Reasons to watch Maia vs Shields

One of the happy, unexpected benefits of the UFC 165 light
heavyweight title fight between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson
being so drop dead awesome is that we stayed fixated on that fight
for a solid week after the final verdict was announced.

We talked about its place in history, debated the necessity of a
rematch, and picked sides for and against the decision to book
Jones into a Super Bowl weekend title defense against Glover
Teixeira in early February.

As a result, what was 18 days between events quickly shrunk to
11, and then single digits, to the point where it’s now only
a handful of days before the Octagon lands in Barueri, Brazil for
Ultimate Fight Night: Maia vs. Shields, an 11-fight card headlined
by a battle between two of the sports top grapplers, welterweights
Demian Maia and Jake Shields.

Need to know why to watch? You’ve come to the right
place.

Welterweight Wrecking Ball

Has anyone looked as good in their first three fights in a new
division against quality opposition as Maia has since dropping to
welterweight?

Going down in weight meant going back to his grappling roots,
and thus far, Maia has looked downright fierce. His awkward
first-round injury TKO win over Dong Hyun Kim (more on him shortly)
excluded, the Brazilian standout completely ran through Rick Story
in his sophomore effort in the 170-pound ranks, and then manhandled
Jon Fitch for three rounds, asserting himself as a viable
challenger in what has historically been one of the deepest, most
competitive weight classes in the UFC.

While he hasn’t garnered the same kind of post-fight bonus
cash he did during his introduction to the UFC as a middleweight
(five fights, four Submission of the Night awards), Maia has
actually been more impressive in this new chapter of his career.
His wrestling and entries into the clinch are much better, and the
improvements he’s made in his stand-up force opponents to
respect the southpaw’s hands much more now than in the
past.

After Johny Hendricks, there isn’t really anyone
solidified as being “next in line” in the welterweight
title chase, so another one-sided win for Maia could put the
35-year-old Brazilian at the top of the list. Given how dominant
he’s looked thus far, that could come to pass in the main
event on Wednesday night.

Emerging Contenders Collide, Part I

Both Erick Silva and Dong Hyun Kim have done enough inside the
Octagon to shed the “prospect” tag, but neither has
made the leap to being considered a full-fledged contender as of
yet either. That should change Wednesday night on Fox Sports 1 as
the two square off in the co-main event of this Ultimate Fight
Night card.

Kim has seemingly taken his game to another level since his
aforementioned awkward first-round injury TKO loss to Maia back at
UFC 148. In his last two showings, the South Korean “Stun
Gun” has rag-dolled both Paulo Thiago and Siyar Bahadurzada,
displaying an increased aggressiveness and willingness to push the
action and look to finish.

Across the cage, Silva has been heralded as a future contender
since his impressive 40-second knockout win over Luis Ramos in his
UFC debut, and rebounded from his loss to Jon Fitch in the UFC 153
Fight of the Night with another quick and clinical first-round
stoppage win back in June when he submitted Jason High in just over
a minute.

The winner of this one will earn a place in the upper tier of
the welterweight division, where future match-ups with well-known
opposition await. They’ve each had solid runs to reach this
point, but now only one of them can take the next step, and it
should be an entertaining battle to determine which one of them it
will be.

Is Thiago Silva Back?

Flashback to UFC 94…

A pair of Brazilian light heavyweights are set to meet in the
co-main event. Both are undefeated. Both look to have bright
futures ahead of them. Fighting in the penultimate bout of the
night, Thiago Silva faced off with Lyoto Machida, with the victor
moving on to challenge newly crowned champion “Suga”
Rashad Evans for the light heavyweight title.

Machida would go on to win the bout, stopping Silva as the horn
sounded to end the first round, and eventually unseat Evans as the
top dog in the 205-pound ranks. The loss marked the beginning of a
three-year odyssey of injuries, underwhelming performances, and
ultimately a pair of suspensions for Silva.

Back in June, the menacing member of “The
Blackzilians” returned to the Octagon, earning Fight of the
Night and Knockout of the Night honors for is first-round knockout
win over former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael
“Feijao” Cavalcante. For the first time in more than
three years, Silva looked like the dangerous, ferocious striker of
old.

He returns to the cage Wednesday night against veteran Matt
Hamill, with an opportunity to establish himself as a dark horse
contender in a division that is currently in a state of flux. With
another dominant performance, the narrative following Silva will
shift from whether he’ll ever be able to return to where he
was heading into UFC 94 to how far up the light heavyweight ladder
he’ll be able to climb going forward.

Mike Pierce’s Silent March to Contention

Without much fanfare, welterweight Mike Pierce has put together
a four-fight winning streak, earning stoppages in two of his last
three appearances. Despite his run of success in the cage, and an
overall 9-3 mark under the UFC banner, the Portland, Oregon native
has remained significantly under the radar when it comes to
identifying potential contenders in the 170-pound ranks.

This time out, Pierce is tasked with welcoming Brazilian
submission specialist Rousimar Palhares back to the cage and into
the welterweight division for the first time, as
“Toquinho” moves down in weight for his return to
action following a nine-month suspension.

And the 17-5 veteran isn’t exactly happy about the
appointment.

He’s vocalized his opinions of Palhares, calling him a
“dirty fighter” and his continued sloth-like climb up
the welterweight rankings. Frustrated and focused on proving
he’s a threat in the deep and talented division, adding a
fifth consecutive victory to his resume would force people to start
to pay more attention to Pierce, especially if he adds another
finish here.

Emerging Contender Collide, Part II

Kicking off Wednesday’s main card is a bantamweight clash
between a pair of Top-10-ranked competitors – No. 5 Raphael
Assuncao and No. 9 T.J. Dillashaw.

Each has earned four consecutive wins heading into this contest.
Most recently, Assuncao earned a second-round submission win over
Vaughan Lee, while Dillashaw earned a pair of stoppage wins in a
six-week span, earning TKO victories over Issei Tamura and Hugo
Viana at UFC 158 and UFC on FOX: Henderson vs. Melendez
respectively.

Prior to moving to the bantamweight ranks, Assuncao was a
contender in the featherweight division, sharing the cage with the
likes of Urijah Faber, Erik Koch, and Yves Jabouin. Dillashaw,
meanwhile, emerged as “one to watch” by advancing to
the finals of the bantamweight competition on Season 14 of The
Ultimate Fighter, and has since made a rapid climb up the
divisional ladder, joining fellow Team Alpha Male competitors
Faber, Chad Mendes, and Joseph Benavidez in the Top 10 of their
respective divisions.

While Dominick Cruz is expected to be the next man to share the
cage with interim champion Renan Barao, the winner of this one will
be near the top of the list of potential contenders as well. The
bantamweights are always entertaining, and with two fighters
sporting a combined 8-0 record inside the Octagon, this one should
be no different.