In this blog we will take a closer look at the main event of the UFC Fight Night 162 fight card on Saturday night between former Olympic freestyle wrestling competitor Ben Askren and former Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) grappling champion Demian Maia. This fight has a very unique feel with two top class grapplers from different disciplines competing against each other; with the consensus being we will either see a dynamic grappling match with ground scrambles and submission attempts or a sloppy striking match with both men being cautious on the ground.
At 41 years old; people have long been wondering when exactly Demian Maia will look to call it a career in MMA. Subsequent to his last fight, a win over Anthony Rocco Martin at UFC on ESPN 3; Maia spoke about having one more fight with his ideal opponent being Diego Sanchez in Brazil. This fight is not in Maia’s native Brazil which would lead one to believe it will not be Maia’s last fight. Additionally; whilst it is never a good thing when a fighter sticks around too long; you have to wonder whether a win over a name like Askren will cause Demian to stick around. After all; a win over Askren followed by a win over a top five opponent could lead to another opportunity for Maia to capture that ever elusive world championship.
Ben Askren has had a difficult start to life in the UFC. In his UFC debut against Robbie Lawler he was manhandled and rocked badly on the ground by Lawler. Somethig he does not get enough credit for is how well he recovered from that beatdown; as he was able to go right back to Lawler’s legs and take him down. The biggest talking point of the fight is the contentious finish; with Askren holding Lawler in a bulldog choke, with Lawler appearing to fall unconscious, however this was shown not to be the case when Lawler jumped straight back up to protest the stoppage. Following his debut, Askren was a victim of the quickest KO in UFC history; courtesy of Jorge Masvidal, which has elevated Masvidal to a unforeseeable level of stardom. A win over a top ten Welterweight staple in Maia would work wonders for Askren in getting his UFC career back on track and getting closer to the big fights he really wants within the promotion.
Keys to Victory – Demian Maia
Let his hands go:
For possibly the first time in his UFC career; Demian Maia enters a fight with a sizeable striking advantage. It would be very helpful for Maia if he could land a shot or two to make Askren respect his hands; which will make it more likely the former Olympian takes a bad shot out of desperation, something which could be suicidal in a fight against Maia. Furthermore; if this fight does turn into a sloppy kickboxing match, Maia will surely have the advantage.
Be first with wrestling:
Demian Maia has an excellent sweep game off of his back; and he is one of the only BJJ practitioners to be able to use the deep half guard effectively in MMA, however in this fight he is up against a different animal. Ben Askren has excellent top control and can set a high pace, so Maia may not want to find himself on bottom. To ensure this; he must use his superior striking to pressure Askren, and shoot on the legs before Askren can set up takedowns of his own. From top position, Maia is handful for any fighter in the world.
Look for the finish:
In his last few fights; Maia has been flagging later on, often losing the third round of his latest three round encounters. Whether this is down to age or just the pressure heavy style of Maia is hard to tell; what we do know is that against an athete with conditioning the calibre of Askren, it would be in Maia’s best interest to end the fight early. The longer the fight goes; the more Askren’s conditioning and ability to grind will come into play. Maia has the skills to catch Askren in transition as he tries to scramble out of something; he must use these skills.
Keys to Victory – Ben Askren
Use head movement
As mentioned; Demian Maia will have the confidence of a large striking advanage in this fight. Having suffered a brutal knockout in his last fight, Askren must make sure he is not vulnerable to being tagged by hard shots, whilst also moving forward to try and implement his own world class grappling game. The way he can do this is by taking his head off of the centre line as he moves forward; which will make it harder for Maia to time him. If he is able to shoot in on Maia’s legs unscathed; this is the first step in what will be a long and difficult victory for Askren.
Use the clinch:
Askren would walk into the cage with a conditioning advantage over the majority of opponents he could face at Welterweight; with the possible exception of Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman. He will most definitely have a conditioning advantage over Maia. The main example of a pure grappler doing well against Maia was Jake Shields; who used the clinch and top position to great effect against Maia. Ben Askren’s hand fighting ability will most likely be better than Maia’s; which means he should be able to take control of the fight in the clinch. In most of the fights Maia wins, he is the one moving forward, pressuring and using the clinch to secure takedowns. If Askren can use the clinch to wear Maia down against the cage, it greatly takes away from Maia’s momentum and forward pressure.
Use scrambles from top position:
In order to control this fight; Askren must use his style of grappling to trump Maia’s. He has a great scrambling style on top which allows him to use wrestling positions and principles; this is paramount to victory against Demian Maia. He cannot engage in BJJ positions; especially the deep half guard of Demian Maia. He must be wary of his opponents ability to sweep and take the back; as Maia’s back take and choke game is second to none in MMA. Askren must keep moving; land ground and pound where possible and try to ride Maia out; rather than getting into a BJJ chess match with him. If Askren can take Maia down; and use wrestling positioning, he will be able to make Maia tired and take control as the fight wears on.
I am of the opinion that both of these guys will try to outgrapple each other which means we will have the fight we want; rather than a subpar striking bout. Maia takes control early; he will use his striking, size and pressure to back Askren up and take him down, taking his preferred position of back control, threatening with the rear naked choke and controlling Askren for the first five minutes.
After taking the first round Maia will go for a rinse and repeat in the second round, which will work the same way for 3 minutes. After this; Askren will manage to wriggle out and create a scramble for position which after a fascinating exchange Askren will come out on top position.
In the third round Askren will go straight to the clinch where he will push Maia against the cage where eventually he will drag the black belt to the ground. A battle of Maia’s BJJ vs Askren’s wrestling ensues where eventually secures deep half and sweeps Askren, however as Maia tries to take the back, Askren wriggles out and gets on top into Maia’s full guard.
In the fourth and fifth rounds, Askren will take advantage of a tired Maia to take him down and ride out positions on the ground; bloodying his face with ground and pound to run away with the fight and take a convincing decision.
Ben Askren via Unanimous Decision