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Why UFC Chile's Demian Maia might retire after contract expires – and his plans in the meantime

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Demian Maia is well aware of the tough challenge he took on when he signed on the dotted line to meet Kamaru Usman at this Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 129.

Had the fight taken place at a different time, under different circumstances, the narrative might be different. But fact is that former two-time title challenger Maia (25-8 MMA, 19-8 UFC), 40, is the one coming into this one off a skid, having had little more than two weeks to prepare for 31-year-old Usman (12-1 MMA, 7-0 UFC).

Usman, who’d been preparing to meet Santiago Ponzinibbio before injury struck, is on an 11-fight winning streak. In fact, he’s yet to lose in the octagon, and has gained somewhat of a divisional boogeyman status given his hard-to-crack style.

So, yes, there’s risk. But Maia also knows there is great reward to be reaped should he pull it off against an opponent who’s more than a 6-1 favorite at some online sports books.

“I think that, if a win comes, it will say a lot,” Maia told MMAjunkie ahead of the FS1-televised headliner. “It will say I’m still in the front line to fight for the belt. And that I can still be champion.”

But first things first. Maia has never been one to distract himself from the task at hand and he’s not about to start here. While a new stab at the title is, of course, somewhere in the back of his head, Maia is also keenly aware that it’s pointless to think about it before even walking out to Movistar Arena in Santiago, Chile, on Saturday.

His future, though, isn’t entirely unknown. We know that although Usman represented the final fight in his UFC contract, Maia has already re-negotiated with the UFC for another four fights.

And we also know, as Maia told Combate.com, that those may very well be his last. A decision, he explains, that has less to do with physical limitations than with his outside-the-cage interests.

“I’m actually doing very well, still – I feel very good,” Maia said. “But I also want time to do other things. Other projects, other things I have in mind. So that’s the reason for my plan, to do these four fights and possibly stop. I have other things, maybe teach seminars, I have affiliates, I have my gym (Vila da Luta, in his native Sao Paulo, Brazil). We’re doing a documentary with Combate and the UFC that I still can’t reveal details on, but it was really cool, travelling the world, talking about the history of fighting.

“And these are all things that I want to do. But I can’t do these things while fighting in the UFC, because as a high-level sport it’s naturally very demanding and it tales 100 percent focus. So you can’t do these things the way that you’d like to.”

As for the fights that he’s still, contractually, got ahead of him?

“There are a few records I want to break, like the most wins in UFC history, most finishes, goals like these,” Maia said. “But I think I want to do good fights, regardless of anything, to keep the legacy I built and continue my life after I’m done fighting.”

Maia has a chance at tying one of those, the UFC record for most overall wins, when he meets Usman. As it stands, his current 19 UFC wins put him behind Michael Bisping, Georges St-Pierre and Donald Cerrone, all of whom are tied for the first spot.

But that will involve getting past Usman in a fight that many were surprised Maia took in the first place. Maia, however, had his reasons, one of them being the idea of fighting in Chile – where he was three years ago, helping with the UFC’s promotional efforts.

“Now, to do this main event here, it’s very gratifying,” Maia said.

Usman, in turn, has had Maia in his sights for a while – at least since 2016, when he publicly put in his request to meet the Brazilian grappling ace after beating Warlley Alves in Maia’s Sao Paulo. Maia, it turns out, was there. And while he had another focus at the time, the Brazilian says he took notice of the bold up-and-comer.

“At the time, my focus was solely on fighting for the belt – I had six wins in a row and I didn’t want to hear about another fight,” Maia said. “I ended up fighting Jorge Masvidal, but I wanted the belt. But I knew that, eventually, (Usman) could make it up there, whether I was champion or not, to a title shot. So I started watching him.”

Back then, Usman also said his style would trump Maia’s. And while many at the time may have scoffed at that a little, given the very different places each fighters were at, the narrative that this is a bout that stylistically favors Usman has been a prevalent one now.

As someone who’s been known to make sure his style prevailed over others before, though, Maia has his own way of looking at it.

“It’s a hard fight; It’s a tough fight,” Maia said. “Not because of the style – but because he’s a good athlete. He’s tough and, whenever that’s the case, it’s not easy to impose your game. But that’s the big thing about training and fighting, it’s about being able to impose your game regardless of your opponent’s style.”

Maia is realistic when it comes to the preparation for this one; discounting fight week, he’s only had two weeks to prepare, and that is not ideal. But he’s also happy with the work he and his team were able to perform on such a short period of time. It also helps that Maia is never entirely out of shape – and that, when it comes to the emotional toll of big fights, this isn’t exactly his first rodeo.

“That, I think, is the hardest part: To be able to manage the stress, due to the importance of the fight, due to the fact it’s short-notice and that it’s a big event,” Maia said. “But I think experience helps with that. Over the years, I’ve learned to sort of let go and go in there to do your job. Stressing about it won’t help at all. So I’ve learned how to deal with it. And I think I’m a better athlete now because of that.”

For more on UFC Fight Night 129, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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