The second fight on the UFC 194 main card is a tremendous matchup between two high-level grapplers, Demian Maia and Gunnar Nelson. Maia is one of the best jiu jitsu players to ever compete in mixed martial arts. Nelson, meanwhile, is also a highly credentialed jiu jitsu player, though not quite as credentialed in that realm as Maia. Maia is coming off a submission victory over Neil Magny in August, while Nelson’s last fight was a first round submission win over Brandon Thatch in July. Demian Maia (21-6 MMA, 15-6 UFC, -115 favorite) The 21 fight UFC veteran has had his ups and downs in the promotion, mainly fighting in the middleweight division. However, he has really stepped up his game since he dropped to the welterweight division in July of 2012. Since dropping to the welterweight division, Maia has compiled a 6-2 record, with his only losses coming to the #1 ranked Rory MacDonald and Jake Shields in a very close fight. He actually did very well at middleweight, as he amassed a 9-4 record and even earned a middleweight title shot against longtime division kingpin Anderson Silva. Maia owns notable victories over Chael Sonnen, Jon Fitch, Rick Story, Dong Hyun Kim, and Neil Magny. Maia is one of, if not the most decorated jiu jitsu competitor that has ever transitioned to mixed martial arts. The multiple time jiu jitsu world champion really started to concentrate on his mixed martial arts career in 2006 and he was signed to the UFC a year later. That shows you how highly regarded of a prospect Maia was at the time. Maia’s standing attack is on not great, it is based on him throwing just enough to set up his strikes so he can take his opponents to the canvas. Further, Maia’s wrestling has increased dramatically. He hits well-timed takedowns in the center of the cage. Maia can hit potent double-legs or run the pipe nicely on single legs. His drop to the welterweight division has given him a size and strength advantage that he did not have before. The 38 year old Maia is a whiz on the canvas. From top position his base is unbelievably strong, it’s very hard for his opponents to get up once he has them flat on the canvas. Further, Maia passes effortlessly, including his hip smash guard pass that often allows him to gain full mount. From dominant position he can finish fights with a variety of different ways, though he is not above staying on top and winning rounds. Maia’s full mount and back control are amazing, he is very difficult to buck off. He owns several rear-naked choke victories from getting his opponent’s back and choking them unconscious. Additionally, he has great submissions from top position and from his guard. Chokes, triangles, armbars, arm-triangles, and leglocks are just some of the submissions in his arsenal. The most glaring weakness of Maia’s game, besides his pedestrian striking, is his conditioning. He has gassed out in several fights in the later rounds. I don’t see that happening here though, as this is only a 3 round fight. Another factor is Maia’s advanced age, as he is now 38 years old. When will that begin to catch up with him? Gunnar Nelson (14-1-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC, -105 underdog) Like Maia, Nelson is an extremely high-level grappler with multiple medals and achievements in jiu jitsu competitions. The native of Iceland is a member of SBG Ireland, which is home to UFC superstar Conor McGregor and coached by John Kavanagh. Nelson entered the UFC in 2012 with a lot of hype behind him because of his grappling background. He wound up validating the hype as he won his first four fights, including three by submission. His first stumbling block came when he fought UFC veteran and wrestler Rick Story. Unable to take Story down, Nelson was stranded on the feet and was outpointed over five rounds. However, I think it was a good learning experience for him, as fighters often learn more from their losses than their wins. Nelson rebounded nicely in his next fight by dropping the much larger Brandon Thatch and submitting him in the first round. The 27 year old Nelson is not a big welterweight by any means, he should actually probably be fighting at 155 pounds. However, he is deceptively strong, especially in the clinch, where he utilizes well timed knees and elbows. Before starting his jiu jitsu career, Nelson was actually a high-level Karate fighter. He has a steady bounce with his footwork and explodes in with both single strikes and combinations, much like Machida. The main issue for Nelson is his tendency to sit and wait for his opponents rather than initiate the action himself. This causes him to get outpointed if he is unable to bring the fight to the mat. On the ground, the Renzo Gracie black belt is amazing to watch. While he is not as good of a wrestler as Maia, he does have a nice double-leg and inside trip. Once the fight hits the floor he is in his world. Nelson is a breathtakingly smooth and effective passer, achieves dominant positions as easy as stealing a little kid’s lunch money, and has an arsenal of submissions. His full mount is tremendous, as he drops bombs that either damage his opponent or open up opportunities for a submissions. For example, if Nelson has full mount and is dropping heavy leather, his opponent will either continue to eat bombs until the referee stops the fight or until he gives, where the rear-naked choke will be there for the taking. Further, he sometimes lets his opponent up slightly so he can get a hold of their neck and apply one of his great chokes, especially his guillotine. Thoughts This is a really tricky fight to call. Both fighters are extremely high-level grapplers that love to take their opponents to the mat and submit them. Maia usually looks for the takedowns more, as Nelson is the superior striker and does not need to go to the canvas to win every fight. In this fight I think their grappling will basically cancel each other’s out and the fight will predominantly play out on the feet. If the fight plays out like that Nelson will have the edge, even Maia said as much. Nelson should be able to stuff Maia’s takedowns or be able to scramble back to his feet if he dies get taken down. From there he will get the best of Maia on the feet and win a decision. However, a knockout would not completely surprise me either The Prediction: Gunnar Nelson defeats Demian Maia by unanimous decision
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