"I do what I love and I don't play with my job. I try to be surrounded by good trainers, and I put my heart into every single minute of my job."
Demian Maia is a new man.
Leading up to his bout against The Ultimate Fighter 3 winner Kendall Grove on the TUF 12 Finale card this weekend, Maia - a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu ace known for his ground game and a relentless search for the submission – continued with a particular boxing program that he began after his loss to Nate Marquardt at UFC 102 and kept him improving in his last two matches.
We could say that he did it due to the brutal KO he suffered courtesy of a big right hand from Marquardt, and Maia agrees when it comes to the motivation of training more boxing than ever before.
"I already thought about improving my boxing before the Marquardt fight, but after that I made the decision," he says. "I had a conversation with Minotauro Nogueira and the decision was to train in Cuba, but he couldn't go, so he suggested for me to fly to Bahia and start sparring at the Champion Gym of Luiz Dorea. I feel great working there, not only my boxing, but my overall game. I felt I could dedicate more there in Bahia than in Sao Paulo, where I have other duties. In Bahia, there was only training, eating, resting and back to the training."
The dedicated routine that Maia started after the fast knockout he suffered showed benefits when he fought Dan Miller at UFC 109 back in February. Not only were his fists accurate, but his movement, distance and approach showed significant growth. So, for a guy like Maia, who was considered to be out of his element when the fight remained standing, he performed very well and left behind the title of ‘one trick pony.’
"I love training, and if I didn't go to Champion my will would have eventually put me on the road to achieving what I was looking for (the boxing)," Maia said. "But the energy inside that academy was fantastic and in addition to the training there was a super evolution to my standup game."
Fighting Anderson Silva for the middleweight title two months later, after an initial display of striking at UFC 112, Maia couldn't do much with the kingpin of the 185-pound weight division. Showing more heart than effectiveness, the Sao Paulo native only had small advantages in rounds four and five, where he showed his fighting spirit by swinging from his knees with a broken nose and a busted face while the capacity crowd screamed his name.
That wasn't the type of technique that Maia trains every day, but he vows that some of the things he has developed inside the gym still haven’t been used in his fights.
"I’m training very differently than I was, but I still haven’t taken the risks to use what's working in training into the fights," Maia said. "I'm sure it could potentially be used properly against my opponents, but I'm still reluctant about showing it.”
"There are a lot of things involved when we're fighting in the UFC; once you capitalize on the holes of your foe, you beat him – principally, when guys make a mistake on the ground and I sub them. But I think slowly I'll get looser when it comes to this aspect (standup)."
The intention of the former middleweight title challenger is to be the complete UFC fighter, one who can be dangerous on the feet and lethal on the ground. But for a guy with eight submission victories in 15 fights (13-2), it sounds like he's getting far from his essence, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, an essence which earned him praises from the Gracies and the title of the most skilled BJJ representative in MMA.
"I still have much of that, and no doubt when I step in the Octagon, I do it to represent BJJ," Maia said. "But I think new tricks were added to help me in this aspect too. The time is short, the re-start on the feet is frequent and shooting all the time for a takedown can be punished with a knee, or you can get fatigued if the guy sprawls all the time. So it's good to have more strategies in mind."
In his last fight against 'Super' Mario Miranda at UFC 118 in August, Maia showed a bit of what he was talking about in the previous quote. The southpaw was loose on the feet and early in the first round he threw a left hand which missed, and then went for a takedown. On the ground, Maia gave zero chances to his fellow countryman, winning the fight by total dominance.
The ease in which Maia took Miranda down during the 15 minutes of that fight was interesting. But it was not by chance, as Maia trained wrestling at the Overtime Academy in Chicago, the same gym where he went to prepare for the tallest fighter in the middleweight division, the six-foot-six Grove. The Hawaiian fighter has 79 inches of reach compared to the 72 inches of the Brazilian - a huge advantage for the TUF 3 winner, who, besides that, loves the ground game and uses his reach on the feet to knock guys off their strategies. These issues are all welcome for a man like Maia, who is improving his overall MMA game.
"I only have good things to say about Grove and his takedown defense, his striking and his submissions. So due to his height I trained with Antonio Peinado (6'4'') and Edinaldo Oliveira (6'7'') under the supervision of BJJ coach Wagner, to emulate the problems Grove can present to me."
Happy to reach the masses through Spike TV, Maia hopes to expand his fan base on Saturday night. But first he needs to roll over Grove in a fashion that will impress these potential new followers.
"I'm very diligent and serious in what I do, and I know that I have the privilege of being in an event that a lot of fighters would like to be in. The UFC is a dream for many, and once I got there, I was appreciative of the chance," Maia said. "I do what I love and I don't play with my job. I try to be surrounded by good trainers, and I put my heart into every single minute of my job. We fight for the fans, so I fight to please them. That's it."