Here’s one of over 9,000 articles that have emerged regarding the awesome, AWESOME fight card that was UFC 194. So far thousands upon thousands of people have been Conor fans ‘since the beginning’ and ‘absolutely knew that Conor was always going to win’. You know what, guys? Aldo just got caught, folks. However I do believe that Conor was in his head, with his mind games and trash talk and that adversely affected Conor’s confidence.
Anyway let’s talk about one of the more underrated cards on the fight, and that’s Demian Maia vs. Gunnar Nelson. Outside of the grappling and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community, this fight has definitely slipped under the radar of most casual MMA fans (who are now inexplicably also Conor McGregor fans) and I will attempt to elaborate on the total beauty and domination that Maia put over Nelson in what was probably the most painful and humiliating 15 minutes of Gunnar’s life.
First, a quick look at the FightMetrics stats:
In terms of significant strikes landed, Maia landed 47 strikes and Nelson landed 2. In terms of total strikes, Maia landed 193 and Nelson landed 7. Basically Maia landed 20x more strikes than Nelson! Viewing this stats masks the true nature of the fight however, in a pure striking exchange, there is absolutely no way that a fighter can be outstruck at that level!
No folks, that level of domination can only be achieved by one thing: pure positional dominance. By my estimation, Gunnar spent at least 80% of the 15 minutes in one of two positions: full mount, or back mount with a body triangle. Gunnar was no slouch though, and defended intelligently throughout the fight; his only saving grace was that he did not get submitted, being an excellent grappler in his own right. He also had very nice scrambles, countering several of Demian’s initial takedowns with reversals, however Demian was simply too tenacious and persisted until he dragged Gunnar to the ground.
What is notable about Demian’s style is his use of the ‘basic’ half guard game, which basically is coming up with an underhook and finishing with a single leg style takedown. Demian’s single minded focus with the use of the single leg is also reflected in his takedown game, in which he mainly finishes his opponents with a single leg and running the pipe (his gif worthy lateral drop on Chael Sonnen notwithstanding), or transitioning to the back. In the Nelson fight, he also combined the single leg with a backward trip, which in judo would be referred to as tani-otoshi.
Props must be given to Gunnar on his takedown counters too. Numerous times Demian failed in his initial takedown attempt, with Gunnar using uchi-mata style counters to the single leg, leading to Demian ending up on the bottom position. His scrambles were very impressive; perhaps all that movement training with Ido Portal has paid off? However, here is where Demian’s sweep game and takedown game blend seamlessly into each other; in his half guard sweeps, the finish is coming up on the single leg so when Gunnar ended up on top after his takedown reversal, Demian was on bottom in the half guard position. From there, he would just enter into his half guard sweep, and come up on the single leg again! Even if he did get reversed again, he just repeated the process until he eventually dragged Gunnar to the ground, or hopped onto his back.
Demian also had very good passing after the takedown/sweep, even hitting a ‘dope mount’ or folding pass straight to the mount. I don’t think I’ve seen that pass in the UFC since BJ Penn. There were also other grappling transitions in the fight, such as Demian sweeping Gunnar of the backstep half guard pass, and his masterful use of the knee shield to obtain the underhook from the half guard.
Transitions aside, what impressed me most was the absolute control that Demian had. I think Gunnar escaped only once, at the end of the first round where Demian went for an armbar from mount and Gunnar reversed him into closed guard. Also notable was Demian flattening out Gunnar from the back mount while Gunnar was on his feet and hands (the four posts position). This is a common back mount escape, particularly in MMA where it’s sweaty and shirtless to boot. Demian posted far with his hand, far ahead of Gunnar’s head and locked on a half body triangle. Using hip pressure (can’t be seen, but I assume to feel like Tess Holiday standing on your back), he was able to flatten Gunnar out from standing every single time! That was truly notable.
Another thing that should be mentioned is the difference in size. Gunnar has publicly stated that he doesn’t really cut weight, which would mean he probably walks around at the 175lbs to 180lbs mark. Demian used to fight at 185lbs, and cut weight for that! It is likely he walked around at the 195lbs to 205lbs mark, and although I’m sure his walking weight is lower now, he definitely had the size advantage in this fight. At the highest level, size makes a significant difference.
Conclusion: For Gunnar to rise to the top of this division, he should be aware that his lack of weight cutting may be a disadvantage. Perhaps he should consume more protein and lift more weights (as an aside, check out The Protein Investor for an analysis on cheap whey protein powders)? He is Icelandic, home to the world’s greatest strongmen, so presumably effective strength and conditioning is no more than a stone’s throw away.
Conclusion 2: At 38, Maia is looking better than ever. However, realistically he only has a few years left in his career, which explains him calling out the winner of the Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit fight. He needs to make his mark, and he needs to make it quick.