This is the real must-see attraction on the UFC 102 card, as undefeated submission specialist Demian Maia faces his stiffest test to date in former seven-time King of Pancrase Nathan Marquardt.
Maia's time in the UFC is easily explained: five fights, five wins, five submissions. The man is a Black Hole of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and has been a shining example of what it means to "impose your will" on your opponent.
But Marquardt is no slouch; he's challenged for the middleweight title before and beaten some talented fighters on his return trip towards the top of the rankings, stopping both Martin Kampmann and Wilson Gouveia to secure this match with Maia.
And with Anderson Silva apparently unhappy at the prospects of another title fight with Dan Henderson, the winner of this middleweight matchup could potentially be the next man to face "The Spider" for the middleweight belt.
Demian Maia (10-0-0) vs. Nate "The Great" Marquardt (28-8-2)
While Maia now makes his home in Las Vegas and trains with Wanderlei Silva, Marquardt gets the easy edge in terms of team affiliations as the Denver, Colorado, native is a part of arguably the best team in the business, fighting out of Greg Jackson's MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
That being said, Maia was been rolling with some guys you may have heard of before heading into this fight; their last name is Gracie and while their names start with an "R" they're pronounced as an "H."
I think they've had some success in the sport at one point or another.
Sarcasm aside, these two do not have any shared opponents to compare. Moving to "strength of schedule," Marquardt again comes out ahead, having faced far stronger competition both during his time in the UFC (Dean Lister, Jeremy Horn) and in Pancrase (Kazuo Misaki, Ricardo Almeida) than Maia has in his relatively brief ten fight career.
Obviously, Maia's intentions will be to bring this fight to the ground and work submissions; eight of his ten wins come via submission and the one TKO was due to a shoulder injury, incurred while Maia was reversing a position. What makes this fight all the more interesting is Marquardt's experience with high-level jiu jitsu players.
During his run atop the Pancrase world, Marquardt was submitted by BJJ ace Ricardo Almeida, twice in the same fight if you ask "The Big Dog," but he's also defeated gifted ground workers Dean Lister and Jeremy Horn since making the move to the UFC.
While Maia has made short work of opponents with suspects ground games and submission defense, his stiffest test in the UFC came from the departed Jason McDonald, a strong BJJ player himself who just so happens to spend some time training in Albuquerque as well.
Although Maia comes in with the unblemished record, aside from beating himself in a loss to former UFC employee Thales Leites, the only loss on the ledger for Marquardt over the past five years is a loss to divisional kingpin Anderson Silva.
Marquardt desperately wants another chance at Anderson Silva, believing he's improved a great deal since suffering defeat at UFC 73, while Maia wants to prove that his dominance isn't limited to middle tier competition and the old axiom o skill and technique winning over power and strength still holds true.
This one is taking home Fight of the Night honors.