Demian Maia isn’t used to having his opponents looking to take him down and put him onto his back. On Saturday against Ben Askren at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore, he reminded everyone why that is.
Maia submitted Askren with a rear naked choke at 3:54 of the third round, putting the former Bellator and One welterweight champion out briefly, to win a match that had been billed as a battle between the UFC’s best grapplers. At the time of the submission, the bout was even on the scorecards of judges Howard Hughes and Barry Foley, 19-19, after two rounds. Judge Mark Collett had Maia, 20-18. Yahoo Sports gave each of the first two rounds to Maia and had it 20-18.
Askren had his moments during the fight, but every time the fight hit the floor, Maia was finding submission attempts. The end of the second round was compelling as Askren took Maia down and then spent the last minute trying to avoid submissions from an omoplata, a triangle choke, an arm bar and a heel hook.
In the third, Askren, a two-time Division I NCAA wrestling champion and a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic freestyle wrestling team, took Maia down with a single-leg takedown.
Maia immediately turned it to his advantage and got Askren’s back. He caught him with the choke and Askren tapped once as he was going out.
It was Maia’s 22nd win in the UFC, second all-time behind Donald Cerrone, and put his name all over the UFC record books. His 11th submission victory is second all-time, his 251 takedown attempts are first and his 65 takedowns are sixth-most.
“I was happy with my striking,” Askren told Laura Sanko of ESPN+ after the bout. “I cut him two or three times. I landed some really hard punches. When I did go for the takedowns, I got all of the takedowns pretty successfully. There was one bad decision and at this level, one bad decision is enough for a failed outcome.”
The fight was remarkably even on the feet. In the first round, which was spent entirely standing until an Askren takedown with 42 seconds left, Maia landed 28 of 54 significant strikes while Askren had 27 of 45, according to FightMetric.
In the second, Maia was 23 of 44 with significant strikes to Askren’s 22 of 53. And in the third, Maia connected on 18 of 24 while Askren landed 14 of 29.
Askren was 4 for 7 in takedowns and, unusually for the man who normally spends most of the bout looking to get his opponent down, Maia didn’t even attempt a takedown.
“Myself and he, I think we are the best grapplers in the game,” Maia said in the cage following the win.
There are a few fighters, Gilbert Burns notably, who may dispute that, but Maia makes a great point.
He’s become a likely Hall of Famer because he has the ability to end a fight instantly whenever he grabs an opponent’s limb. He said he had to change his submission style because of what he expected from Askren.
“I defended the takedowns well, but he is a great wrestler,” Maia said. “I had confidence in my striking defense, but what I did is try to change my game a little bit from the bottom because I knew he would be waiting for the half guard so I went to stuff like the triangle, the omoplata, heel hooks, things I used a lot when I would fight in jiu-jitsu.”
After the fight, Maia called out Diego Sanchez. Askren, who has now lost two in a row and is 1-2 in the UFC, said he wanted to go home and contemplate his next move.
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