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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.