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Demian Maia: Kamaru Usman ‘is not just hype’

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There was a time when Demian Maia was a rising prospect hungry for recognition.

Maia made his UFC debut back on Oct. 20, 2007, at UFC 77 in Cincinnati, where he made short work of Ryan Jensen in a welterweight bout. It took less than three minutes for Maia to ground Jensen and submit him with a rear-naked choke, a fate that would befall many men who would go on to step into the Octagon with Maia.

Despite starting his pro MMA career 11-0 and winning his first five UFC fights, Maia’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizardry did not put him at the front of the contenders’ line and his first title opportunity only came about as a second replacement after Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen were unable to make a booking opposite then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva for UFC 112.

Maia would go on to lose a five-round unanimous decision in a poorly received bout, but he would receive another title shot seven years later, this time in the welterweight division on the back of another lengthy win streak. He would again fall short on points, losing to Tyron Woodley at UFC 214.

Now it’s Maia’s UFC Chile opponent Kamaru Usman who is looking to break through the glass ceiling. The Ultimate Fighter 21 winner has picked up victories in all seven of his UFC appearances, but has yet to merit serious title shot consideration. His original opponent for Saturday’s show was supposed to be Santiago Ponzinibbio, but when the Argentinian was forced to withdraw due to injury, it was the esteemed Maia who stepped in on short notice to save the main event.

Having been in Usman’s shoes, Maia believes “The Nigerian Nightmare” deserves this opportunity and he’s impressed with what he’s seen from Usman so far.

“I’ve been in this position before when you never lose, when your record is clear, people are avoiding you,” Maia told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour on Monday. “But his stuff is not just hype. There’s a little bit of hype, he’s pretty tough and he showed that in his previous fight.”

One possible reason why Usman hasn’t been able to capitalize on his success is that five of his wins inside the Octagon have come on the scorecards. Usman’s performances have been convincing, but not always fan friendly.

All that cage time means there’s plenty of footage for Maia to study, though he’s had limited time to analyze Usman due to the fact that he accepted the bout with less than a month to prepare.

“I normally like to watch the fights of my opponents, but I don’t watch like crazy, like every day, so I watched a few fights because the fight was on short notice I didn’t have time to watch all these fights,” Maia said. “I watched some of his fights.”

So why is Maia taking such a risky fight against an adversary nearly 10 years his junior?

Saturday’s show will be the UFC’s first in Chile, and Maia took a liking to the country when he was brought in to promote the company and teach the media about the sport of MMA. The offer also gave him the opportunity to work out a new four-fight deal with the promotion, so to Maia it made sense to sign on to challenge Usman.

“I think we started negotiations because the UFC really needed me here,” Maia said. “Of course, it was not perfect for me because it was short-notice and the other guy that I’m fighting is a big, tough guy, but there were a few things.

“I started the promotion here three years ago and it’s nice to come here and do the first event for the fans here and for the first time in South America outside Brazil, and we do our deal with UFC and we do our contract and so we decide to come.”