Demian Maia will return to the site of one of his top career accomplishments when he squares off against Jake Shields in the main event of UFC Fight Night 29 on Oct. 9.
Maia became famous in the MMA world on Oct. 7, 2006, when he dominated three opponents in one night to win the Super Challenge middleweight tournament. The event took place at Jose Correa Gymnasium, the same arena that will host UFN 29.
"I believe the toughest thing (of my career) was to fight Anderson (Silva), because I fought more rounds against Anderson than in those three fights combined," he said. "But it was a big surprise for me because I had no idea what was going to happen. You always believe you will win, but I was the less experienced among all the competitors in that tournament."
The Super Challenge middleweight tournament had names like Gustavo Machado, Fabio Nascimento, Alexandre Ferreira, Katel Kubis and Leonardo Nascimento involved. In the end, the underdog prevailed for the title.
"I thought ‘okay, let’s see what happens,'" said Maia. "Paulo Vasconcelos was the promoter and he invited me to fight. I said ‘I don’t know, give me a submission or jiu-jitsu fight, but he couldn’t find an opponent to fight me. Josuel Distak, who was one of my coaches at that time, said I’d win the tournament, so I basically was thrown in there by them."
Maia returns to fight in Brazil exactly one year after his first-round submission victory over Rick Story in Rio de Janeiro. Now the Sao Paulo native has the opportunity to fight a few miles away from his house.
"I really enjoyed the experience of fighting in Rio, and now I have the chance to fight in my backyard, where I won the event that put my name in the MMA world," he said. "I lived in Barueri for a long time, and now I live in a city close to Barueri, so it’s like my backyard. Three years ago, we never imagined that the UFC would return to Brazil again. I expected to end my career fighting only outside of Brazil, and now I have the chance to fight at home."
Undefeated since dropping down to the 170-pound weight class, Maia praises Shields’ ground game and whatever name he calls it.
"(American jiu-jitsu) is only marketing," he said. "He trains with Cesar Gracie, so what does he train? He trains Brazilian jiu-jitsu with a Gracie. I will fight everywhere, but I trust a lot on my jiu-jitsu."
Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks fight for the welterweight title on Nov. 16 at UFC 167 in Las Vegas, and Maia hopes that a win over the former Strikeforce champion helps get him closer to a shot at gold.
"I’m going to this fight with a goal in my mind: win the fight and prove that I can be a good challenger for the belt," he said. "The good part is that now I’m in the main event. I’m focused on getting the belt, so having this opportunity to headline a card is important for me."
Maia also gives his two cents on who will win at UFC 167’s main event.
"GSP is the favorite," he said. "I believe he will keep the distance using jabs and, if he feels safe enough, will take Hendricks down. Hendricks won’t try to take him down, I believe he will throw his hands and try to knock GSP out. I believe it’s hard to make happen, but not impossible. He has a chance, yes - he’s a dangerous guy, and GSP can’t make mistakes."