DALLAS — Much has been made of Demian Maia’s brilliant six-fight win streak, and for good reason. Over the past two years alone, Maia has toppled a quartet of ranked opponents with ease — Neil Magny, Gunnar Nelson, Matt Brown, and Carlos Condit — all while sustaining a stunning total of just 13 significant strikes during that run. It’s a ridiculous statistic that defies logic, especially considering Maia is a few months shy of turning 40 years old.
So how is this happening? How is this even possible? And how can Maia’s opponent at UFC 211, Jorge Masvidal, avoid befalling the same fate?
Well, for Masvidal, the answer is simple.
“Those guys can’t wrestle to save their lives,” Masvidal told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC 211. “Every one of them that you mentioned.”
Looking back, all four of the fights followed the same script for Maia: takedown, back-take, then domination. And in Masvidal’s eyes, there’s a good reason for that.
“They can’t wrestle, they can’t handle the pressure,” Masvidal said. “Their mind isn’t right, you know? I’m a guy who’s in there everyday with world-class grapplers feeling that pressure. And you ask those world-class grapplers about me and they’ll tell you, ‘Gamebred’s not a striker, he’s a f*cking grappler. He’s one of us,’ because I enjoy doing it. So half the time I’m striking, half the time I’m grappling, and I’m not a bad athlete and more than anything I’m competitive.
“So I’ve gotten good not because I was born good, but because I get after it. I’ve got more mat hours than most of the guys who are grapplers got on the mat.”
For Masvidal, those hours mean something, and it’s the reason his fight against Maia at UFC 211 represents something more than your average contenders fight.
Though he’s only 32 years old, “Gamebred” has been grinding away in the fight game for close to 15 years. His road has taken him across the world, through nearly every major organization of the past decade, pitting him against a slew of respected names. But for what seemed like forever, a true push from a promotion eluded Masvidal. Even when he finally joined the UFC in 2013, Masvidal was one controversial split decision away from racking up a 7-1 Octagon record before he the UFC finally threw him a ranked opponent.
But Masvidal has been making up for lost time ever since his move up from lightweight to welterweight, and never was that made clearer than this past winter, when over the course of two months, he scored massive knockouts over Jake Ellenberger and Donald Cerrone to irrevocably force his way into title contention.
To the veteran, it’s a moment long overdue.
“Man, I never got to fight a ranked opponent at 155, and that wasn’t because I wasn’t winning. It’s because they didn’t give a f*ck to promote me,” Masvidal said. “I came to 170 and I got motivated and finally they started giving me ranked opponents. For a lot of these guys — and you could tell — I was in there not in-shape. I had love handles, I was fat, because I was training three or four weeks. Once I get these ranked opponents, all of a sudden the fire sparks back in you and you’re like, ‘man, finally.’
“I’ve been doing this so long. Forget about my UFC career and whatever I did in the UFC. What I did in Japan, what I did in Strikeforce, what I did in other shows, the guys who I beat, UFC veterans, world champions, guys who are now currently ranked at the top of their weight classes who I beat back then, who are ranked now in the UFC, when I beat them way back then. Plenty of guys. The list goes on and on of the guys that I murdered. I got a cemetery full of greats, you know?
“And it’s not to take nothing from ‘em. It’s that, I’ve murdered a lot of people, and when I came to the UFC, it was all lost and forgotten and they had me start from the very bottom, and that still to this day pisses me off, because I should’ve been here three or four years ago. I should’ve been fighting the world’s best since I entered the UFC. So it pisses me off to this very day.”
That frustration looms large over UFC 211 now that the opportunity Masvidal wanted has finally arrived. In Maia, “Gamebred” faces an opponent who many people already believe to be the rightful heir to the welterweight throne. Maia’s streak is easily the most impressive in the division, and even Masvidal concedes the jiu-jitsu savant is the unquestioned No. 1 welterweight contender.
So considering that, Masvidal only sees one acceptable outcome once Saturday night plays out like he promises.
“I mean, if I’m not fighting for the title (next), the sport took a drastic turn for the worse,” Masvidal said. “If the winner of this is not fighting for the title, I don’t know what to say, man. It’s a circus show then at that point.”