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“Come October it will be twelve years for me in the UFC. I have two more fights on my contract, and I hope to win those two to become the Brazilian with the most wins."

Words: @callummedcraft

Demian Maia is a name synonymous with the UFC. His career boasts 29 wins – 20 in the UFC, tied second for all-time in the organisation – and has been representing the promotion for twelve years come October. MMA accolades aside, it’s easy to forget that Demian is an ADCC champion and stalwart of the elite jiu jitsu scene before committing to mixed martial arts. In fact, one of his proudest moments comes from his time competing in the gi.  

“It has to be my win against Jacare at the final of the World Cup in 2005,” says Demian when asked to recall his greatest moment competing in the kimono. “In 2004 and 2005 Jacare was considered the best fighter in the world and I’d lost to him at the final of the ADCC like three months before this competition by one minus point. So, I was so happy when I won this final of the World Cup – people assumed he was going to be the champion, so that was my best memory in the gi and of course ADCC 2007 win for nogi.” 

Maia’s pedigree in sport jiu jitsu meant he was always going to be referred to as a specialist in MMA. As he’s consistently proven in the UFC, his ground game is on a level yet to be matched by most in the organisation, with many suggesting Demian’s the last of a dying breed of specialists inside the Octagon.

“I think it’s getting rarer,” says Maia on being a specialist in MMA. “The sport is heading in a new direction and there are a lot of people dreaming about MMA from a young age. We will see people starting jiu jitsu but alongside boxing or muay thai or whatever. I still think it will happen that we see specialist guys come in to compete in MMA, but not like before where it was most common. Look at the early Pride FC or UFC events and most guys were either wrestlers, jiu jitsu fighters or strikers. 

“If you go to Brazil you see people playing soccer – normal soccer – then futsal. There are many soccer stars who have come from futsal; like Ronaldinho or Neymar. Jiu jisu gives you a very big advantage in the sport of MMA, and the problem with people being really well rounded often means that they miss that little edge of speciality in a specific part of the game. If you’re really good at something – like jiu jitsu – you can be a little less competent in boxing or whatever. So yeah, I think we already see that most people are well rounded now and specialists like me are less common.”

Though Maia could be one of the last jiu jitsu masters from yesteryear, we are perhaps now seeing a new breed of jiu jitsu specialists entering the world of MMA. The likes of Ryan Hall and Garry Tonon have both picked up notable wins off the back of their leglock proficiency; an area of grappling that has come into focus within competitive BJJ recently, with many questioning its efficiency in a real fight.    

“I saw Ryan Hall’s fight with BJ (Penn) and the transition he did was amazing,” says Maia on Hall’s leglock expertise. "What I feel, at least for me, when you look back at my fights is that I use heel hooks to sweep. I go to the position, look for the tap, but often in the fight – a championship fight – you will struggle to tap with the leg lock so I can look for a sweep. If you’re having problems taking down a good wrestler, you can pull guard, use leg locks to tap, or worst case try to get the sweep. This to me is a good strategy. There is some strategy behind sweeping when a guy defends a heel hook, it’s not that simple, but it’s a very good strategy.”

In true samurai fashion, Maia relies on strategy, discipline and the ability to keep a calm mind in order to achieve his goals within the fight. He’s a big advocate of meditation; maintaining clarity in all areas of life to achieve his goals. 

“It’s something I’ve always done, even as a kid because I learned some stuff doing kung fu,” Maia says of meditation. “For many years I stopped, then my jiu jitu coach tough me some meditation techniques. Later in life when my kids came along, they would want me to sit there and read to them before they go to sleep. So, I’d read to them, but when they fell asleep I’d meditate sitting there for a while – I do that as it’s a nice time to do it and it gives them an example of how to calm their own minds when they grow up.”

Now, 41 years-old, Demian is entering the twilight of his career. Whatever the future holds, he will go down as one of jiu jitsu’s finest champions, but there’s no sign of slowing down for the submission specialist just yet. 

“Come October it will be twelve years for me in the UFC,” Maia concludes. “I have two more fights on my contract, and I hope to win those two to become the Brazilian with the most wins. I am in the 20 UFC wins bracket now, which I think includes me, GSP and Donald Cerrone. My plan when I signed this last contract for four fights would be that I’d retire afterwards, but the problem is that I feel healthy and moving pretty well. So, let’s see how these next two fights play out and then I’ll take a decision on mu future.”

May 19, 2019 — Jiu Jitsu Style