Now that the old UFC Fight Nights are back in full swing, the promotion will bring back the seemingly lackluster, free-viewing lineups that often end up being some of the best cards of the year. Headlining the UFC Fight Night 29 card on Wednesday night at Ginásio José Corrêa in Barueri, Brazil, two longtime MMA veterans will face off in what could be one of the best welterweight fights of the year.

Brazilian BJJ superstar Demian Maia and American wrestler Jake Shields have had long, storied careers. Both men are high-level grapplers in their mid-30s who at one point were riding double-digit winning streaks peppered with submissions. Maia and Shields have fought for the UFC middleweight and welterweight championships, respectively, but both have had trouble finishing in the big show. In their last 21 fights, these guys have combined for 14 decisions. Their relative success in the UFC is probably the biggest area of difference.

Maia has built an impressive 12-4 record in the Octagon, dropping fights to then-champion Anderson Silva, current champ Chris Weidman, Nate Marquardt and Mark Munoz. These are the only losses of his career, and only one was by stoppage. Shields has led a much different career. His UFC record is 3-2-1 with all but one of those fights going to decision. The one no-contest on his record was a decision win that was overturned due to a positive drug test. Maia is definitely the more established fighter.

Maia is a top-five fighter, who was solid at middleweight, but is unbeaten in his three fights at welterweight. Shields has yet to do anything really impressive in the UFC and really needs to show that he can finish at the highest levels of competition, or he may be the next involuntary migrant to Bellator or the World Series of Fighting. As far as the welterweight title hunt goes, Maia is on the brink of getting a shot, whereas Shields is just trying to prove that he is still relevant.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Maia – 10, Shields – 9

Shields’ striking is rudimentary at best. He has very little head movement, leans into his opponent’s range, uses limited hands and tries to rely on his kicks to maintain distance. Training out of Fairtex Gym, he does have exposure to some world-class Muay Thai practitioners and his stand-up is always improving. However, he always resorts to striking just enough to close distance for a takedown attempt.

Maia may be a high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner first and foremost, but he also has experience fighting some of the best strikers that MMA has to offer. In his UFC middleweight championship shot against Anderson Silva, Maia was able to land a lot of shots that many people did not expect. Since then, he has gone the distance with guys like Munoz, Weidman and Dong Hyun Kim, all of whom are very good strikers.

Striking is Shields’ biggest weakness, and Maia does a better job of lateral movement, combination attacks and using variety in his arsenal. On the feet, Maia has a clear advantage.

Submission Grappling: Maia – 10, Shields – 9

Leading up to this fight, Shields has been telling the media that he thinks he can submit Maia. Although nearly anything is possible in MMA, that scenario would be a very unlikely outcome of the fight, and one that would make somebody a lot of money in Vegas.

Shields is a great grappler against the right class of grapplers. A Cesar Gracie black belt in BJJ, a Pan-American gold medallist and an ADCC bronze medallist, the American has been involved in BJJ at some of the higher levels of the sport and has transitioned that nicely into 10 submission wins in MMA. However, his opponent is arguably the best jiu-jitsu player in all of MMA.

Maia is a fourth degree black belt and world-renowned BJJ champion. Shields may have a couple impressive medals in BJJ, but Maia has them all. With gold and silver medals at ADCC, gold medals at Super Challenge, Pan-American Championships and World Cup, and over a dozen other significant gold medals, he is one of the most decorated BJJ experts in MMA, and it is reflected mightily in his pro record. Of his 18 wins, nine are by submission, with notable stoppages of submission-heavy fighters like Jason McDonald, Ed Herman and Ryan Jensen. Considering that Maia has four “Submission of the Night” honors on the biggest stage in the sport, Shields is going to have his hands full on the ground.

Shields is still a fantastic fighter on the canvas. In fact, it’s the best skill he has, but Maia’s BJJ game is the only one that matters in this fight. Shields would be wise to keep this one from hitting the mat, which probably won’t happen, because he desperately tries to take his opponents down. Maia is one opponent he should strongly reconsider calling out in this category.

Wrestling: Maia – 10, Shields – 9

It would be easy to assume that wrestling may just be Shields’ saving grace should this fight hit the mat. However, it may not be effective enough to garner a win.

Shields was an NCAA Division II wrestler at San Francisco State University and a two-time All-American at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. Competing quite often since age nine, he has a ton of wrestling experience, which has been useful in the cage. He has decent takedown defense and his bread-and-butter moves are his single-leg and double-leg takedowns. Maia was never a wrestler, so all of his wrestling experience has come with BJJ and MMA training.

In the MMA arena, Shields’ takedown defense is okay, but he is still batting under .500 in that category. Maia’s defense is much better. Both fighters average about three takedowns per fight with so-so accuracy, but Shields, as is expected, goes for continuous takedowns, whereas Maia is more calculating. Shields’ biggest problem is keeping his opponents down. In the Strikeforce welterweight title fight, Jason “Mayhem” Miller popped right up from a Shields takedown, as if Shields wasn’t even attempting to keep him down. Maia’s takedowns are much more effective.

As he has shown fans time and time again, Maia has more of a judo style to his takedowns. He likes to get opponents in the clinch up against the cage so that he can control his opponent’s center of gravity around the waist. Once there, Maia will incorporate foot sweeps and torso twists until he gets his opponent to the mat. On the mat, he stays very sticky, allowing little room for escapes.

Even with a highly experienced wrestler and a zero-experience wrestler, the takedown defense is a toss-up, the takedown effectiveness is in Maia’s favor, and so is the ground control. Maia stays more active in the clinch, whereas Shields stays more active with takedown attempts, but Maia is a better overall wrestler as it translates into MMA.

X-factor

The x-factor in this fight is not necessarily experience in respect to time, as both men are around the same age and have both been involved in martial arts since their single-digit years. The experience level is also not a reflection of their past competitors, either. Maia has fought some the best in the world, including Silva, Weidman, Munoz, Jon Fitch, Dan Miller and Chael Sonnen, but Shields has faced Georges St-Pierre, Dan Henderson, Jake Ellenberger and Martin Kampmann. The experience that will make the biggest difference here is the experience in respect to the main wheelhouse that will drive the action this evening.

Shields’ go-to modality is ground fighting. Although he may be accomplished in this arena, Maia is more accomplished and at a much higher level. Maia’s “has beaten” list in submission grappling is worlds beyond anyone Shields has ever grappled against, let alone beaten. Maia started his pro MMA career at 11-0, with most of those victories coming simultaneously with his long list of BJJ titles. It wasn’t until he joined the UFC that he ceased to compete in BJJ at the top level in the world.

The x-factor, simply put, is that while Shields is great at BJJ, Maia is the best.

Total: Maia – 30, Shields – 27

Verdict: Maia will most likely come out ready to brawl, just to exploit Shields’ weakness standing. However, don’t expect the Brazilian to just wait for Shields to take him down. Maia will continuously stuff the takedown attempts of Shields until the time is right. Neither of these guys have had great luck with decisions, and for Shields, this is a do-or-die fight in terms of his UFC career. He came into the promotion with a ton of hype after his championship run in Strikeforce, but has left a lot to be desired. Either Shields stops Maia or he will likely be handed a pink slip. Unfortunately for Shields, his victory is an unlikely outcome.

Maia is on what will probably be his last run at a UFC title shot. He is a weight class lighter and is ranked among the top five welterweights in the world. Even though Maia will probably have to wait at least a year and maybe one more win, a dominant finish of Shields could catapult him to top contender status. Look for Maia to come out with calculated striking, until he gets the opportunity to finish Shields and get in line for that shot.

Photo: Demian Maia (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator