FORTALEZA, Brazil – When Demian Maia entered the sport of MMA, he brought with him true world-class submission skills. As time went on, the world-champion grappler seemed to move away from those core abilities and focus more on other aspects of the sport. That’s not going to be the case anymore.
“I think when you’re training MMA, it’s a new sport,” Maia (18-4 MMA, 12-4 UFC) told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “People like myself come from one area, one martial art, and we need to improve on our other areas. So we’re training a lot in these other sports, like in my case on my boxing. Of course, you start to get sharper in that sport, but in the previous one you lose a little bit.
“The main thing is when you’re fighting, you do what you were training. So if you’re training boxing and you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, but I’ll fight with my jiu-jitsu,’ it’s not going to happen because it’s something that happens subconsciously. You’re going to fight like you’ve been training. Even if a good boxer is training a lot of jiu-jitsu for a fight, he’s going to want to grapple.”
Maia, who scored four “Submission of the Night” wins in his first five UFC fights, believes that exact phenomenon was what ailed him during a pedestrian 3-3 stretch between 2009 and 2011. Working diligently in training on turning himself into a more well-rounded athlete, Maia said the sharpness of his feared grappling suffered, as well as his drive to implement those skills at every opportunity.
In 2012, the onetime UFC middleweight title challenger made the drop to 170 pounds, and he’s since rattled off three straight victories in the division. Maia said a return to his roots has been chief among the reasons for the turnaround, and he credits his manager Eduardo Alonso for steering him in the right direction.
“I think my success has been many things together, not just the drop but also how we organize the camp and the training,” Maia said. “Eduardo, my manager, is taking care of everything, and he’s very smart in how to organize everything and focus on the specific strategy for each fight and each camp. I’m bringing back more jiu-jitsu, and all those things together are making me much more sharp.”
Maia’s next appearance will be at August’s UFC 163 event, which takes place at Rio de Janeiro’s HSBC Arena, against longtime UFC veteran Josh Koscheck (17-7 MMA, 15-7 UFC). It’s a bit of an odd booking per UFC tradition, as Maia boasts a three-fight win streak while Koscheck has lost back-to-back contests. Still, Maia believes it’s a matchup that makes sense in his overall progress in the division, especially given Koscheck’s background as a four-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler.
“I think he’s a great fighter, and he’ll be a great test for me,” Maia said of Koscheck. “I think if I want to fight Georges St-Pierre or Johny Hendricks – whoever is champion after they fight – both of them are great wrestlers, so I need to pass this test. I mean, I’ve fought good wrestlers like Rick Story and Jon Fitch and Dong Hyun Kim, a judo guy, but Koscheck was a really top-level wrestler.
“I was training at an academy in Chicago, and they had pictures on the walls of wrestlers in the newspaper, and one of those pictures was Josh. He’s a top-level guy. As a fighter, I see this as a very big test, and I need to pass this test.”
Mentioning the top two fighters in the division in St-Pierre and Hendricks is no accident. The 35-year-old Maia is careful in how he chooses his words, but he admits a shot at the 170-pound belt is the ultimate goal.
“Since I dropped, I would be a liar if I didn’t say I was thinking about Georges and the belt,” Maia said. “But now, I’m just thinking about Koscheck. I can’t think about the title just yet. Normally, I’m quiet, but sometimes you need to ask so the fans know. Many fans might see you win but don’t remember that you have three other wins before, so sometimes you need to remind them.
“Before the fight, I can’t say too much, plus I think it’s very bad luck if you start talking about title shots. First, I have a pretty tough opponent, so the main thing is to win this fight right now.”
Maia is currently ranked No. 7 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA welterweight rankings. No. 5 Nick Diaz is in semiretirement while he waits on UFC officials to decide whether or not to meet his demands for a fight with either St-Pierre or Anderson Silva. The remaining five fighters ahead of Maia in the rankings all have bouts in the near future, so a big move for the Brazilian is certainly possible.
Maia doesn’t want to focus on the possibilities, instead keeping his mind completely on Koscheck. But the Brazilian knows his time may be coming, and he wants the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world to know he’ll be representing their interests as he continues to focus on the incredible grappling he displayed during his earliest days in MMA.
“It’s great to be representing Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the UFC,” Maia said. “When I go in the octagon to fight, I’m truly thinking like a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter. I feel like I have the support of the community, so I feel like I’m fighting for something bigger than just going in there to be an athlete. I’m representing a martial art that has changed many people’s lives.”
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