Well… you can’t say we didn’t warn you.
In the last edition of “Who Takes It?” we offered a breakdown of Anthony Pettis vs. Rafael dos Anjos, where we predicted that fans and odds-makers were underrating the challenger dos Anjos.
We described the Brazilian’s pressure game which carried him over talent like Benson Henderson (on a night where he was a three-to-one underdog, as was the case last Saturday against Pettis).
However, we also thought that Pettis’ advantage in quickness would be key to him eventually taking control of the bout.
“I like Pettis to turn the tide with his dynamic striking game,” I wrote. “Look for the champion to find range for his combinations to head and body, and getting a TKO stoppage in the fourth.”
As we all know, that part didn’t happen. Dos Anjos hurt Pettis early and never stepped off the gas pedal. He dominated the bout’s striking and grappling exchanges from start to finish, accumulating round after round and scoring a lopsided unanimous decision victory.
It was a great moment, with two of MMA’s best closing out an event filled with top-ten ranked talent. But as Ingo and Matt mentioned on Monday’s show — it was a repetitive and one-sided fight as well, on a show full of slow and one-sided bouts. Somehow the event felt at once historic and disappointing.
Expectations aren’t nearly as high for this weekend’s feature, UFC Fight Night: Demian Maia vs. Ryan LaFlare. But, maybe the bout, and the event, which should feature a typically raucous Brazilian crowd to keep the action moving, will surprise a little.
The main event features two good welterweights in Brazil’s own Maia and New York native LaFlare. But, they’re not necessarily among the very elite of the division — or, at least in the case of LaFlare, maybe they’re not great yet.
Maia is ranked seventh and LaFlare fourteenth, respectively, in the UFC’s official rankings. But it’s LaFlare who is the betting favorite, at about -150.
It’s all about momentum and style here, and on the surface, it may seem that Maia just doesn’t match up well.
He has steadily improved his striking and wrestling in recent years but Maia is, at the core, 100% jiu-jitsu. He’s one of MMA’s most decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitors, and also in demand as a trainer. After beginning to train under Maia, former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir famously said , “I thought I was actually good at it until I started rolling with him.”
But then, he said that in 2009. Now 37, Maia has fought 13 times in MMA since then, managing only one submission victory.
Meanwhile, the 31 year old LaFlare only began fighting in 2008. Now 11-0, he’s acquired a reputation as an athletic “grinder” of a fighter — dominating bouts in the clinch and on the mat, winning the battles in transition to steadily win rounds. He came to UFC with a (typical) collegiate wrestling background and experience on the US regional circuit.
Maia’s most recent losses, to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald, may not seem relevant here. LaFlare obviously lacks the grappling acumen of Shields or the potent striking attack of MacDonald. But they’re an interesting study. A quick look at both fights sees Maia take his opponent down immediately, but fail to get the finish — and then struggle to repeat the success later. Vicious body kicks from MacDonald ground Maia down.
The thought here is that LaFlare, who now trains with Blackzilian camp and appears to have a good future, may not quite have the skills to avoid that finish — at least, not yet.
Still, this fight is a tough call; the fighters are in very different stages of their careers and offer very different skill sets. It’s easy to imagine LaFlare grinding Maia out. But after reviewing recent films of both, I like the old guy to win this, with a vintage submission. Maia still shows enough, and LaFlare doesn’t.
Look for Maia to get that takedown and catch LaFlare in his web — call it Maia, round one triangle.
As always, enjoy the fights!