BARUERI, Brazil – In an intriguing clash of Brazilian jiu-jitsu vs. American jiu-jitsu, it was U.S. welterweight Jake Shields who proved the craftier technician in Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night 29 headliner.

Facing fellow contender Demian Maia, Shields’ brand of grappling proved superior to his Brazilian counterpart’s, and it carried him to a narrow split-decision victory.

The fight aired on FOX Sports 1 from Jose Correa Arena in Barueri, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Maia (18-5 MMA, 12-5 UFC), ranked No. 7 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA welterweight rankings, was a 3-1 favorite over unranked Shields (29-6-1 MMA, 4-2 UFC), but the Brazilian was upset in his home country.

“That was one of my hardest two or three fights of all-time,” said Shields, a former UFC title challenger and ex-Strikeforce champion. “It was up there with Georges St-Pierre and Dan Henderson. The guy’s a phenom. I expected that going in. He gave me everything I could handle.”

As expected the first round proved a strategic one. With both fighters relatively sweat-free, Maia easily secured the clinch and scored two quick takedowns. Shields, though, escaped out of the latter and ultimately took top position. The fighters traded some ground and pound while methodically looking to pass guard, but neither competitor had a clear advantage in the opening frame.

That changed in the second round, though. After both fighters jockeyed for a takedown, Shields ultimately got it a minute into the round. Although bleeding heavily from his nose after a possible head clash, Shields maintained top position and mixed in short elbows and some solid punches while moving between full and half guard. It was a clear round for Shields, who never surrendered top position.

Maia appeared he’d return the favor in the third round, but after a couple minutes of slick defensive work, Shields reversed a takedown attempt and again ended up in top position. The sequence clearly frustrated Maia – and the Brazilian crowd – and Shields sought out submissions and openings for his punches and elbows as the round came to a close.

As a non-title headliner, the bout nonetheless was slated for five rounds. Despite the extended time, Maia still struggled. Although he could easily close the distance and maintain a clinch against the cage, Shields was simply too crafty to be taken to the mat. After a restart midway through the fourth round, though, Shields showed signs of fatigue, and Maia finally returned to top position, where he delivered a few punches and elbows before a questionable standup from referee Marc Goddard in the bout’s final minute.

Shields’ fatigue was still noticeable in the fifth round, and Maia picked at him with punches between his takedown attempts. He seemed to grab momentum of the fight, though Shields’ late takedown defense and clinches slowed his attacks. The Brazilian got through a few big punches in the waning seconds of the fight, but it wasn’t enough to win over the judges.

They ultimately scored it 48-47, 47-48 and 48-47 for Shields.

“In the fifth round, in my mind, it was two rounds apiece, though I didn’t know how the judges had it,” Shields said. “I was tired, and I tried to open up the standup a bit more. I think I edged it out there.

“It was close, but I’m thankful I got the win.”

Up-to-the-minute UFC Fight Night 29 results include:

For more on UFC Fight Night 29, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

John Morgan contributed to this report on-site in Barueri.

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