If there was talk of jiu-jitsu world champion Demian Maia potentially being in line for a UFC title shot at welterweight, those discussions ended Wednesday night at UFC Fight Night 29 in Sao Paulo, Brazil as Jake Shields defeated Maia by split decision in a highly-competitive main event.
The loss is Maia's first since dropping down from middleweight.
Within seconds of the first round beginning, Maia shot in for a takedown, which didn't work at first, but eventually resulted in a trip takedown. Shields was able to stand, which resulted in another takedown for Maia, but that, too, wouldn't last. In a jockeying exchange along the fence, Maia was able to take Shields' back. Yet, Shields swung him over and ended up on top where he attempted to pass for the rest of the round without success. The American was able to land elbows as the round ended.
The second round picked up exactly where the first left off with Maia attempting a takedown, but being reversed and Shields working on top. The round didn't change much from there. Maia attempted to take the back of Shields with an Octopus guard, but it was stuffed. While the Brazilian was able to control an overhook and prevent a full pass, there was no real offense to speak of on the part of Maia. Shields, by contrast, stayed busy with pass attempts and short elbows.
In the third frame, the fighters tried to go to their relative strengths with Maia landing decent power strikes at distance and even taking Shields down with a secured back take, but it wasn't to last. In a scramble, Shields reversed Maia and ended up back on top. Maia wasn't able to do much again but defend the pass and eat short but scoring shots from Shields for the remainder of the round.
Shields kicked off the fourth round trying to bully Maia into the fence, but ended up being reversed. Still, neither fighter was able to secure control and referee Marc Goddard restarted them in the center of the cage. Shields then failed on a takedown attempt and Maia took advantage, planting Shields on his back. Maia, though, didn't do enough in the referee's judgement and the bout was stood up not long before the frame ended.
By the fifth round, Shields attempted and came close with two takedowns on Maia, but simply didn't have what it took to finish them off. Shields wouldn't relent and attempted two more takedowns, but wasn't able to secure them between Maia's defense and referee Goddard separating the two for inactivity. Both fighters appeared exhausted and weren't able to gather much momentum for any real effort.
In the end, however, the judges gave the American the nod, seeing it for 48-47 Shields, 48-47 Maia, 48-47 Shields.
"That was one of my hardest two or three fights of all time, ranks up there with GSP and Dan Henderson," Shields told UFC commentator Jon Anik in the post-fight speech. "The guy's a phenom. I expected that going in. He gave me all he could handle. It was a close fight. I'm just thankful I got the win tonight.
"In the fifth round, in my mind I had it two rounds a piece. I never know how the judges have it, but I thought we were even, so I was really tired. I tried to open the stand-up more. I thought I edged it out there. It was close, but I thought I won tonight."
The loss ends Maia's three-fight win streak since dropping to welterweight and brings his record to 18-5 overall. With a win, Shields climbs to 29-6-1 with 1 no-contest.