Demian Maia – MMA’s Master of ‘The Gentle Art’By Thomas Gerbasi
He doesn’t smile a lot when it comes to fighting, even after a big win. But despite his intense stare and emotionless attention to detail, when Demian Maia is in the UFC Octagon, there’s no place he would rather be. It’s the fulfillment of a dream he’s had ever since he was a child back in Sao Paulo, Brazil – to be a fighter.
Now that dream didn’t stop him from being a normal kid and teenager, and he even made sure he got his university degree in journalism, but from his formative years, there was no question where his heart was.
“I did Judo when I was four or five years old,” said Maia. “I also did, as a teenager, kung-fu, karate and then Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Since I was a kid I wanted to be a fighter.”
He wouldn’t reach that point until he was 28, but at the time he made his debut as a professional mixed martial artist in 2005, his reputation as a jiu-jitsu player was spreading worldwide, and when Maia got the call to compete in the UFC in 2007, the BJJ Black Belt was 6-0 in MMA and the owner of a stack of impressive grappling accolades, including three World Cup Championships, two World Championships, Pan American and ADCC titles, a national championship and seven state titles.
And that’s the short list. So it goes without saying that when he was brought into the UFC to take on Ryan Jensen at UFC 77 last October, he had earned instant recognition as one of the best grapplers in the organization.
“I have many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu titles, so I think I am one of the best MMA grapplers since BJJ has been developed to Vale Tudo,” said Maia, who counts his biggest influence as Rickson Gracie. “But that took years of hard work and BJJ competitions. I believe that everything in life comes with hard work.”
Maia is being modest, because in watching him grapple or fight, you can see him do things that most can’t, even if they trained every day for decades. He almost has a sixth sense and an eerie calm that can lull you to sleep just before he strikes. It worked against Jensen, where he took just 2:40 to submit his foe, and against Ed Herman at UFC 83 in April, where he went into the second round before putting ‘Short Fuse’ to sleep with a triangle choke. The win over Herman was especially satisfying, given that it was completed in front of a packed house in Montreal’s Bell Centre.
“Competition is always competition,” he said, “but when you fight in front of 23,000 fans like in Montreal, that s something special.”
On Saturday, Maia will continue on his road to 185-pound champion Anderson Silva when he takes on Jason MacDonald at UFC 87 in Minnesota. It’s an intriguing matchup, especially given that MacDonald is probably the best groundfighter Maia has faced in MMA thus far, with 16 of his 21 wins coming by submission. The MMA experience gap between the two is vast as well, with Maia admitting that the Canadian’s “experience makes him a very dangerous opponent.”
But there’s a lot to be said for Maia’s ground wizardry, as well as the huge intangible of his unbeaten status in MMA. But the pressure of defending his “0” isn’t keeping him up at night.
“I had a draw in December 2007 in Super Challenge Grappling in Sao Paulo, but they decided to give the victory to my opponent,” he said when asked the last time he lost in any competition. “But my last real loss was in July 2006 in the jiu-jitsu world championships in Rio de Janeiro.
Winning or losing is part of the sport. I try to not let this affect me too much. There is just my own pressure, but I think I deal well with that.”
Not surprising, since Maia considers his toughest opponent and toughest critic to be the one he looks at every day in the mirror. And once he can soothe his own nerves, everything else on fight night comes down to technique and execution – a cool, calm execution that has earned him two ‘Submission of The Night’ awards for his UFC wins over Jensen and Herman.
“Everybody gets nervous,” said Maia. “One of the main reasons I fight is to learn how to deal with that and learn how to control my mind in this kind of situation. To fight you have to develop every day and I’m trying my best every day to do this when I train.”
The results have proved him successful thus far, and along the way he’s started to build a nice little fanbase among fight aficionados who appreciate his craft in the Octagon and the way he can take any situation and turn it into a sudden and spectacular victory.
“I’m very happy,” Maia said of his time in the UFC thus far. “The UFC treats me very, very well and the fans are always great with me. (As far as being exciting goes) This is just my style of fighting and I don t think about that. Normally my fights are exciting.”
After Saturday night, if he can move to 3-0 in the Octagon with a victory over MacDonald, the drums may just start beating for a potential match against Silva sometime in 2009. It’s an intriguing prospect for Maia, but one that he expects will come when the time is right.
“When the opportunity comes,” he said, “I’ll be ready to fight Anderson, the best fighter in the world.”
If that bout does come to fruition, it will certainly be something for fight fans to get excited about, but not one that will change Demian Maia, win or lose, because for him, the real battle will be fought and determined before the first bell even rings.
“Money and fame are not the first things,” he said. “The main thing is to develop myself, and control my mind and fears. To win against myself - that's why I do it.