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This article was published 16/2/2009 (2713 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Don't be taken in by Demian Maia's smile. It masks pure menace.
The unbeaten Brazilian middleweight cheerfully admitted as much at a recent post-fight news conference when he said beneath the grin, he's figuring out how to rip off his opponent's arm.
Maia (10-0) can do it too.
The 31-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace from Sao Paolo has won the World Cup three times and the world championship twice. The 2002, '03 and '05 World Cup wins were in the black belt division and in 2005, he beat world champion Ronaldo (Jacare) Souza of Brazil to take the title.
Maia's jiu-jitsu is on a different level in the mixed martial arts world. His goal is to get his opponent to the ground and once he does, the end is usually near.
He passes guard, mounts his opponents and drops punches and elbows until they give up their back. Maia then chokes them out.
He has done it in each of his four UFC fights - choking out Ryan Jensen, Ed Herman (who refused to tap and was briefly rendered unconscious), Canadian Jason MacDonald, and most recently Nate Quarry - and will be looking to add Chael Sonnen to that list Saturday at UFC 95 in London's O2 Arena (Rogers Sportsnet, 3 p.m. ET, and Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET on tape delay).
A win and Maia muscles his way a little closer to a title shot.
Sonnen (23-9-1) presents an interesting test. The 31-year-old former all-American wrestler and Olympic alternate is returning to the UFC after stints with World Extreme Cagefighting and Bodog.
Sonnen's WEC career was highlighted by two fights against champion Paulo Filho. He lost the first on a controversial submission and won the second, deemed a non-title bout after a seemingly distracted Filho failed to make weight.
The Oregon native says his jiu-jitsu is good, but not Maia good.
"I've been at it a while," Sonnen said, "I've entered the Abu Dhabi world (submission) championships on two separate occasions, I've won matches there each time. I've gone against some of the best guys in the world. So my jiu-jitsu and ground skills are very good.
"They're not his, they're not on his level," he added, however. "If I showed you a way to do something and he showed you a way, do it his way, put it that way."
Maia, whose name is pronounced DAY-mee-uhn MY-ah, took up judo when he was four, adding kung fu and karate when he was 12. Then he found jiu-jitsu, a sport whose cerebral nature appeals to him.
"It's a very intelligent fight, it's a smart fight, so I like this," Maia said.
Self-taught in English, Maia is better equipped to communicate in North America than most of his fellow Brazilian fighters. He learned the language during many visits to the U.S. to train.
Maia works at his jiu-jitsu, as with all aspects of his game.
"You're always learning, you're always getting better and if you don't train, you're going to be not so good anymore," he said.
He's more confident in the standup game, but still usually ends up pulling his opponents down to the ground on top of him.
"He's great on the ground, he's really slick," said rival middleweight Nate (The Great) Marquardt, who fights Wilson Gouveia at UFC 95. "He goes for the submissions.
"Standup is pretty bad, though. His takedowns aren't very impressive."
That hasn't stopped Maia yet, although he reckons Sonnen will offer a different challenge.
"Very, very tough. Very good and smart fighter," he said. "He's not like my previous opponents, they were more aggressive.
"I saw Chael fight against Paulo Filho and he was more about getting points and winning by points so he's kind of a different opponent but very, very good and very hard to beat."
So is Maia. His last loss came at the end of 2007 in the absolute division of a no-gi championship in Brazil against a heavier opponent. It ended in a draw with the judges then awarding the bout to his opponent to break the tie. He also lost in the 2006 world championships.
MacDonald, from Red Deer, Alta., is the only UFC fighter to have to have taken Maia to the third round. He matched wits with Maia on the ground for a while but eventually suffered the same fate - ground and pound followed by a rear naked choke.
Maia has a degree in journalism and has already combined those skills with his fighting, writing for several Brazilian magazines on the sport.
He counts Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira as a fighter whose jiu-jitsu he admires, as well as Jacare and Roger Gracie. He also rates Canadian Georges St. Pierre highly.
"His jiu-jitsu is pretty good right now," he said in the wake of GSP's TKO of B.J. Penn at UFC 94. "He has one of the best top games in jiu-jitsu, he passed the guard pretty well, it's not so easy to do that. Especially against B.J. who has a good guard.
"St. Pierre, of course he has good cardio but still he's doing the correct technique, his technique is very tight. He's impressing me, his jiu-jitsu, at least from the top. I didn't see when he fights from the bottom. . . . I like to see St. Pierre fight. He's very good."