Off three straight losses to the top three welterweights in the world, Demian Maia hasn’t looked good since UFC 211 in 2017. Now 41-years-old and without a clear route to a title fight, it isn’t a huge leap to think that the career of one of the UFC’s best submission grapplers may be drawing to a close.
However, the fight he has ahead of him in Fortaleza isn’t against a top wrestler; instead, Maia faces a striker for what seems like the first time in a long time, and he looks to run yet another (yet long overdue) jiu-jitsu clinic in the Octagon. Meanwhile, Lyman Good fought in November 2018 after a layoff of over a year, returning to obliterate Ben Saunders at Madison Square Garden. Good gets a massive step up in competition in Maia, and looks to take the fast track to the top of welterweight with an emphatic win.
Lyman Good’s return against Ben Saunders was about as impressive as a return fight can be. While Saunders looked to play a quicker game and thought he was in his element in the clinch, Good smashed through the loose double-collar-tie of Saunders with uppercuts to get a quick finish. What was more illuminating regarding Good’s overall style was his fight against currently-ranked Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, a hotly contested split loss. Good looked like a well-defined pressurer in that fight, with a very good counter right hand (often as Zaleski tried to use exchanges to angle away from the fence to Good’s right) and solid pressure footwork to keep Zaleski in front of him. Good used a jab well to push Zaleski back and found a few left hook counters, but it was mostly the right-hand counters (namely the overhand right) that hurt Zaleski, and Good largely looked cleaner in the pocket. On the weaker side, Good hunched over enough (both to just put up a guard and to find counters) that Zaleski started to key on it with uppercuts and a good flying knee, and Zaleski was able to pull the fight in his favor mostly by just going insane in the pocket late in round 3.
The biggest concern from that fight, in terms of Good’s chances against Maia, came in the first 20 seconds; Zaleski caught a kick to get the takedown and was on Good’s back very early in the fight. Good is an imposing athlete with the ability to spark anyone (including Maia) early in a fight, but he isn’t greatly tested on the ground and he’s facing arguably the best grappler to ever fight in MMA (the other consensus candidate being Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza).
A great deal of Maia’s game is underrated, particularly in recent times after a brutal three-fight stretch. Maia sets his takedowns up very well (he has a good-enough southpaw straight that he can feint and dive underneath), he can time them on the counter if his opponent tries to pressure him, and he’s very crafty at finishing them even if they’re initially stuffed. Maia’s signature has become the half-guard sweep in which he drops underneath his opponent when they stop the single leg, and then just comes up on the single leg again, and when Maia’s on top, he’s nearly impossible to stop. Jorge Masvidal was largely content with stalling Maia out on his back, and most aren’t even that lucky; Maia either hits them until they give up a position or he just takes their back as they try to get up against the fence.
Maia’s primary process is minimalist, but the fight against Gunnar Nelson showed (if it were ever in doubt) that Maia can stop every attempt by an opponent to impede it, and Maia can turn to other options if the single-leg/back-take/RNC isn’t optimal; the throw on Chael Sonnen into a triangle choke proved that. Maia’s cardio isn’t good if he’s striking and his actual striking doesn’t work well if the takedown isn’t a possibility, but he has a defined process that’s good enough to take out the vast majority of fighters.
It’s possible that the recent ghastly style matchups for Maia have hidden meaningful decline and an offensive machine in Lyman Good puts Maia away early. It’s also possible (albeit very unlikely) that Lyman turns out as good a defensive wrestler as Maia’s last three, and can not only stop Maia’s single legs but can also shut down Maia’s contingency plans to get it to the ground. However, it isn’t as likely as Maia doing what he usually does to strikers without proven cream-of-the-crop grappling defense: find the takedown, get to the back, and strangle him. Lyman is excellent, but he isn’t tested enough where it matters to favor him here.
Prediction: Maia via first-round submission. This writer caps Maia at -200.
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