LAS VEGAS — Lost in the hubbub of UFC 209 fight week and the announcement of Georges St-Pierre vs. Michael Bisping was the fact that welterweight’s next man in line, Demian Maia, was seemingly deemed to no longer be that next man in line.
Maia, a 39-year-old widely considered to be one of the most talented jiu-jitsu practitioners in the UFC, lost out on a title shot this week when he was booked to fight Jorge Masvidal on May 13 at UFC 211. A winner of five straight bouts, Maia sat on the sidelines for six months after being promised the next shot at gold following his two-minute finish of Carlos Condit in Aug. 2016 — a delay lengthened by the majority draw that marred Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson’s welterweight title match at UFC 205 in November.
To make matters stranger, the UFC booked Maia vs. Masvidal just four days before the rematch between Woodley and Thompson was slated to resolve things at UFC 209.
Woodley has served as somewhat of an advocate of Maia’s over recent months, stating several times in the media that he believed Maia deserved the title shot at UFC 209 ultimately given to “Wonderboy.” But when asked about the situation on Wednesday, Woodley admitted he also wasn’t surprised by the way the UFC handled Maia.
“Part of me wants to feel bad and have compassion for Demian Maia,” Woodley said at UFC 209’s open workouts. “The other part of me, I’ve been in four No. 1 contender fights. If Carlos Condit had beaten me, he would’ve immediately fought for a title shot. Rory MacDonald beat me, he fought for a title shot. If Kelvin Gastelum would’ve beaten me, they would’ve said he’s going to fight for a title shot.
“So I’ve been in that position enough to know that he has to do something different himself. Unfortunately, this sport of mixed martial arts has turned into where the fans want to see you get knocked the hell out, and cut open, and in these wars. They don’t respect his art. He’s one of the best grapplers in the UFC right now, and they don’t respect his art that he brings to the table. That’s not my job to go and promote him. I have a hard enough time promoting myself.”
Just last month, Maia wrote an impassioned Facebook post explaining his decision to wait for a title shot and stating his hope that UFC president Dana White would keep the promise he made to the Brazilian veteran after UFC 205.
“When Dana White said at (the) UFC NY post fight press conference,” Maia wrote, “after Wonderboy and Woodley fought to a draw for the WW title, that I would get the next shot if I want to wait or I could fight somebody else, my understanding was that I had earned my title shot and that it was going to happen sooner or later, and it was my choice if I wanted to remain active or not. I have the biggest respect for Dana, I trust him, and I had seen how Woodley could wait for longer than a year and get his title shot, that ultimately crowned him as a champion, so why would I believe it would be any different with me?”
And for better or worse, Woodley believes it’s solely because of Maia’s grappling-heavy style.
“The fans are really a little bit more in control than they realize,” Woodley said. “If they want to see a fight, the chance is that fight will happen. If they have shown in pay-per-view buys and attendance and views, in whatever, in social media posts, that they don’t really respect a grappler — we saw the same thing in Jake Shields. Jake Shields has victories over me, victories over Dan Henderson, Robbie Lawler, the list goes on, Carlos Condit. And he’s a guy who people just didn’t like his style to want to watch.
“It’s mixed martial arts. No one says, ‘hey man, this guy is striking too much. Why doesn’t Stephen Wonderboy go for a takedown? Why doesn’t he go for a submission? Why doesn’t he do a clinch against the cage?’ No, they want to see the striking. They want to see the creative spinning kicks and attacks, and that’s what our society wants to see. So unfortunately for those guys, they didn’t take the time to really perfect their striking. If I would’ve done the same, I would’ve just been a wrestler.”