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‘White belt’ Demian Maia commentated 1,000 old fights to prepare for UFC commentary gig

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Demian Maia is not retired from MMA just yet, still hoping for a chance to compete one final time inside the octagon before it’s all said and done. For now, the two-time UFC title contender is juggling several other opportunities in multiple avenues.

Still active in jiu-jitsu, going 3-0 in the past 10 months with wins over Ben Henderson, Alex Oliveira and Sangwook Kim, Maia travels around the world to teach seminars when he’s not working as a UFC Fight Pass color commentator in Brazil.

“Just like in fighting, you train and get better,” Maia said of his commentary work on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca. “People have the impression that since you’re a fighter you know all the fighters and watch all the fighters. Quite the opposite. I’ve watched my opponents in the last years, and people I liked, friends like Wanderlei [Silva], Rodrigo [Nogueira], Charles [Oliveira], Matheus Nicolau and Luana Pinheiro. I didn’t really sit to watch a UFC event so there’s a lot of new people I don’t know.”

“But this [UFC Fight Pass Brazil] project started six months ago, and we did the archive of past fights,” he continued. “We did 1,000 fights, Rodrigo and Roman Laurito commentating and Ivan Bruno calling the fights. That was like training for me.”

A very calm and collected person, Maia realized he had to change the way he speaks in studio to add “emotion” to his voice. Yet, getting honest feedback wasn’t necessarily easy at first.

“You’re an athlete and people admire you, and sometimes they’re not comfortable [criticizing you],” Maia said. “I was like, ‘Tell me anything, even if you think it sucks, if you think it’s sh*t,’ because I’m here to learn. I’m a white belt at this. These months of training have me confidence when I called the first card on Jan. 14 in studio, another preparation for the live show the next week in Rio de Janeiro.”

Maia, who also revealed he’ll be the host of a Players Tribune podcast in Brazil and is currently shooting an eight-episode documentary for the UFC — with a theme that is still a secret —, feels way more confident when the action starts because “that’s what I did my entire life.”

“I look at it and know what’s his style and what he’s trying to do, and what the other guy is trying,” Maia said. “That’s what they want from the commentator. They’re not worried if I know a lot about that athlete in the prelims, they want my vision about that fight in particular.”

The jiu-jitsu ace has competed for nearly 15 years in the UFC and faced some of the world’s best in two different weight classes, sharing the cages with seven men that have held UFC welterweight or middleweight titles. In the commentary booth now, Maia doesn’t feel weird breaking down former opponents in action — and did it for the first time in his second show ever, calling a bout between former opponents Neil Magny and Gilbert Burns.

“It’s great because I’ve trained to fight that person so I know where they’re dangerous and where they’re not and what they do,” Maia said. “Since I’m in this transition between careers there are a lot of people I fought that are still active — I know one day that will end [laughs], there probably won’t be any in five of 10 years.”

Maia won’t be in studio Saturday when former opponent Kamaru Usman attempts to re-claim the welterweight belt in a trilogy bout with Leon Edwards in the main event of UFC 286 in London since he has a seminar scheduled for that same day, but will definitely watch it.

“In my opinion, even though Usman lost [the rematch], Usman is the favorite based on what he’s shown,” Maia said. “He was dominating the fight. But he’s not like a huge favorite because Edwards is coming with the confidence of winning the last one, and that makes the difference. Sometimes you’re on a tough fight, the other one is doing better than you, but when you win there’s like a switch in you. He’s coming with more confidence.”

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