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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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.