When Demian Maia steps into the Octagon, class is in session. The soft-spoken Brazilian is the foremost Brazilian Jiu Jitsu scholar in the UFC, perhaps the sport.
His first five fights with the company ended by submission, with four of the five earning the native of Sao Paulo a hefty bonus check for Submission of the Night. After each victory, the comparisons to Royce Gracie grew.
“It’s a big honor to represent Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and be compared to a guy like Royce,” offers Maia when asked about the pressures of being the latest submission specialist to find success in the UFC. While Maia hasn’t achieved the same level of success as Gracie did when he introduced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to fight fans in the early ‘90s, the comparison is understandable.
Like Gracie before him, everyone knows where Demain Maia is looking to take the fight. Whether he has to pull guard or utilize a takedown, Maia wants to bring the fight to the floor. Knowing what he wants to do and being able to stop him are two totally different things, just as it was with Gracie more than 15 years ago.
Just as the son of the late Helio Gracie was able to submit opponents like Ken Shamrock, Kimo Leopoldo, Dan Severn despite their knowledge of his lone aim, Maia was able to do the same to each of the first five men he faced in the UFC.
Unlike the first Ultimate Fighting Champion, Maia doesn’t have the element of surprise. When Gracie first dominated the sport in the early days of the UFC, no one knew what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was or how to defend the onslaught of submissions attempts offered up by the UFC Hall of Famer.
Now, some form of jiu jitsu is an integral part of every fighter’s repertoire. But few, if any, have mastered the art better than Demian Maia.
While Maia may like the fight to hit the canvas as quickly as possible, the last time he entered the ring, it took just 21 seconds before Maia was on the floor.
However, this time Nate Marquardt stood over him, hand cocked-and-ready as the referee stepped in, waving an end to their bout at UFC 102.
For the first time in his career, Demian Maia had tasted defeat.
“Some things just have to happen,” he says of the zero in his personal loss column being replaced by a one. “If I had a very big will to win and desire [before], now I have even more.” He’s also got an all-star team helping him prepare for his upcoming bout with Dan Miller this Saturday.
After spending the past six or seven years as his own coach, Maia brought in help in the form of Wagner Motta. “He’s been in this world for a long time. He has a good vision of jiu jitsu,” he says when asked about the decision, “and it’s very good to have somebody to help you.”
In addition to bring in Motta, Maia, a member of Wanderlei Silva’s Wand Fight Team, also spent time working extensively with heavyweight contender Junior dos Santos and other members of Team Nogueira.
“[The Nogueira Brothers] weren’t there all the time, but Junior was there every time I was there,” Maia explained about his trips to Bahia, where he worked extensively on his boxing with dos Santos and Team Nogueira boxing coach Luiz Dorea. “They have the best boxing in Brazil there. They have Pan-American champions, Brazilian champions there.”
At UFC 109, Maia will begin his climb back up the middleweight ladder against Dan Miller (11-2-0), a fellow grappler and the elder of the New Jersey version of The Fighting Millers along with his brother Jim. Cole and Micah Miller make up the Georgia version.
Like Maia, Miller prefers to fight on the ground, as six of his 11 career wins have come by way of submission. Additionally, he was recently awarded his black belt in BJJ under Jamie Cruz, a Renzo Gracie black belt.
Occasionally, when fighters of similar styles meet, the cage transforms into Bizarro World, where dominant wrestlers eschew their pedigrees and engage in wild slug-fests, and knockout artists get locked in positional battles against the cage and on the mat.
Don’t expect any of that on Saturday, at least not according to Maia, who says he’s “not going to avoid the grappling fight” and believes that while the fight will take place at various levels, it’s both fighters “nature to want to engage in a grappling fight.”
A lot of fighters who are pigeon-holed as a certain type of fighter work diligently to change that perception. Josh Koscheck, an outstanding collegiate wrestler, stopped training wrestling in order to focus on his stand-up game and add a new dimension to his game.
Though Demian Maia admits to working hard to “improve [himself] in all my weaknesses,” the core of his approach remains the same.
“I have a philosophy and believe in that philosophy which is BJJ, so that’s what I want to do.” While some submission artists may want to quiet their critics with a thunderous knockout, Maia has one thing in mind when it comes to winning fights – “I want to keep submitting opponents. I’m training to be ready to go and try to fight striking also, but my desire is always to submit a fighter.”
To some, the idea of watching a grappling match holds little appeal, as evident by the chorus of boos that often accompanies a fight finding the floor for more than a moment.
But while those fans are booing and calling for the fighters to be stood up, they can be missing the beauty and artistry that is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. If they’re not paying attention Saturday night, they could miss a master class on the subject.
Demian Maia will be inside the Octagon looking to teach another opponent his brand of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Philosophy.
If you pay attention, you just might learn a thing or two.