Demian Maia entered UFC 211 with everything on the line. A loss would have crippled his chances at ever getting another UFC title shot, and he was facing a top-tier challenge against Jorge Masvidal at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
The scorecards may have been split, but the fight clearly belonged to the Brazilian.
Maia's grappling stifled Masvidal throughout the three rounds and only gave the American Top Team product brief moments to score with his offense, which he did to make it close. Still, the result was the right one with Maia getting his hand raised.
Maia shot in around the 30-second mark. Masvidal fought off the takedown attempt well, but Maia stayed attached to him. Maia took his back, but Masvidal stood with him against the fence. Patience became the name of the game.
Maia peppered Masvidal with punches trying to get space to slip his arm under the chin. Masvidal remained calm enough to defend as the first round ticked under two minutes. Masvidal's patience paid off with under 30 seconds as he shook Maia to the canvas and landed several big punches. It made the round close as he landed the big offense compared to Maia's control.
Masvidal was ready to defend slower takedown attempts in the second round as Maia spent a lot of energy in the first frame. Still, Maia tried all the tricks to stay attached to Masvidal. Maia finally assumed top position with Masvidal on his back with two minutes remaining in the second. He would have to begin working from half-guard. Masvidal's defense got him through another strong two minutes of control from the grappling ace.
Half of the third and final round was spent feeling each other out. Maia looked for an opening knowing he didn't have the energy to chase Masvidal, and Masvidal was weary of an oncoming takedown attempt. However, at around that halfway marker, Maia was able to get Masvidal to the ground. He worked on a rear-naked choke, but he did not have it under the chin or have Masvidal's back completely. He would work to that position shortly after giving up the choke.
Masvidal defended until the horn. Survival was his only option, but it was still much more than most of Maia's opponents have been able to do on the mat. Maia controlled the fight and grappled his way to yet another victory.
The loss was damaging to Masvidal, but only minimally so. Masvidal showed he can survive with Maia on the ground and had moments on the feet to challenge him. Masvidal will move down the ladder again, but his showing proves he's one of the elite at 170 pounds.
Maia's next step is clear. A title shot.
Tyron Woodley is seeking a challenge, and all signs point to Maia as being that next man up. That includes a post-fight moment with UFC President Dana White who shouted, "You got it!" from cageside to Maia. The ink still needs to be put to paper, but Maia's chance at glory is coming up.
Maia vs. Masvidal lived up to the hype. It was a high-level battle of elites. The superior fighter got by with his world-class skills and appears destined for a date with the champion.