In his well-documented saga toward a shot at the UFC’s welterweight title, Demian Maia’s refusal to address the decision to accept it despite less-than-ideal conditions is symptomatic.
“When we got the notice for the fight, five weeks before, I was kind of wondering (if I should take the fight),” Maia told reporters on Wednesday ahead of his UFC 214 pay-per-view co-headliner with champion Tyron Woodley. “But then we talked and said, ‘This could be the only chance we have; let’s take this chance.’”
While he did add an optimistic Maia-like addendum to cover how well he was ultimately able to manage the short preparation window for Woodley (17-3-1 MMA, 7-2-1 UFC), what Maia (25-6 MMA, 19-6 UFC) said can be seen from a few different angles.
On one hand, they might simply come from a reasonable 39-year-old fighter who understands there just aren’t that many days of fighting ahead of him. But, on the other, they seem to also come from a fighter who’s done just about all he could do to earn an opportunity he knew could still be taken away.
Considering just how much Maia struggled to even get to this point, who can really blame him?
In the volatile scenario that is a UFC title picture, words like “fair” are too heavy to throw around. Even if all you are judging is the most logical in-octagon aspect – the fights that are won – you’ll stumble onto arguments like: level (how many of the opponents were top guys?), timing (how many of them were at their peak at the time of the fight?) and manner (how did those fights end?).
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Fairness can be subjective. Which is why GOAT discussions in any sport –hell, in anything – will never be unanimous.
What makes Maia a unique case is that he checked all those boxes in his seven-fight winning streak. From the grappling school that snapped rising Neil Magny’s seven-fight streak to a lightning-fast submission of feared veteran Carlos Condit. That last one, which many believed would’ve stamped his shot, still wasn’t enough: He’d still have to hit a hell of a curve ball in a tricky matchup with Jorge Masvidal.
Since he first made his case for a stab at the 170-pound title after stifling the ground-savvy Gunnar Nelson for three rounds, Maia has heard it all. Being dominant wasn’t enough: He had to take more risks in the cage. Outside of it, he had to speak up. He was too nice to be marketable. Say what you want about the man, but he listened. He finished fights. He performed a hell of a balancing act between staying true to his nice self and speaking up.
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He … well, he was still nice, but maybe with a little bit of an edge.
Bad luck and unfortunate timing went into it, too. Three months after beating Condit, for instance, a highly hopeful Maia witnessed front row as champ Woodley and Stephen Thompson fought to a controversial majority draw that had immediate rematch written all over it. And, in a weird twist, the not-so-optional Masvidal fight took shape days before said title rematch happened.
It took winning. It took adjusting. It took fielding the same questions over and over. It took a certain level of resignation.
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But now, more than seven years removed from a failed middleweight title bid against Anderson Silva, a much different Maia finally gets his welterweight shot. Whether Maia’s shot is long overdue or not is still up for debate. But few would argue that he’s done more than enough to earn it.
Granted – it’s not under ideal circumstances. It still involved a title challenger putting put his 39-year-old body through a second straight camp in order to meet a dangerous champion who’s been preparing since April.
But, as someone who’s made a point out of staying true to his respectful ways even when that seemed like a bad deal, you won’t see Maia complaining too much about that, either.
MMA is often not nice, pretty or fair. But every now and then a nice, deserving guy gets a nice, well-deserved thing.
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