It’s hardly a unique situation for a fighter to be ostensibly awarded a title shot in the UFC only for fate to strike a cruel blow.
Just ask Wilson Reis or TJ Grant; two such athletes who, for a variety of reasons, fielded a call from the UFC and were told that the title shot they thought they had earned was being taken off the table. In Reis’ case, it was the all-flyweight season of The Ultimate Fighter with the winner being awarded a title shot against Demetrious Johnson.
As for TJ Grant, the presumed #1 contender to the UFC’s lightweight title when he rattled off his fifth successive win in 2013, an unfortunate series of concussion-related symptoms has meant that he hasn’t competed since the dominant win over Gray Maynard which rubber stamped his title shot in the first place.
You can now add Demian Maia to that list. The Brazilian grappling expert is in the best form of his career at the moment, as evidenced by the stunning stat that he has absorbed less than 15 blows in his last four fights combined. Maia has rattled off six straight wins in the welterweight division, dispatching the likes of Carlos Condit, Gunnar Nelson, Neil Magny and Ryan LaFlare along the way and was the consensus next in line once Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson met in New York at UFC 205.
After that bout finished in a majority draw Maia’s title shot was put on hold in favour of clearing out the logjam atop the division. Understandable, you might think. A drawn title fight doesn’t exactly bring with it the sense of closure usually demanded from a high level championship match.
With Woodley and Thompson rematching this weekend in the main event of UFC 209 in Las Vegas, it was thought that not even another draw could deny Maia an opportunity at the winner. Come Sunday, accepted wisdom suggested Demian Maia would finally know who he was fighting next. Instead, Maia finds himself booked opposite fellow contender Jorge Masvidal later this year — a fight which could potentially derail the title opportunity that most analysts say that he deserves.
It appears that the champion Tyron Woodley agrees. Speaking to the assembled media at the UFC 209 open workouts, Woodley struck a conciliatory tone when asked about Maia.
“Part of me wants to feel bad and have compassion for Demian Maia. The other part of me, I’ve been in four No. 1 contender fights. If Carlos Condit had beaten me, he would’ve immediately fought for a title shot. Rory MacDonald beat me, he fought for a title shot. If Kelvin Gastelum would’ve beaten me, they would’ve said he’s going to fight for a title shot.
“So I’ve been in that position enough to know that he has to do something different himself. Unfortunately, this sport of mixed martial arts has turned into where the fans want to see you get knocked the hell out, and cut open, and in these wars. They don’t respect his art. He’s one of the best grapplers in the UFC right now, and they don’t respect his art that he brings to the table. That’s not my job to go and promote him. I have a hard enough time promoting myself.”