The path from middleweight to welterweight has been a treacherous one as of late.
In recent months, a number of highly regarded fighters -- Jake Shields, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Nate Marquardt all spring immediately to mind -- have attempted the cut from 185 to 170 pounds and for very disparate reasons, none have hit the jackpot like we assumed they might.
At this point, any one of those guys could probably tell Demian Maia a few cautionary tales.
While the individual experiences of Shields, Akiyama and Marquardt don’t pertain specifically to Maia, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist should be warned after announcing on Twitter this week he’ll move from middle to welter: No matter who you are -- a champion in his prime, a high-dollar international free agent or a former top five stalwart -- this particular jump is far from a sure thing.
Not that Maia really has any other choice. He’s essentially found himself chased out of the 185-pound division after going 1-2 in his last three fights. His recent loss to Chris Weidman knocked him out of the ESPN.com middleweight power rankings and, though he once challenged Anderson Silva for the title, he hasn’t beaten a top-tier opponent since his submission victory over Chael Sonnen at UFC 95 back in 2009.
Oddly, Maia’s mediocre 4-4 mark during the last three years has coincided with a noticeable professional evolution. He’s received near unilateral praise for the obvious improvements he’s made in his standup game. He’s certainly more dangerous now than when he dropped fights to Silva at UFC 112 and to Marquardt at UFC 102, but so far, the proof hasn’t shown up where it counts the most: his win-loss record.
Now, eight months shy of turning 35, Maia seeks the instant coat of paint and spit shine that dropping a weight division can provide. It's true, when a former top contender steps down a class we have a tendency to look at him with fresh eyes.
The trouble is, he’ll enter a welterweight division that has never been more competitive and which boasts a current crop of contenders to rival even the shark tank of the lightweight ranks. Does the prospect of running up against guys like Jake Ellenberger, Nick Diaz or Johny Hendricks make 170 pounds seem preferable to 185?
Probably not. In fact, it might even be worse for him. The whole division is effectively on hold until Georges St. Pierre returns from knee surgery and with Carlos Condit, Diaz and Ellenberger already in the pole position, it’ll be a long wait in very dangerous territory before Maia even has a chance to earn himself a shot at welterweight gold.
If anything, this is probably a lateral move, and one he pretty much had to make. Moving down is just what you do when you feel like you’ve warn out your welcome in the place where you started. For most guys, like Akiyama, it’s just way of buying yourself a couple more fights.
Win one or two, then lose one, mumble something about how the weight cut takes too much out of you and move back up. Such is the cycle of life in MMA.
Word to the wise, though: Be careful. Lately, the move from welterweight to middleweight hasn't been a safe bet, either. Just ask Anthony Johnson.