UFC 136: Edgar vs. Maynard III Preview Part One: Jorge Santiago vs. Demian Maia

You know how you can how loaded UFC 136 is as a card this weekend? Jorge Santiago and Demian Maia are fighting on Spike Television when normally they’d be near or at the co-main event level. And it could very well be the fight of the night, too, on a card filled with a ton of potentially incredible fights.

Santiago is in his second run in the UFC, the first leaving him at 1-2 inside the octagon against some fairly stiff competition in stoppage losses to Chris Leben and Alan Belcher. From there he went quite a tear outside the Octagon in Japan and in the U.S, becoming one of the few fighters to be considered amongst the best fighters at middleweight in the world that weren’t under the Zuffa banner alongside Ronaldo Souza and Hector Lombard. With his arrival back into the UFC it was almost presumed that Santiago was a win or two away from a title shot; thus his placement into a high level fight with Brian Stann. Stann would spoil his plans with some well timed punches and now he finds himself in need of a victory to stay relevant in the division. And it won’t be easy against one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialists in the world.

That’s how Demian Maia will win this fight: on the ground. Maia has five submission victories in the UFC against some tough fighters to submit. The key to beat Maia is to keep him on his feet. His standup is much improved but isn’t anywhere near his ground game, nor will it probably ever be. It’s not that Maia is that bad standing and won’t ever get better; he’s just that good grappling. Maia has a legendary resume when it comes to submission work; his level of BJJ is elite and one of the best in MMA regardless of weight class. If the fight gets to the ground, and that’s a big if considering Maia doesn’t have generally great takedowns, Santiago is in trouble despite having a black belt in BJJ himself. There are black belts and then there’s Demian Maia, a guy who taps them for fun.

No one in the UFC currently has his level of BJJ in terms of skill or pedigree. It’s the one thing Jorge Santiago has to avoid at all costs because if this becomes a grappling match he goes from fighting to win to fighting to survive on the ground with the best in the business. If Maia can pass guard on the ground, or gain mount, Santiago might be in for a shorter night than he planned for.

In order to win he has to stay off the ground and keep make this into a kickboxing match. He has solid kicks but his hands are much better. Santiago’s hands are what’ll win him this fight and he needs to follow the same game plan Mark Munoz did against Maia: keep the fight standing, measure his strikes and don’t throw anything that could set up Maia for a takedown. Maia is effective at using the clinch to get the fight to the ground and Munoz used much more defensive wrestling to prevent this. It’s something that Santiago does fairly well. And he’ll need it because Maia has an odd ability to pull off a beautiful takedown every now and again.

Maia has unleashed a handful of great takedowns over the years, including on decorated Greco-Roman wrestler Chael Sonnen, so it’s not out of his wheelhouse to pull one off. It’s not his forte and he doesn’t do it regularly but Maia can pull one off if given the opportunity. Look for Santiago to avoid the clinch and back out if Maia gets in close; Maia’s biggest strength will be to get this to the ground quickly and make it into a grappling match. Good movement on his part, circling and backing off the cage as quickly as possible, will be something he has to do effectively to win the fight.

Santiago is equipped to survive on the ground and is quite capable of pulling off submissions but he won’t be able to do so against one of the world’s best.

One thing working for Santiago in this fight that his fight with Stann is that Maia doesn’t have knockout power in his hands. He can afford to stand and trade with him without risking a knockout at any time. It’s how he got caught by Stann and look for him to unleash his hands much more against Maia in that regard. Maia can hurt him but hasn’t shown the power to finish the fight with his hands; if anything he’ll use it to set up a takedown and try to get the fight to the ground. Maia can be stopped with strikes, it’s happened before, and it’ll be Santiago’s best way of winning the fight.

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