Nobody in mixed martial arts embodies the noble spirit of combat sports better than Demian Maia.
Likely nearing the end of his remarkable road in MMA, the two-time Ultimate Fighting Championship title challenger will do battle with Belal Muhammad in a pivotal UFC 263 welterweight clash on Saturday at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. There, Maia, 43, can tie Donald Cerrone for the most wins (23) in UFC history. The longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt last competed at UFC Fight Night 170, where he succumbed to first-round punches from Gilbert Burns on March 14, the loss putting an end to his three-fight winning streak.
As Maia approaches his latest test, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped shape his career:
“The Spider” looked very much like a man who had grown bored with his profession, as he posted a unanimous decision over Maia in the UFC 112 headliner on April 10, 2010 at Ferrari World Concert Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It devolved into the theater of the bizarre. Silva attacked for two rounds and then disengaged from the fight, mentally and physically. Scores were 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46. Silva spent as much time clowning and taunting as he did fighting. He seemed disinterested at times, disgusted with Maia at others. The performance was eerily reminiscent of his April 2009 title defense against Thales Leites. Silva, who appeared as if he could have ended the match at a moment of his choosing, battered Maia for the first 10 minutes, as he popped him with powerful leg kicks and dropped him with a beautiful flying knee. From the third round forward, however, he did little more than circle the challenger, which resulted in referee Dan Miragliotta threatening to take away a point in the fifth round. The setback put a clear ceiling in place for Maia at 185 pounds and resulted in his eventual move to the welterweight division.
Maia overwhelmed the perennial contender with superior grappling, as he took a one-sided unanimous decision from the American Kickboxing Academy standout in a UFC 156 welterweight showcase on Feb. 2, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The Brazilian swept the scorecards by identical 30-27 marks. Fitch generated almost no offense. Maia delivered takedowns in all three rounds and kept the Fort Wayne, Indiana, native either pinned to the cage or grounded hopelessly on the mat. To his credit, Fitch defended the Brazilian’s persistent submission advances, but he was woefully outgunned in the grappling department against the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist.
The humble Maia humbled SBG Ireland’s Nelson with shocking ease, as he cruised to a unanimous decision in their UFC 194 welterweight feature on Dec. 12, 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were 30-26, 30-25 and 30-25. Nelson never had a chance. Maia got in on his legs at will, initiated scrambles and deftly advanced to top position against the Renzo Gracie protégé. The 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist achieved full mount twice, transitioned to the back on multiple occasions and battered Nelson with an endless stream of ground-and-pound. The post-fight statistics told the tale of utter domination: Maia landed 218 total strikes to Nelson’s six.
Covington continued his ascent on the welterweight ladder and stepped over Maia on his way up, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision over the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist in the UFC Fight Night 119 co-main event on Oct. 28, 2017 at Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. All three judges scored it for Covington: 29-27, 30-27 and 30-26. Maia outstruck the NCAA All-American wrestler through much of the first round, opening a cut below his right eyebrow with a series of clubbing left hands. However, the success was short-lived. Covington hit his stride in the middle stanza, sprawled out of attempted takedowns from the weary Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and picked him apart from the outside. He moved forward in Round 3, pressured and bloodied the stationary Maia with punches, denied his bid for takedowns and made him pay with heavy ground-and-pound in the waning moments. Afterward, Covington called the country a “dump” and referred to the Brazilian crowd as “filthy animals,” cementing himself as one of the sport’s true villains.
Maia choked the former Bellator MMA and One Championship titleholder unconscious in the third round of their UFC Fight Night 162 headliner on Oct. 26, 2019 at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore. Askren lost his grip on reality in the throes of a rear-naked choke 3:54 into Round 3, losing for the second time in as many appearances. The first and second rounds were awkward but competitive, and they were surprisingly entertaining. Despite connecting with increased regularity and thump on the feet in Round 2, Askren turned to an ill-advised takedown in the third. Maia swept the four-time NCAA All-American wrestler with a heel hook, advanced to three-quarter mount and forced the Wisconsin native to surrender his back. Soon after, the rear-naked choke was in place, the outcome suddenly a formality.