One of mixed martial arts’ best jiu-jitsu players, Demian Maia‘s stock rose immensely when the then-undefeated Brazilian fighter quickly subbed Chael Sonnen at UFC 95. Since then he has only lost twice, and although he may not get a chance to avenge his 21-scond KO loss to Nate Marquardt since “The Great” announced recently that he will be dropping down to welterweight, there isn’t a day that goes by that Maia doesn’t think about a second meeting with UFC middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva.
The next rung up the title contention ladder for the 32-year-old, who has steadily improved his stand-up skills for each fight, is a June 11 meeting with scrappy former Division I wrestling champion Mark Muñoz at UFC 131 in Vancouver. We caught up with Maia yesterday and spoke with the humble middleweight about a number of topics, including his upcoming bout with “The Filipino Wrecking Machine,” his title aspirations and whether or not he would fight a friend if push came to shove.
Check out what Demian had to say below.
Cage Potato: I know it hasn’t been officially announced, but your next opponent is rumored to be Mark Muñoz at UFC 131 in June. Have you signed the contract for the fight?
Demian Maia: (laughing) Yeah…yeah.
CP: How do you think you match up with Mark?
DM: I think it’s a good match-up because we’re both grapplers and we have kind of similar styles. Neither of us will try to avoid the others’ [specialty]. We’re just going to go in there and fight.
CP: Something that people have been saying about you recently is that your stand-up has improved immensely over the past few fights. It seemed like the fight where you realized that you needed to concentrate more on your boxing and muay thai was your fight with Anderson Silva. Was that fight kind of a turning point for you?
DM: The turning point was my Marquardt fight. It was my first loss. I really started to train more stand-up after that, but of course it takes time to improve. In the Anderson fight, I realized that I needed to start training a lot of transitions, like how to [effectively] transition from boxing to takedowns. After that fight my takedowns were much better. In my last few fights I think they looked much better. Nowadays if you want to be a champ and you want to be a top-level guy, you need to know how to fight wherever the fight goes. I work on my boxing a lot and have focused more on my muay thai as well. I want to get better and better. It’s good to be able to fight stand-up because it makes it easier for me to clinch and work my takedowns so I can go to my game, which is the ground game.
CP: With the announcement that the UFC has purchased Strikeforce, a lot of fans and journalists have been hypothesizing about all of the potential match-ups that the merger may bring. One fight we recently wrote about that we would like to see would be a match-up between you and one of your old grappling and jiu-jitsu adversaries, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
DM: Uh, huh.
CP: Is that a fight you’ve thought about, considering you’ve both beaten each other on the mats?
DM: No. He’s a friend of mine, so I haven’t thought about fighting him. Of course, we are professionals, but if I can I’m not going to fight him. Also, he’s pretty tough. (laughs)
CP: You’ve proven yourself to be pretty tough as well.
DM: I guess so.
CP: And pretty modest as well.
CP: A hot topic of debate recently has been the idea of fighters fighting friends and teammates, given the situation between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans. You mentioned not wanting to fight Jacare and I know you’re very good friends with Wanderlei Silva, who is also in your division. If push came to shove, would you fight a friend?
DM: You never know. I really don’t ever want to fight any of my friends, but if they said, “Either fight or you’re fired,” it would be a hard decision I’d have to make. You can’t choose who you fight. The decision is in [the UFC's] hand, not yours.
CP: If all goes well and you get through this next fight with a win and were given the opportunity to choose your next opponent, who would it be?
DM: No. I don’t like to say who [I want to fight]. Actually, I don’t like to choose. For me, I want to do the best I can this fight, win this fight and then… If I win this fight, I know they’re going to put me in a very good fight and I will be close to a title fight again.
CP: That would be a good way to kick of 2012. If you can get past Muñoz and another contender I can see you getting a title shot early next year. Is that your goal?
DM: Yeah…yeah. Nowadays I like to just focus on one fight at a time, but that’s what I would like — to win this fight and to win one more time and then to fight for the title again. I think that I will be much more prepared than when I fought Anderson the first time. I’m not in any rush, because every fight I get more prepared and my training is getting better and better and more professional. If I get the chance again, I’ll be a much better fighter.
CP: You’re in Chicago right now. Who are you training with?
DM: I’m training with a lot of really good wrestlers here. I have a lot of good MMA fighters coming — some friends from Brazil — to help me prepare for this fight as well like [Murilo] “Ninja” Rua. He’s coming tomorrow. I also have some of the best wrestlers. like Matt Gentry, the number one 74-kilo wrestler in Canada and Jake Herbert, the number one 185-pound wrestler in the United States.
CP: So you’re in a good spot training for a guy like Mark.
DM: Yeah, man. It’s the best place to train wrestling.
CP: You’re in Chicago training for this fight. Was it because of the wrestlers there that you decided to go to Chicago for this camp?
DM: Actually, I’ve been coming here for my past few fights. I always come for two weeks. I came here for my fight against Mario Miranda and for my last fight with Kendall Grove and now for this fight as well. It’s always great. They do a great camp for me here.
CP: There was a recent interview with Anderson in which he complimented you by saying that you will undoubtedly be a champion some day. Does this mean that the beef between you over things that were allegedly said before and during your fight has been quashed?
DM: I haven’t talked to him recently, but I saw the interview he did on Brazilian TV about me being a champion some day. Even though we had a lot of problems in the past, it’s nice to hear that from him because he’s one of the best in the world. It gives me confidence.
CP: You studied Journalism in university and you worked briefly as a journalist before becoming a full-time fighter. Is that something you’re considering going back to after you retire from fighting?
DM: You never know. I never plan too far ahead, but it’s something interesting to think about. In Brazil they’ve started to do MMA shows on TV and they invite me sometimes to talk about and take part in discussions about the sport, so you never know.
CP: With the upcoming UFC card set for Rio this summer, a lot of Brazilian fighters are clamoring for a slot on the card. If you can get through your fight in June and come out without any injuries can we expect to see you on the card?
DM: I want to be there. Let’s see how I will be after the fight. There are 11 weeks after the fight for me to heal. It’s tight, but I think there’s enough time to prepare. I could rest for ten days and still have a full nine-week camp. That’s enough. Let’s see what’s gonna happen.
CP: What do you like to do when you aren’t fighting?
DM: I like to read a lot. I read a bunch of books that have nothing to do with fighting. I read all kinds of stuff. That’s something I do. Other than that, there’s not a lot of stuff I can think about right now.
CP: With training, traveling and spending time with your family, you probably don’t have a whole lot of free time.
CP: Well, Demian. That’s all I have. Thanks for taking the time to talk and good luck in your fight in June. I’m looking forward to watching it. I hope we get a chance to talk again soon.
DM: Thank you, Mike. See you, bye.
- MR -