Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Woodley vs. Maia for UFC 214 in Anaheim, and everything you don’t about that awful Kevin Spacey alien movie.
Tyron Woodley vs. Demian Maia co-headlines UFC 214 this July 29, 2017 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
One sentence summary
Phil: For all those people who like sport over spectacle, this is probably the fight for you…?
David: Behold, what an MMA Olympics fight would look like…
Record: Tyron Woodley 17-3-1 Draw | Demian Maia 25-6
Odds: Tyron Woodley -210 | Demian Maia +175
History / Introduction to both fighters
Phil: Tyron Woodley is starting to grow on people a little bit, I think? People are finally starting to forgive him a bit for knocking out Robbie Lawler, and for his awful fights against Stephen Thompson. They are gradually coming around to an idea that there’s a disconnect between what fighters say and what they do, and that even if Woodley says that he’d like to fight GSP, or Silva, or McGregor, that it’s actually quite nice that he’s someone who consistently defends against the top contenders in his division? Or am I just being hopelessly naive?
David: I don’t think so. It’s just like politics. At the end of the day, people come to respect or resign themselves to the shadows of power. Woodley is the man on the iron throne. He’s not cruel, or cunning. He’s a soldier. Maybe MMA nerds see Eddard Stark in him or something. Whatever the case, every fighter lately has been embroiled in some PR cocktail of nonsense. Bisping, McGregor, Jones, etc. Woodley keeps fighting the best, like a modern day Big Nog, just less exciting. Even a boring Nog still counts for something. And Woodley counts.
Phil: Demian Maia is a strange gift of a fighter, a man who stepped through a portal from a parallel reality where grapplers dominate the sport. It allowed him to come with an alien array of techniques which our reality’s fighters were simply unprepared to handle. In Maia’s world, people get to the top of a division by winning lots of fights in a row, while gently respecting their opponents and trying to win as painlessly as possible. One day, he’ll leave us and go back to his home dimension, like ET, or Kevin Spacey in that one film which I never quite finished watching. Hopefully we’ll have learned something pithy and inspiring when he does.
David: I think Maia is more like the Heptapods from the Arrival than Kevin Spacey’s banana eating precocious alien – teaching us MMA fans of low cunning a new language of combat, where neither force, nor aggression make up the secret formula for efficiency. He is a paradox of combat – educated in the art of war and its execution, but neither bloodthirsty nor haunted. For Maia, fighting is a place to gather at the setting sun, away from these derelicts of wood and plain. It’s a place to understand who he is beyond the metaphors of civilization – like Sartre with a deadly ass choke game, Maia is challenging not only his existence, but his essence, and none of us are worthy.
What’s at stake?
David: Something a lot spicier than usual. If Maia wins, it’ll be MMA coming full circle. People will write thinkpieces about the “return of jiu jitsu.” Maybe some Gracies will win MMA fights under an active time limit. For the Gracies themselves, MMA’s roots coming back around for Hespect! That’s all horseshit of course, but Maia winning a title would be a relatively unique moment for the sport’s gridiron. That’s not to discount Woodley of course.
Phil: This is true. After Wonderboy, this represents another specialist, “true martial artist” for Woodley to fight. It probably dictates a very specialized approach as well, one which might not go down well with the audience.
Where do they want it?
Phil: A lot of Woodley’s career has seemed like a quest for a stable approach. The “athlete vs fighter” question is one which is posed a lot, but this is one of those times when it feels absolutely relevant. I don’t really think Woodley is much of a natural fighter. What he is, though, is determined, smart and hardworking. Thus, his style has gone through a few deliberately managed transitions throughout the years. He started off as a fairly violent top position grappler, then went through a long phase of working on his control. He opened up his offensive capabilities in a classic (if unsuccessful) fight with Nate Marquardt, and then settled into his current approach. Here, he’s pared down the old “double leg and right hand” mixup into its purest, most athletically supercharged form. His improvements have been in the areas around it: his cage craft is famously mediocre, but his foot position awareness and ability to take small adjustment steps to line himself up has become a great deal better, going back to the Gastelum fight. His once-inert top position striking has become pretty fearsome.
David: The problem with Woodley is that he’s a pure counterstriker in a wrestle-boxer’s body. His instincts are fine, but they’re guiding him through a rubik’s cube of mayhem and meat. I’ve mentioned before that I think Woodley’s penchant for getting stuck on the cage is a feature of his drawing opponents into exchanges rather than a bug. It doesn’t work as well as Woodley thinks it does, and it does…kind of…work. Right? I’m not just seeing things. Woodley doesn’t have the ability counter at the center of the cage. Getting “stuck” allows him to keep the fight contained with pockets of surface area rather than a whole octagon. At his best he’s a one punch threat in the blink of an eye. Frankly, that’s pretty much it. Which is why I believe his habit of backing up and cutting off the cage is a deliberate, if awkward tactic.
Phil: If Woodley has pared down his game, then it’s hard to even think of a word for what Maia has done. Like Woodley, he went through a few evolutions, and yet what has come out the end is honed to a fine razors edge. Remember when he was striking, the so-called K1 Maia? I may be in a minority, but I feel like this was a pretty good idea. It allowed him a fresh look at the fundamentals of striking, and allowed him to blend its footwork into his wrestling game. His pressure footwork is quite brilliant, and he’s often able to force opponents to the fence without throwing a single strike.
He’s fallen in love with the art of wrestling. Like Khabib, part of his innovation has been taking power off his initial shot and instead focusing on pure speed to ensure that he gets a hold of the leg or the hips, before moving into single and double-leg chains, or even pulling guard into a half-guard sweep. On the ground, he’s similarly used the the knowledge of multiple options to inform the construction of an approach which is terrifying in its simplicity. Pin, tripod, pass, take the back, choke.
David: Bingo. One of the things that doomed Ronda Rousey, besides Edmond, was her wrestling. She had a classic grappler’s approach to snagging takedowns – learn to strike to close the distance, say a prayer, and hope you’re in the clinch or on the ground. Wrestling was always the key, and Rousey has since paid for that in brutal high res images of her getting knocked the hell out. Maia understood what was lacking.
His ability to marry wrestling with grappling has led to fighter aware of his strengths, knowing them, refining them, and living or dying with that. So many fighters trade in new wrinkles and nuances to their defined strengths for improvements of mediocre skillsets. But not Maia. Although yea, he tried it. Perhaps the most underrated part of Maia’s game has been active improvement in his grappling (!). Before he’d abandon his art in service of resetting. Now he’s not looking to reset. Maia treats fighting the way grapplers do flow drills, and that rhythm has become more nestled in his game. Maia is rarely looking to reset, opting for one long chain of pressure, no matter how subtle.
Insight from past fights
Phil: One thing which surprised me about the Wonderboy fights is, as mentioned, how much Woodley’s ground and pound has improved. Specifically, how Woodley simply crushed Wonderboy from the half-guard with elbows. Interestingly enough, this is something that his teammate Masvidal also had a lot of success with. Although Woodley is quite risk-averse, I’m interested to see if he has enough confidence in his hips to try to hurt Maia if he tries his half-guard trickery.
David: Maia’s style, and this might just be me, is taxing on the cardio by nature. He doesn’t have a cardio problem. But I think he does have a cardio issue. It’s the kind of thing that would happen in a fight between gods and men; the men gasping for air just to keep the fighting level. Maia is smarter than the gods, which is how he wins. But he seemed more exhausted than Masvidal, and I do wonder if that could become a factor against Woodley down the stretch.
Phil: Maia was offered a shorter camp than usual for this fight, and probably realized that this was his only chance. Other than that, I can’t think of much, aside from that general nagging feeling that Woodley often hampers himself by getting in his own head, and makes fights harder than they should be.
David: True. But Woodley has some clear paths to victory here. The only issue here is having the octagon spontaneously combust.
Phil: Woodley’s tendency to put himself up against the cage plays into Maia’s pressure wrestling game, but little about the rest of his game does. Jake Shields was unable to budge his hips, and I think even if he plays a very cautious, risk-averse game that Maia will simply exhaust himself trying to get something to work against him. Tyron Woodley by unanimous decision.
David: I’m tempted to pick Maia. I think he’ll have more problems avoiding the ground, like Sonnen, than one would assume. But even in a ground exchange I don’t see Woodley ending up on his back. And on the feet, he just needs one shot. And Maia hasn’t fought a lot of fighters who needed just one heater. Maia won’t be doing cartwheels, but he will be seeing stars. Tyron Woodley by KO, round 4.