The first fight on the UFC's official debut as a network broadcasting property features a pair of ground specialists on the fringe of the top tier of fighters looking to put their name into title talks. While Demian Maia was originally scheduled to face Michael Bisping, when Bisping was promoted to face Chael Sonnen in the broadcast's second bout, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva went to an old stand-by and dialed up a fighter from the Renzo Gracie family of schools to step in with a short camp to save the bout.
A former UFC Middleweight Title challenger, Maia is a fighter who is most well known for something he hasn't fully managed to implement in almost three years. Once known as a one-dimensional fighter who was helpless on his feet, Maia's worked hard on his striking game, only to find that the submission well has dried up of late in the process.
Maia made a name for himself inside the UFC by using his world-class BJJ to strangle anybody the UFC put in front of him, winning four submission of the night bonuses in five fights, however since being handed his first loss in the UFC by Nate Marquardt, Maia has yet to have a fight end early. With a record of 3-1 since losing in his title bid against Anderson Silva, Maia has taken victories over Mario Miranda, Kendall Grove and Jorge Santiago, with a loss to Mark Munoz, and has begun to show more-and-more willingness to keep fights standing and forgoing any urgency to take advantage of his grappling wizardy.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Everybody knows what Maia's primary strength in the Octagon is, even if he hasn't actually submitted an opponent in almost three years. When debating the best offensive grappler in the division, it's a very short list of defensible positions, and Maia is one of those guys. What is underrated about Maia is his ability to get the fight to the ground. In addition to a variety of tricky guard pulls, Maia's fantastic mounted triangle of Chael Sonnen was set up by tossing the division's best wrestler and landing already in position to cinch up the triangle. While striking was once considered the major hole in Maia's game, and is certainly still his weaker area, he has shown great strides in the stand-up arts, and surprised Munoz when they fought by dominating the stand up in the first frame.
While Maia is a master on the ground, Weidman is no joke there himself. The American will have the wrestling edge, so unless Maia scores a throw or uses strikes to set up a shot it's likely any ground play will begin with Maia on his back. He is certainly talented enough to submit anyone from that position, however as fighters like Dan Miller and Mario Miranda showed, it is possible for a high-level grappler to survive on the ground with Maia, so pick the Unanimous Decision. Maia is a -100 in Playground's fantasy betting game, however he is a Vegas dog, and rightfully so, in my opinion. Maia can be used as a quick way to double your parlay value, but just isn't providing enough value for a straight bet unless you are quite positive he will win, which would make you in an extreme minority.
Chris Weidman analysis after the jump.
Weidman is the one new guy in the mix as a result of the shuffling which came about when Mark Munoz was taken out of the co-main event with a shoulder injury. Although Weidman was originally told to expect a fight several months from now on the April 21st fight card, he now steps up to this massive opportunity in under two weeks notice.
Despite just seven fights in his career, Weidman's undefeated record and stellar performances to date have earned him the chance to appear on the UFC's multi-fight broadcast debut on network television. The late notice for the fight should be only minimally troubling to Weidman, who made his debut in the UFC as a late-notice fill in to take on a then red-hot Alessio Sakara and, despite having a bad wing at the time, dominated the Italian striker. After going to decision in his debut, Weidman decided the second round and onward must not have been too fun in the UFC, since he's seen fit to choke out Jesse Bongefeldt and Tom Lawlor in the first round of their respective fights to improve to 3-0 in the UFC.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Like many of the top American fighters, Weidman grew up as a wrestler. After twice reaching the all-American rounds of the national Juco tournament, Weidman transferred to Hofstra, where he added two NCAA All-American seasons to his resume. Weidman trains with the Serra-Longo team now, and while he is only a purple belt in BJJ, coupled with his wrestling skills Weidman has already showed he is a high-level grappler inside the cage. It's hard to find any glaring flaws in Weidman's performances so far, do primarily to the dominant fashion in which they've come, however it is fair to say his striking at least presents a bit of a question mark as relatively little of it has been required in his UFC career to date.
This fight seems to be a fairly even match-up where both fighters have the skills to threaten, but also both have the defensive wherewithal to survive their opponents' efforts. If you're taking Weidman, back the American to take the unanimous decision over his Brazilian counterpart. Weidman is a -125 bet on Playground, primarily worth playing in a parlay. There was some expressed surprise when Weidman opened as a favorite in Vegas, however the lines have not moved much as many, like myself, are apparently sold that despite just seven pro bouts, Weidman is ready to take on a top-ten opponent like Maia and come out with his hand raised.