An injury to middleweight contender Vitor Belfort got Demian Maia the title shot he always wanted at UFC 112, in 2010, but what happened inside the Octagon is still remembered as one of the most bizarre fights in the history of the promotion.
Maia entered the championship fight with a 12-1 record with five of his six UFC wins coming by way of submission, but Anderson Silva was in a different level. Most fans didn’t see how Maia could dethrone the 185-pound king, and he did not after all. However, the five-round fight was different than anything anyone had ever seen before.
Silva, who was coming off a devastating first-round knockout over former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin, decided to talk trash at Maia the entire fight. He outstruck the challenger, his belt was never in danger, but never really put his opponent in danger too.
UFC president Dana White was pissed at "The Spider" for putting on one of the worst title fights in UFC history, and some people wonder if Maia is still paying for that weird fight.
"That fight changed my career," Maia told Ariel Helwani during a recent appearance on The MMA Hour. "At that time, Anderson never had any real challenge. That fight went five rounds, and I didn’t do well, but in the end I was a little bit better, was trying to fight. A lot of people started to recognize me as a fighter, even (though) I lost. A lot of good feedback.
"But what I mean is that it doesn’t matter the feedback, everybody spoke about that fight because of Anderson. These other people were talking about the fight, and that I think put me in a different level. People started to recognize me more because I was that guy that fought Anderson.
"But, yeah, maybe your theory is right, maybe I’m still paying for that. I lost some fights also after that, too."
Like he does for every fight, Maia only watched his loss once. As soon as he was cleared from the hospital in Abu Dhabi and returned to his hotel room, Maia sat down with his team and watched the UFC 112 main event, and that was something different than anything he has ever experienced in combat sports.
"Why I think it was sad for me was because, for the first time in a fight, in one point I didn’t believe I could win," he said. "After the end of the third round, when I landed the first punch… I remember I landed two good punches in that fight, one in the third round and the other one in the fourth round. But the second round and the first half of third round I was like, at one point I said ‘I think I’m not gonna win, I’m gonna get knocked down’. So, for the first time in my career, for the only time in my life, I said ‘I can’t find the distance’.
"I think the training was wrong for that fight because we were training a strategy to wait for him to come to shoot and put him down. But with Anderson, and Chael (Sonnen) proved that later, you gotta chase him, you know? You gotta throw overhands and crazy stuff. If you wanna be technical with him standing, he’s always much more technical than you, at least than me and 99 percent of the guys, so you can’t be so technical standing with him. You can’t be orthodox. I was trying to keep the distance, jab and go away, but he was just hitting me so hard with his jabs.
"When I said ‘OK, it doesn’t matter, I just wanna fight’, I was better. And I have a theory: if I had fought him before my first loss, when I just went there and throw overhands and clinch with the guys, maybe it would be different, you know, because after that loss to Nate Marquardt I started to focus on boxing very much, and started to focus on keeping the distance and being more patient, and throwing more straight punches. That put me a little bit out of my nature."
During the fight, Silva would attack the challenger with punches, kicks and words. "Where’s your jiu-jitsu now, playboy?" is one of his most iconic lines.
"Playboy in Brazil is like a rich boy, but I’ve never been a rich boy," Maia explains. "My family is not rich. Actually, I help all my family. Maybe because I studied and he didn’t study. I went to college. I did that but I worked at the same time, and I trained. And my family… I bought an apartment for mother like three years ago. She never had an apartment, you know?"
"When I was 16, we get kicked out of our house because my mother and my father were separated, so we didn’t have money to pay," he continued. "We got kicked out and had to live with my grandmother, sleeping in the living room, for many years. I was never a playboy, you know? But it’s easy to say that because it’s just a stereotype. ‘OK, this boy did college so he must be a playboy’. He doesn’t know my life and everything that I passed through, but it doesn’t matter."
All the controversy surrounding that night was a surprise for Maia. Looking back at the week of the fight, Maia says he met Silva a few times at the hotel in Abu Dhabi, and the champion never said anything bad to his face.
"That was surprising because he met me at the hotel and we had many friends in common," said Maia. "The Nogueiras were there, and they are big friends of mine. Actually, they took me to train boxing in Salvador, in Bahia, and they were with him there. And Andre Galvao, who is a big friend of mine… I got him to train when he was a kid, you know, and he was training him jiu-jitsu. Josuel Distak, who is Jacare’s coach, was my MMA coach before the UFC. We had no problem. Every time he met me at the hotel it was ‘hey, how are you doing?’ So I was kind of surprised, but it doesn’t matter."
Maia admits he was bothered by the loss and Silva’s antics "for a while".
"I think everybody has his own way," he said. "He made his mistakes, I made my mistakes, and that’s it. I don’t care anymore. I hope he’s good with his family and everything."
Maia decided to cut down to 170 pounds two years after that loss, and it proved to be a wise decision. With three wins in his first three bouts as a welterweight, Maia thought it could eventually lead to a rematch with "The Spider" down the road.
"In one point I said… I never said this to nobody, but I said ‘I’m going to win the welterweight title and I’m gonna challenge him,’" Maia said. "In one point, early in my welterweight career, but I don’t care about that anymore."
Maia is 7-2 as a welterweight now, and a win over Matt Brown on May 14 could earn him a shot at the welterweight title. Six years after that controversial fight in Abu Dhabi, Silva is no longer the middleweight champion after suffering back-to-back losses to Chris Weidman. The first loss, a shocking second-round knockout at UFC 162, made Maia smile for a moment deep in his heart.
"Not so deep," he laughed. "I was thinking ‘okay, he deserves that’."