UFC Chile: Can Underdog Maia Revive His Career Against Usman?

Kamaru Usman UFC Chile
Kamaru Usman Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Kamaru Usman is the “most avoided man in the UFC” and wants a title shot.  Can Demian Maia pull off the upset of the year in the main event of UFC Chile?

For the last several months, the UFC welterweight division has tested the patience of fans.  On the one hand, several contenders are on impressive win-streaks with equally impressive finishes that have pegged them as potential title contenders. But with the business of MMA becoming bigger than ever, it has been a painstaking process to wait for them to face each other.  After months of anticipation, the next several weeks will feature amazing collisions in the welterweight division.  It all starts on Saturday as former title challenger Demian Maia takes on the surging Kamaru Usman.

For all the years that Maia has been in the UFC, his style has always seemed ethereal in the brutal sport of mixed martial arts.  In a competition full of sluggers and athletic specimens who break wills with physicality, Maia’s ability to drag the fight to the ground and get the victory consistently is a testament to his brilliance.  He has never evolved into anything close to impressive striker, and yet he holds an impressive 19-8 mark in more than a decade in the UFC.

But going into the main event of UFC Chile, the consensus is that Maia has his back against the wall.  His loss to Tyron Woodley for the world championship was disappointing for his inability to mount any offense against the champion.  It was followed with an even more disheartening loss to Colby Covington in Brazil.  “Chaos” was largely under the radar before he built his name off the destruction of Maia and his comments afterward.  As a legion of contenders seemingly march past him, the perception is that for the first time in his career, the game has finally passed by the great Demian Maia.  Already this week, he has said that he only has four fights left in his storied career.  This includes this Saturday’s bout.

For Kamaru Usman, circumstances favor him to win handily against Maia.  Firstly, he was training for the dangerous Santiago Ponzinibbio who fell out and Maia steps in with a little under a month to prepare.  Secondly, he stylistically has virtually every advantage over the Brazilian.  He is younger, faster, more explosive, and has elite wrestling to help him on the ground.  So formidable are his abilities that it has been said that he is the “most avoided fighter in UFC history.

While a win over Maia at this stage will not carry the same weight as a win over Ponzinibbio would, it would still put Usman in prime position in a loaded welterweight division.  With all of the contenders set to compete in the next month, having any victory is a huge credit towards a title shot.  For the Brazilian, a win over Usman could be the biggest upset of 2018 and could fuel the final steps of his career.

Stylistically, the key to a Maia upset is to put forward pressure on Usman.  Crowding Usman will help take away the threat of a takedown and make it more difficult for “The Nigerian Nightmare” to get into a rhythm for his striking.  From there, Maia will give himself the best chance to get the fight to the mat where he does his best work.  Even for someone of Usman’s caliber, it is a Herculean effort to defend against a grappler of Maia’s level.

For Usman, the key will be to use his speed to get in-and-out.  He has all the technical tools to out-point Maia.  He should also avoid getting pushed to the fence and keep the fight in the center of the Octagon where it is easier to sprawl and defend Maia’s takedowns.  Most importantly, he should not over commit in trying to knock out Maia as it opens him up to get taken down.

An Usman victory will likely put him against the winner of next week’s contest between Stephen Thompson and Darren Till.  With Rafael dos Anjos and Colby Covington set to collide for the interim title, anyone besides the Thompson/Till winner would be step back away from the title in 2018.  For Demian Maia, a victory would keep him in the mix at welterweight where Neil Magny, Li Jingliang, and other contenders could be opponents for the final bouts of his career.  The bout is a collision of fighters going in different directions, but only one can capture the glory that would make their 2018 a success.