With the last bout of his current UFC deal set to unfold, veteran Demian Maia is on the fence about whether UFC 263 will be his final walk to the octagon. If Saturday night is it for the jiu-jitsu specialist, Maia says he is proud of the journey he has made over the last 20 years as a professional fighter.
Speaking with MMA Fighting ahead of his welterweight clash with Belal Muhammad, Maia reflected back on the highs and lows of his UFC career and the many moments of joy and regret that helped build the reputation of an all-time nice guy and fan-favorite in the sport.
My best moment
“It’s between two moments: the [Carlos] Condit fight and the one with Ben Askren. Those two fights, to me, were the biggest moments in my career.
“The Condit fight because I was already in discussions for a title fight when I defeated Gunnar [Nelson], my fourth straight victory in the division, and again they said I would fight for the belt after I won against Matt Brown, but then I ended up fighting Condit. I was able to submit him. Everything went so perfect, it felt like a movie script. I was able to submit him in the first round without getting hurt, nothing happened [to me]. I was expected to fight for the title next but had to defeat [Jorge] Masvidal after that.
“And the Ben Askren fight [was special] because it capped off another winning streak. Everybody was talking about this fight between two fighters that everyone knew would always try to grapple. Which one was better? Which one adapted his style better to MMA? There was this huge pressure. I knew he would come to fight me like no other before in my entire life, and vice versa. We were able to do the correct strategy and train what we had to. The whole context, a main event in Asia, a five-round fight against an Olympic wrestler who only had one loss in his career.”
My favorite submission
“In terms of beauty, I think it’s the one [against Chael] Sonnen. It was my 11th consecutive victory, I was undefeated, and I was able to get that takedown and do the transition to the triangle. That one, in terms of how it looked, was the nicest one. We are who we fight and he was super tough, a great athlete, and so big for the division. He won many fights after that one until he fought Anderson [Silva] and did that fight, which he didn’t win because of a gigantic mistake in the end of the fifth round.”
My best fight
“We can say it’s the one against Condit because everything went so perfect, you know? He tried to hit me, I dodged it, came back and took him down on the right time, took his back and submitted him. In terms of perfection, technique-wise, I think that was the best. I punched him only once on the ground and he said he felt it and ended up giving me the back. I only threw one punch and he felt it.”
My worst moment
“There were losses that made me grow, like the loss to Anderson. I came out of that fight saying, ‘I can do it, I know I’m capable of getting there. I fought the best in the world.’ But the worst moment to me, the most painful one, was the Jake Shields fight. Man, the show was set. It was in Sao Paulo, I had won three in a row, people were talking about me fighting for the belt. I thought this fight would be a great matchup for me because he was also a grappler, and I think I was overconfident. I hadn’t been that naive in many years. My biggest mistake was thinking I had to put on a show instead of thinking I had to do my best to win the fight.
“The fight started and I clinched, took his back and, when I was about to put both hooks in, I lost the position and ended up on bottom and just stayed there the entire fight, apathetic. I still landed a good hand in the third round and he went down, I clinched and took his back, and again he exploded and got out and ended up on top.
“I expected a close decision but still thought I would win, that I had won three rounds, and they gave him the split decision. That was so tough because I had never been in a fight in which I lost but thought I should have won. There was another close fight, against Mark Munoz, but giving him the win wasn’t unfair. This one, even though I didn’t perform the ideal way, I believe I won that fight. That split decision was the worst moment of my career as a MMA fighter.”
My biggest disappointment
“I think the main one was not having the chance to prepare in a full camp for my second title fight, when I had the chance to fight Tyron [Woodley]. My finger was injured and they called me on four weeks’ notice for such important fight — so, yes, that was disappointing in a sense that they could have given me more time, at least two and a half months, to prepare in a decent way for the most important fight of my life.
“Eduardo [Alonso], my manager, called the entire team and we discussed [the offer], and I said something that is still valid: [The UFC] told us to accept [the fight] or maybe we wouldn’t have this opportunity again, so I’d rather regret something I’ve done than regret something that could have [happened], something I’d never know if it would have worked or not, and I’d live the rest of my life mulling that over. You can’t regret that. When you’re offered a title fight, that’s a delicate situation.”
My biggest regret
“Not starting jiu-jitsu earlier. I was training other martial arts but took too long to move to jiu-jitsu. If I had started a bit earlier I think I would have gotten a generation before [in MMA], which was less competitive, and I think I would have gotten even further. Let’s say if I had started five years before in high-level MMA, starting in the UFC in 2002 instead of 2007. It was completely different in terms of level of competition and professionalism. You can’t compare to what it is today, what it has been the last few years. It’s natural, the sport changes.”
The moment that changed my life
“The moment I decided to train jiu-jitsu, that changed my life. And, of course, the birth of my sons.”
How I hope to be remembered in MMA in 10 years from now
“The man that went in there and represented jiu-jitsu. Everything I train, boxing, everything is about moving to understand how to use my jiu-jitsu in there. And [be remembered] as a man that believed in certain principals and didn’t change with the flow. I have to behave a certain way as a fighter.
“Back when I was on my winning streak, I remember everybody saying, ‘You have to talk a bunch of crap, you have to do this and do that, or you’ll never fight for the title.’ And I thought to myself, if I changed things because it’s convenient, I think I’d regret that. You can change what you believe when it goes according to your personal evolution, not because it’s convenient. You can’t have varying principles. That’s something I would have regretted a lot, as a man, if I had done it.”