch effort to keep his job.
This is a man looking for UFC gold and he's got a good shot at 170 pounds.
Maia is supremely dangerous on the ground, possessing an array of BJJ talents that is the envy of the art's best practitioners. When a submission monster like Frank Mir, who doesn't lack for confidence, pays a compliment like that, it means something.
Finally, size is a huge ally for Demian.
At UFC 156, he bullied around Jon Fitch with ease. Given Fitch's rep for being the playground terror at 170 pounds in terms of strength and physicality, that's a large, flashing "uh oh" for the division.
The line ahead of him is long and distinguished so he'll have to wait his turn, but nobody should be surprised if 2014 finds Demian Maia squaring off with Georges St-Pierre (or a successor) for the UFC Welterweight title.
Just don't expect to be on the edge of your seat .