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Fortunes changed for five at UFC on FOX 21

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
There is little doubt that Demian Maia, after submitting Carlos Condit in just 1:52, is deserving of a welterweight championship shot.

He's had six wins in a row, and, as he pointed out a few times, he beat the guy who many feel was the deserving champion with the idea Condit deserved the win over Robbie Lawler in January. The problem for Maia is he's not the only one deserving, and at almost 39 years old, his window of opportunity is starting to close.

Maia (24-6) beating Condit (30-10) wouldn't be classified as a shock. As soon as that match was announced, the feeling was clear. If it stayed standing, Condit would have a huge edge. If the fight went to the ground and stayed there, Maia was likely winning. But Maia winning that quickly against a fighter who hadn't been submitted in a fight since 2006 made a real statement that Maia's ground game is, already recognized as among the elite in the sport, if anything, has gotten even more effective.

After winning, Maia said he thought that win should put him in front of Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, who Dana White had pegged for the next shot at champion Tyron Woodley. Maia also made it clear that he's not looking at fighting until he gets that shot, preferring not to risk his position. On the surface, that makes sense. But there is a lot in play right now, from a champion who wants to face challengers with big drawing power, a category Maia doesn't fit in, and questions regarding the guys who did fit into that category.

The most logical title fight for all concerned would be Woodley vs. Georges St-Pierre on Dec. 10 in Toronto. That fight could be big enough to move the show out of the Air Canada Centre and go back to the Rogers Centre, the arena St-Pierre sold out with 55,724 fans at one time. There is no bigger fight in Canada than St-Pierre challenging for the title that he never lost in the cage.

There is no possible bigger fight for the market, and no welterweight title fight that would come close to the interest level. St-Pierre has publicly said he's up for the fight and has publicly targeted that date for a return.

But where the no-brainer aspect of it ends is that UFC President Dana White has been insisting for months that St-Pierre is not going to fight again and all his talk is just public posturing. It's hard to know whether White knows something, and is correct, White is making an educated guess based on how negotiations have gone, or there is some sort of a contractual chess match being played on both sides and this is just a strategic negotiations move.

Unfortunately for Maia, who on Saturday tied Donald Cerrone and Matt Hughes for third place on the UFC's all-time win list with 18 (St-Pierre and Michael Bisping both have 19), should St-Pierre return, Maia will be in for a long wait. Thompson (13-1) is likely going to be getting a shot at the title ahead of Maia, whether St-Pierre does or doesn't enter into the equation. And depending on results of fights, whether it's St-Pierre, Nick Diaz, Cerrone or Robbie Lawler, there are more popular fighters who may be getting their own impressive wins over the next year and shoot ahead of him.

It's the unfortunate aspect of a business where wins and losses are part of the equation, but profit margin is an even bigger part. Maia is a winning fighter with no history of drawing in a division filled with more marketable stars.
The subject of controversial judging was also back on Saturday in Vancouver, B.C., in split decision wins by Jim Miller over Joe Lauzon and Kyle Bochniak over Enrique Barzola.

Miller and Lauzon's second fight, like the first, won fight of the night and ended with Miller getting his hand raised.
But this win was a lot more difficult. The first fight was a decision Miller clearly won.

Saturday saw Miller win rounds one and three on the card of Dave Therien and rounds one and two on the card of Tony Weeks. The third judge, Dave Hagen, only gave Miller the first round, which was the same way we saw it. But all three rounds were close, and when it was over, I had Lauzon on top but felt it could go either way. Miller landed more strikes in every round (although round two was close), and Lauzon got takedowns in every round.
However, Lauzon got 93 percent of the media scores based on tallies.

Bochniak vs. Barzola was a little more confusing. Judge John Cooper gave Bochniak rounds one and three, as did Hagen. Therien gave Barzola all three rounds. Media scores were 100 percent for Bochniak, with 64 percent giving him all three rounds. When it was over, I figured Barzola had it, and the only question would be if it was 30-27 or 29-28 in his favor.

Barzola outlanded him in all three rounds, and also landed a greater percentage of his strikes to the head.

Let's look at how Fortunes changed for five stars of Saturday's show.

DEMIAN MAIA - Maia clearly solidified himself in the top ranks in the welterweight division, the class with Woodley, Thompson, Robbie Lawler, Donald Cerrone and possibly St-Pierre.

How the St-Pierre story plays out is probably the key for Maia. If St-Pierre vs. Woodley happens, it would be difficult for Maia to sit out. Thompson would get the next likely shot, and it would be so long as it would give time for someone like Lawler or Cerrone, bigger names than he is, to move into title contention.

If he is going to fight, there is so much in play. If Cerrone drops to lightweight, that would eliminate him. If White is right and St-Pierre is out, Maia should stay put and wait for a shot at the Woodley vs. Thompson winner. If Cerrone stays at welterweight, a Cerrone vs. Lawler fight is a better fan match-up than Maia with either. But the nature of that fight, the winner could easily get the public backing for a title shot.

So right now it's too soon to make a call past waiting for the title match to be announced, and then looking at the lay of the land from there.

CARLOS CONDIT - Condit had talked retirement after his title fight with Lawler, which many people thought he won. He seemed closer to being out the door after the quick loss to Maia, openly saying he doesn't know if he can still compete at the top level.

Condit is only 32, but has lost five of his seven fights.

He's hardly lost to slouches, St-Pierre, Johny Hendricks, Woodley, Lawler and Maia. Hendricks was a fight he could have won had it gone five rounds. Lawler is a fight he could have won via decision. The Woodley fiight ended due to a blown out knee.

Fighters thinking retirement after a bad night is hardly rare, but his reasons have a lot to do with worrying about the cumulative effect of shots to the head, and having a family. It's the same decision making process Brian Stann went through when he walked away, and is likely to be more common going forward.

ANTHONY PETTIS - With his win over Charles Oliveira, Pettis (19-5) became an immediate force and title contender at featherweight.

Like with Maia, the next move depends on outside forces. If Conor McGregor returns to featherweight, Pettis vs. Max Holloway (16-3) makes the most sense. Pettis is a big enough name that should McGregor retain, it can be a huge fight. If Aldo wins the title, Pettis would be his most marketable opponent. Either way, Pettis is probably only one win away from a title match.

If McGregor gives up the title, Aldo vs. Holloway is the right fight to make, although there will be a lure to go right to Aldo vs. Pettis. Holloway has nine straight wins, while Pettis lost three in a row before Saturday. But Pettis is a former champion and a better-known star, and Aldo vs. Pettis is a much bigger fight than Aldo vs. Holloway.

If Aldo vs. Holloway is the direction, then Pettis should face either Cub Swanson (23-7) or Frankie Edgar (20-5-1). That depends on the gamble. Pettis would be solidly favored over Swanson and could walk into a title shot from there. Pettis vs. Edgar is an issue because Edgar can win, but Aldo has already twice beaten Edgar, so you take the real risk of taking Pettis out of a title shot against a guy who even with the win won't get a title shot.

CHARLES OLIVEIRA - The one challenge Oliveira seemed to conquer in his loss to Pettis is the battle with the scale. Oliveira had missed weight four times previously, but came in at 143 pounds, three under the maximum, in the loss to Pettis.

The challenge he hasn't mastered is beating top-tiered guys, as the Pettis loss follows losses to Edgar, Swanson and Holloway at featherweight and Cerrone and Jim Miller at lightweight. The right fight to make for him next would look to be with Ricardo Lamas (16-5).

PAIGE VANZANT - VanZant's switch kick that knocked out Bec Rawlings will be shown in highlights for a long time to come.

VanZant is one of the company's more interesting fighters. There are few on the roster as marketable, which is largely based on looks, but VanZant also comes across very likeable on television which is a major part of her appeal. She also has great name recognition from "Dancing With The Stars," where she placed second in the last season.

As a fighter, her fight with Rose Namajunas established she is a long way from ready for the top tier fights, and she may never be more than a special attraction type fighter. And she may also get outside offers to take her away from fighting.

The thing she has going for her is at this point nobody expects her to be a world beater, but people are interested in seeing her fight. Losses won't hurt as long as they aren't frequent and one-sided. If there's any quest for the title, that's a lot of improvements and a lot of years away.

The idea is put her in fights with either people who will talk the fight up, or who will be interesting opponents for her. Michele Waterson (13-4), who is coming off a hand injury, would fit the latter category as well as anyone, and if there's a second pick it's Tecia Torres (7-1). She's already targeted the date, saying she wants to fight on the Dec. 17 Fight Night in Sacramento, Calif., where she trains out of.

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