Prior to the featherweight super fight between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar at UFC 156 this Saturday, fans of grappling and technical ground fighting are in for a treat. Jon Fitch takes on Demian Maia in a fight where the winner looks to make a statement in the welterweight division. Fitch looked fantastic in his dominant win over Erick Silva. Fitch says he needed that win and fight bonus for financial reasons, but I think that now he’s looking to build on that momentum and get himself back into title contention. Maia looks to build on his own momentum as well. He seems to be back to his old ways, and cranked the hell out of Rick Story’s neck in his last fight. Seriously guys if you have not seen it it’s awesome. He turned Rick’s nose into a faucet by squeezing his head. This fight is going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes and whose game is better technically. Let’s take a look at how they match up.
Neither fighter is known for their stand-up abilities. While both men have made improvements to their striking as their careers have progressed, they have still had a very grappling based attack. If I have to give an edge to one of them, it’s got to be Fitch. This is primarily due to his training at AKA. Having been with the San Jose based gym for years, we have seen great improvement in his hands, particularly when it comes to mixing up strikes with take-downs and striking in the clinch.Maia has a tendency to wing his punches and throw big overhand strikes as he’s moving in to tie up. I think that with his reach advantage, Fitch can keep Maia at the end of his jab and instigate the grappling battle on his terms.
The other major advantage I’m giving to Fitch is in his ground striking. When Maia gets to the ground he often goes into full grappling mode, which has been successful for him because his jiu-jitsu is so good. However, Fitch has the best submission defense in UFC history and has landed the most strikes in UFC history, the vast majority of which have come on the ground. It’s an integral part of his game, which he uses to overwhelm opponents. While Maia’s grappling is elite level, strikes on the ground in MMA are way more effective in opening up submission opportunities and positional scrambles.
The grappling aspect of the fight is where things get interesting for this match up. Both of these guys are very technical in their respective grappling attacks. If we look at grappling from the neutral position, the slight edge arguably goes to Fitch. He’s the more explosive wrestler and has many different ways of taking people down to the mat. Jiu-jitsu isn’t really known for its take-downs either, especially when you remove the Gi from the equation and add sweat, fatigue and strikes. Demian Maia will pull guard though, giving up the dominant position because of his confidence and skill on the ground. While he has not done so recently, I would not be surprised to see him pull guard in this fight.
However, the name of the grappling game in MMA is position before submission. You score points that way, and put yourself in a better position to land strikes and do damage. Fitch has a black belt in Dave Camarillo’s Guerrilla Jiu-jitsu system and leaves very few openings for submissions and sweeps. While we may see a little less activity on top from Fitch, I think he’s going to be very hard to tap. Again he has the best submission defense in UFC history, warding off all 25 submission attempts against him, and he talks about actively baiting fights to go for subs because he knows he can get out of them. Those fighters are not Demian Maia though in terms of submissions. The man is a grappling savant, and where he holds an advantage is in his submission technique.
We haven’t really seen Maia tested at 170lbs. He’s finished his two welterweight bouts inside the first round, although one was a freak injury to Dong Hyun Kim. One thing is for sure, he will get tested by Jon Fitch. Fitch is an expert at making fighters carry his weight, wearing them down. The look on Erick Silva’s face after his fight with Fitch was one of bewilderment and dejection. You have to respect the grappling pedigree of both men, but I think Fitch’s endless gas tank will play a big part in this fight. I see him doing what he does best and grinding down Maia. Maia has never experience a “Jon-Fitching” so it will be interesting to see if he can rise to the challenge, as he has had trouble with elite wrestlers before. While Maia has a size advantage over a lot of competitors in the welterweight division, Jon Fitch is not one of them.
Prediction: Jon Fitch via Unanimous Decision