Shields victorious in Brazil

In a battle between two of the greatest ground fighters in the
history of mixed martial arts, Jake Shields and Demian Maia went
back and forth for 25 minutes all while trying to gain the dominant
position over the other on the mat.

In the end, Shields was viewed as the better fighter by two of
the judges Wednesday, getting the split-decision victory over the
hometown favorite Maia in the main event of UFC Fight Night: Maia
vs. Shields in Barueri, Brazil.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is known as the art of submission, but it’s
also a complex game of chess when it comes to takedowns, advances
and positions to set up a potential finish. One wrong move could
mean the difference between victory and defeat, catching a
submission or waking up from a choke wondering what just
happened.

Through three fights as a welterweight after competing
previously as a middleweight, Maia (18-5) had overmatched every
opponent he’s faced by using his superior ground work and technique
to become an absolute nightmare in the clinch and on the mat. Maia
met his equal in Shields, however, because the former Strikeforce
middleweight champion is just as versed in adjusting his submission
grappling for MMA.

While he doesn’t have Maia’s list of accomplishments when it
comes to jiu-jitsu, Shields (29-6) bests him in every category when
it comes to MMA and he had to use that veteran experience in a few
gut check moments throughout the fight.

Maia’s strategy to press Shields against the cage and work him
to the ground played out masterfully in the opening moments of the
fight. Just like he did to former welterweight title contender Jon
Fitch in his last fight, Maia dragged Shields to the ground and
started to look for superior control.

Unlike virtually ever other fighter that’s ever faced Maia in
the Octagon, Shields didn’t panic one bit once the fight hit the
ground and he began looking for reversals to land on top where he
is like a tank, unmovable and powerful with his own grappling.

Through the first three rounds, Shields constantly got the best
of Maia while clinching against the cage with both fighters
searching for the takedown. Even when Maia managed to get Shields
to the ground, the San Francisco-based fighter put his own
jiu-jitsu to good use, whirling out of bad positions and landing on
top.

Shields struggled mightily with his own takedown attempts
landing only one out of 12 attempts during the fight, which is
compounded by his overall 14.5 percent accuracy since coming to the
UFC. Where Shields succeeded was with his tenacious nature to never
let Maia get on top for more than a few moments, and the
Brazilian’s frustations mounted with each passing minute.

As Shields took the center of the cage in the fourth round, with
his mouth open and his eyes fixated on the clock, it was clear that
he was starting to run out of gas. Maia tried his best to take
advantage, and did secure a takedown while winning the round in his
strongest performance during the fight.

The fifth round was the moment to settle the fight, and Shields
was forced to dig down deep to find the energy to come out and
compete with Maia again after an exhausting 20 minutes nearly
drained the life out of him. Shields shot in for a takedown again
and again only to be thwarted by Maia, but he was still pushing
forward offensively which matters to the judges watching
cageside.

The striking battle between the two fighters was ineffective for
the most part during the entire bout, but Shields started to land
with slightly more volume in the fifth round. Overall, Shields
bested Maia on the feet with a total of 35 to 24 significant
strikes while both competitors only landed at around 32 percent
during the five-round fight.

“In the fifth round, in my mind we had two rounds a piece but I
thought we were even,” Shields said after the fight. “So I was
really tired, I tried to open up the stand up more, I thought I
edged it out there.”

The final horn sounded and after five rounds it wasn’t easy to
make a call for the winner. Once all of the scores were tallied,
the judges all returned 48-47 scorecards, but Shields was handed
the victory by split decision.

“That was one of my hardest two or three fights of all time,”
Shields said. “Ranks up there with GSP (Georges St-Pierre) and Dan
Henderson. He’s a phenom, I expected that going in. He gave me all
I could handle. It was a close, close fight, I’m just thankful I
got the win tonight.”

It was a tough loss for Maia to swallow in front of his
home-country fans. Not only did it mark his first defeat since
dropping down to 170 pounds, but it also pushed him out of title
contention for the time being.

As for Shields, he can now celebrate his second win in a row
while becoming one of only a handful of Americans to go into Brazil
and pick up a decision victory against a Brazilian. It will also
likely earn Shields a spot back in the welterweight top 10 after
beating Maia, who was ranked No. 4 in the world prior to their
bout.