Demian Maia will look to improve to 4-0 in the UFC welterweight division Wednesday, when he meets former 170-pound title challenger Jake Shields.
The Brazilian made the move to the welterweight class following a loss to now-middleweight champion Chris Weidman. His high-level grappling has led him to victories over Jon Fitch, Rick Story and Dong-Hyun Kim since the transition.
After losing back-to-back fights against Georges St-Pierre and Jake Ellenberger, Shields is on the rise again. The former Strikeforce champion has won his past two official bouts and had another win removed from his record due to a failed drug test following UFC 150.
Will Maia solidify his position as a top-five welterweight, or will Shields take a step closer to his second UFC title shot?
Here is a closer look at how the 170-pound grapplers match up in all areas.
Demian Maia still isn't a feared striker of any kind, but he's beginning to figure out how to use his hands to set up takedowns.
Against a top-notch wrestler in Jon Fitch, Maia scored seven takedowns. More than one of those were a result of Maia's improved boxing.
Above, Maia had a straight left slipped by Fitch (top left), but he switched to an orthodox stance and threw a left hook (top right) to prevent his opponent from circling away. While Maia also missed with the left hook, he had Fitch cornered and was able to duck a counter and clinch (bottom left).
Being stuck in a body lock against the fence is not where a fighter wants to be against Maia, and an outside trip led to Fitch going to the canvas (bottom right).
While Shields out-landed grapplers in his past two official fights, Maia works much differently than Tyron Woodley or Yoshihiro Akiyama when standing. Woodley and Akiyama have had success landing knockout blows in the past, so both were more willing to pick their shots and look for a fight-ending punch that wouldn't come against Shields.
Maia, on the other hand, is much less likely to be simply out-worked by Shields. In a way, Maia will bring Shields a taste of his own medicine, throwing many strikes with essentially the sole intention of setting up his takedowns.
Jake Shields is hardly known for his striking, but his past two wins have come in bouts that were primarily spent standing.
Not much of a knockout threat, Shields works constantly, keeping opponents on the outside with his kicks and jabs before lunging in on relentless takedown attempts. Shields' kicking-heavy attack may not be a smart approach against Demian Maia, though.
Normally, Shields' most damaging and accurate strike is his lead-leg body kick when facing right-handed opponents. A southpaw, Maia won't be easy to target with that strike, and it probably won't be wise to throw kicks at the Brazilian anyway.
Shields was lucky enough to kick at Tyron Woodley without facing a takedown attempt, but there's little chance Maia wouldn't try countering the former Strikeforce champion's kicks with takedown attempts.
Demian Maia has scored 11 takedowns in his three fights since moving to the welterweight division.
Those takedowns didn't come against low-level welterweights either. Jon Fitch, Rick Story and Dong-Hyun Kim have all had better takedown defense than Jake Shields inside the Octagon, yet none of those three fighters prevented Maia from grounding them.
Despite his grappling credentials, Shields has been taken down by every UFC opponent who has tried to put him on the canvas. Only defending 38 percent of takedowns, Shields is probably going to end up under Maia unless he finds a way to strike first with a takedown of his own.
For as important as takedowns have been for Jake Shields' success, he gets sloppy awfully frequently when looking for them against fellow grapplers.
While he found a way to win, Shields had all 18 of his takedown attempts on Tyron Woodley shut down. Shields' poor set-ups and lacking technique were the main reasons for his negative results in the wrestling department against Woodley.
Shields tends to strike from the outside when standing and doesn't do a great job of putting together combinations. That forces him to look for takedown attempts when he is outside the ideal range for his double-leg penetration.
In the second round of his bout with Woodley (top), Shields feinted a jab from a distance which his opponent knew he couldn't land. Without a follow-up strike to get Woodley committed to his hands, Shields shot in for a double-leg with his head down and arms wide (bottom left). Woodley probably could have sprawled, stuffed Shields' head and spun behind for a counter-takedown, but he used underhooks on Shields outstretched arms to keep the fight standing instead (bottom right).
Poor form on takedown attempts could cost Shields big against Maia. While Woodley seemed intent on standing, Maia gladly would have tried to capitalize on the failed takedown attempt above by taking Shields' back.
Demian Maia has only scored one submission in the past four years, but he's given many opponents fits on the ground during that period.
While he doesn't always force opponents to tap, Maia is constantly forcing opponents to defend. A world-class grappler, Maia is thinking several steps ahead of his opponents, and it shows best when he meets opponents without elite jiu-jitsu.
After looking to slide his arm under Rick Story's chin multiple times at UFC 153, Maia made an adjustment that would lead to his first submission since February 2009.
While baiting Story with another rear-naked choke attempt (top left), Maia began to shift his body off to an angle as Story looked to control his left hand (top right). By elevating his hips off the canvas, Maia knew Story would post on his right elbow.
With Story's right arm out of the equation and left hand occupied by the feigned rear-naked choke attempt, Maia was able to wrap his right arm around his opponent's chin (bottom left). Now with his hips slightly off to Story's side, Maia is able to combat his opponent's ability to keep his chin down by attempting and finishing a neck crank (bottom right).
Considered one of the best grapplers in welterweight history, Jon Fitch spent most of three rounds with Maia draped all over him. More skilled than Story on the ground, Fitch was able to make it to the scorecards, but he spent nearly 15 minutes having to think about defending submissions rather than escaping.
A very similar fighter to Fitch, Shields also has the submission defense to survive with Maia on the ground. However, survive is probably all Shields will be able to accomplish should he end up on the canvas Wednesday.
Despite his shockingly low takedown success rate of 15 percent inside the Octagon, it'd be hard to imagine Jake Shields not spending some time on top in this matchup.
The problem for Shields is that he poses little threat to Demian Maia in any position on the ground. While neither man has ever been submitted, Maia is more capable of ending this fight from the bottom than Shields is from the top.
More importantly, perhaps, Maia should be able to escape from the bottom quickly since he need not worry much about Shields aggressively seeking submissions.
Like Shields, Jon Fitch is a positional grappler. In the lone situation where he ended up on bottom against Fitch, Maia did not take long to work back to his feet and score a takedown of his own.
With only minutes remaining in the grueling grappling match, Fitch took a moment to rest after landing in Maia's guard. In that moment, Maia was quickly able to secure an underhook (top left) and create enough space to attack Fitch's hips from an angle (top right).
With Maia trying to escape under his right arm, Fitch attempted to slide into side control by sitting out to his right hip (bottom left). Maia followed Fitch and forced the American Kickboxing Academy product to stand in order to avoid being reversed (bottom right).
If Shields does take Maia down, there's little chance he'll be the first to submit the Brazilian and will find difficulty in even maintaining positioning.
Both being in their mid-30s, Demian Maia and Jake Shields have similar experience and physical tools.
The former middleweights have both used size to their advantage in the welterweight class, but neither will have a significant size advantage on Wednesday. Should their wrestling cancel out, Maia and Shields have identical reach.
Shields has fought more recently than Maia, meeting Tyron Woodley in June at UFC 161.
Maia has not competed since February. The Brazilian was booked to fight Josh Koscheck in August, but he had that appearance canceled due to an opponent injury. After eight months of inactivity, it's possible Maia may have to shake off some rust early.
Demian Maia is a deserving favorite in this matchup.
His southpaw stance takes away one of Jake Shields' best strikes, while he does a better job of setting up takedowns with his boxing. With a similar approach to his opponent at UFC Fight Night 29, Maia is not going to lose this fight solely because he throws less strikes, as Tyron Woodley and Yoshihiro Akiyama did when facing Shields.
A world champion jiu-jitsu practitioner, Maia is one of the few welterweights better than Shields on the ground. Should he end up on bottom, Maia is not going to be controlled like so many of Shields' past opponents have been.
Maia's going to find it difficult to become the first to submit Shields, but he should win this fight with his improving boxing and multiple takedowns.
Maia defeats Shields by decision.