Over the weekend, it was reported that Vitor Belfort has pulled out of his middleweight championship bout with current UFC champion Anderson Silva. The fight, scheduled for UFC 112: Invincible, was set to take place in Abu Dhabi at an outdoor arena. Since the news broke, UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva have been scrambling to find a legitimate contender. With all the contenders either tied up in other matches or injured, the UFC has chosen Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Demian Maia as the best possible replacement, though the decision has raised some eyebrows.
Before Maia’s last win, a unanimous decision over Dan Miller, Maia dropped his first fight ever in a bout with Nate Marquardt that lasted only 21 seconds and acted to quell the hype surrounding Maia and his apparently unstoppable ground game &- he had, until then, ended every bout in the UFC via a choke, with four of the five earning submission of the night honours. The loss seemed to send Maia down the middleweight ladder, but taking a closer look at the UFC’s top middleweights it appears Maia is in like company.
When Belfort first withdrew from the title fight the obvious choice was Chael Sonnen, who won top contender status with a dominant victory over previous number one contender Marquardt. Yet as everyone was surprised to learn in the post-fight interview, Sonnen was in deeper trouble than it appeared and claims he was merely holding onto to his consciousness for a good portion of the fight. Needless to say both Marquardt and Sonnen were beat up bad, and both have received medical suspensions beyond UFC 112’s scheduled date.
Yet Sonnen’s number one status is not an unattainable feat for Maia.
When Sonnen rejoined the UFC middleweight stable after a victory over the final WEC middleweight champion Paulo Filho, he was first welcomed by none other than Maia, who managed to take advantage of Sonnen’s wrestling base, submitting him with perhaps the most technically sound triangle choke ever seen in the UFC.
What this recent action in the division is describing is an extreme diversity in style: Sonnen is a world-class Greco-Roman wrestler and was once an Olympic alternate for the United States team, Maia is a highly decorated Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioner who has seven world titles under his belt, and Marquardt is considered one of the most well-rounded fighters in the sport. Amongst these three is of course the king pin, Silva, who rivals Maia in technical mastery, though as a striker.
While Maia may no longer have a perfect record, he is still a formidable opponent for the champ. As their records indicate, all of the top contenders have kinks in their armour and each bring something different to the table. If past performances indicate anything, Silva, though a black belt himself, appears to have the most trouble with other Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. Against wrestlers, Silva has proven dominant &- just look at his second round rear-naked choke of Dan Henderson, and for well-rounded fighters just look at Marquardt’s last encounter with Silva, where Marquardt was dispatched at exactly the same time one round earlier.
Silva has found himself in deep water only once, against Travis Lutter. Lutter managed to control Silva with his ground game and was even ahead on the scorecards before succumbing to a triangle choke. And as noted by UFC heavyweight Frank Mir, on replays of the event, Lutter had Silva in very threatening positions on the ground but failed to capitalize on Silva’s mistakes. Furthermore, Silva has only been stopped twice, both times by submission – including Ryo Chonan’s highlight reel scissor kick-to-heel hook.
So to all the naysayers out there, I say reserve your judgement until after and keep in mind that according to Sherdog.com, Sonnen, Marquardt and Maia are all ahead of Belfort in the middleweight world rankings. As the only one healthy enough to take on the challenge, Maia should be getting more respect and well-wishes than criticism as he has less than two months to train for the most important fight of his life.