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In twilight of his UFC career, Demian Maia doesn’t rule out return to grappling competition

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Demian Maia (pictured) faces Anthony Rocco Martin at UFC Minneapolis on Saturday.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Demian Maia knows it’s a cliché, but he feels extra confident going into Saturday’s UFC Minneapolis welterweight clash with Anthony Rocco Martin after having his best training camp in a while.

The 41-year-old jiu-jitsu specialist, who returned to the winning column with an impressive first-round submission over Lyman Good in February, is a veteran of the game with 20 wins in 29 Octagon appearances, but he was still able to mature and evolve mentally over the past few months.

With two bouts left in his contact with the UFC, Maia admits that coming back to the winning column after the first three-fight losing skid of his MMA career brought some relief, but pressure isn’t something he feels over his shoulders anymore.

“It would have affected me a lot more in the past, but not today,” Maia told MMA Fighting. “I know this is my job, and I’ll go there and get it done just like my last fight, regardless of coming off a loss or a win.”

Shortly after his win over Good earlier this year in Brazil, Maia suggested he could possibly hang up his MMA gloves after completing his current UFC deal. Asked if that’s already set in stone, Maia left the door open for another short contract.

“It really depends on my next couple of fights, depends on what happens, but one thing is for sure: I don’t plan on fighting more after the next year,” Maia said. “I have this fight and one more left, and if I do well on them I might have the desire to fight two more, but that depends on a bunch of things. It depends on the negotiation. I can’t think about that now.”

If he ultimately decides to extend his career a bit longer—mostly to break Donald Cerrone’s record for most UFC wins or Charles Oliveira’s record for most submission victories in the Octagon—Maia expects to be a retired fighter by 2020.

“It could be (in 2019), but also could be next year, but I don’t know,” Maia said. “If I go there and submit (Martin), and submit another one, and another one, and then they say I’ll fight for the title again… I can’t project the future considering those things. We’ll see what happens.

“Even if I get a good winning streak, that doesn’t mean they are putting me in a title fight again. If I win a few in a row—which is too soon to talk since I’m on a one-fight winning streak, but let’s say that happens—and there’s a possibility (of fighting for the title), then that’s a different thing.

“But I don’t know if that would happen even if I won. I want to defeat this guy first. He’s a really tough guy, on a four-fight winning streak and a prospect in the UFC.”

One of the best grapplers to ever enter the eight-sided cage, Maia doesn’t plan on walking away from competition even when this career is over. The jiu-jitsu specialist doesn’t know for sure what the future holds for him, but is considering competing in a grappling match, “with the gi or no-gi”, when he walks away from MMA.

Before making the jump from jiu-jitsu to MMA in 2001, the ADCC gold medalist faced some of the best in the world on jiu-jitsu and grappling tournaments, including Roger Gracie, Ronaldo Souza, Gabriel Gonzaga, Romulo Barral, Marcelo Garcia and Rafael Lovato Jr.

“I see that as my mission today,” Maia said. “I don’t do this just for ego, but I have the mission to represent the flag and bring that to people from all over the world, to spread this Brazilian martial art, and that’s what gives me most pleasure. If there’s one reason why I want to stop (fighting MMA) is to continue spreading that through other platforms. Seminars, TV shows, documentaries, always spreading Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I’m an instrument of this art more than a character myself.”

As an instrument of the gentle art, Maia obviously hopes to tap Martin at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

“He’s a prospect and the UFC definitely knows that. They matched us up because they know he can win, that this fight won’t be one-sided, “ Maia said. “(Submitting) is what I want. Submitting is always the most important thing to me. Victory first, but with a submission is what I always want.”