Only a shot at the UFC welterweight championship would convince Demian Maia to sign a new deal with the company and fight more than twice again in the Octagon, but having lost to the top three best fighters in the division kept that dream a bit far.
Jorge Masvidal just gave him some hope.
Maia scored one of the most impressive victories of his MMA career on Saturday, choking out Ben Askren in the third round of their main event affair at UFC Singapore. The jiu-jitsu specialist has said before and after the bout that he would only enter the cage the number of times he has left in his current deal, but tries not to get excited after such a great performance.
“Man, it’s f****** hard [laughs],” Maia told MMA Fighting. “You win a fight like that and gets excited again and you start thinking, ‘Well, maybe I win one more against a tough opponent and can have another chance for the title,’ and get that itch again. Thinking rationally, it’s only two more, but let’s say I get a fight with a big name again and win impressively and get closer to the title, then there’s no other way.”
It’s not up to Maia, though, so he won’t waste much energy thinking about it just yet.
The welterweight veteran, victorious in 22 fights inside the Octagon, once again called for a bout with Diego Sanchez after UFC Singapore. The UFC hasn’t mentioned anything to him or his team yet, but sees as “a good sign” that the company has posted his callout on social media.
As for Sanchez’s suggestion to make it happen on Jan. 18 in Las Vegas, Maia initially said it would be “too soon.” After being informed that this date would potentially feature the return of Conor McGregor, Maia thinks it’s more “interesting,” but won’t make any decisions right now.
Another “offer” thrown at Maia after the win in Singapore came from Jorge Masvidal, who headliners Saturday’s UFC 244 against Nate Diaz. According to Masvidal’s manager Abe Kawa, the welterweight “wants Maia to save his last fight for him” so they can “run it back” for the UFC championship.
Just spoke to @GamebredFighter and he wants maia to save his last fight for him. Says after he wins the gold he will give him his shot. He really wants to run that one back.— Ibrahim Kawa (@Abraham_kawa) October 26, 2019
“That would be cool,” Maia said. “Now I’m rooting for him to win the belt so there’s a chance this happens [laughs].
“He’s a great athlete, we had a really tough fight. I think sometimes he crosses the line promoting a fight but I respect him. He’s an old school type of fighter, but he was always very respectful with me and treated me really well even after I defeated him. He was never a scumbag.
“He’s been evolving over the last few years, has gotten better in all aspects. He has good boxing and is very technical. Man, it would be great for me if he won and that happened. He has a fight with Nate now and I think he has an advantage. If he beats Nate, I think there’s a good possibility the UFC gives him a title shot.”
Back to discussing his win over Askren, Maia admits he didn’t foresee himself submitting the wrestling-specialist with a rear-naked choke.
“I honestly had no idea what to expect, how he would defend my sweeps, if he would take me down or if I would be successful with my takedown defenses,” Maia said. “I thought he’d make a mistake in a scramble. He’s very good in wrestling scrambles, but jiu-jitsu scrambles are focused on submissions so I thought I could get an arm, a guillotine, a triangle, a kimura from the bottom, or the rear-naked choke if I took his back. It wasn’t clear to me that I would get his back. I thought it would be a submission from the bottom or even a decision.”
Maia vs. Askren was promoted as one the best match-up between pure grapplers in recent UFC history — if not ever —, and the Brazilian says this finish is bigger than anything but a title win.
“I have friends in wrestling that idolize him,” Maia said. “He’s a tough match-up for anyone. Even if his striking isn’t great, he’s always coming forward, he has a good chin, and he will take you down. I have good takedown defense but sometimes I felt like a white belt trying to defend his takedowns because of how subtle his movements were, how easily he breaks your posture and angles.”
Entering a fight looking to stop takedowns was unique in Maia’s mixed martial arts career, though. Usually the one initiating the grappling exchanges, the jiu-jitsu ace said his team had to “reprogram my head” to make sure he got rid of old habits, like working on single leg takedowns and half guard sweeps, and went for different submission attacks and sweeps.
“A win like this means a lot for my legacy,” Maia said. “This fight is a turning point in my career because I knew that it would either put me up there, like it did, or… Imagine if he submits me there, people would be talking crap at me like they are talking about him, which I think is really unfair. He’s a fantastic athlete with a gigantic history and people are talking like he’s crap.”