Ben Fowlkes
Thursday August 27th, 2009

Demian Maia doesn't bother keeping his game plan a secret. He knows there's no use. No matter what the unbeaten middleweight might say in advance of his bout with Nate Marquardt at UFC 102 this Saturday, everyone already knows that the longest Maia (10-0) likes to stay on his feet is the time it takes him to walk from the dressing room to the Octagon.

Maia's opponents don't waste time thinking about whether he'll try and take it to the mat so much as how and when. With five straight submission victories in the UFC, and eight in his 10 professional bouts, the answers, so far, have been, however Maia wants to and right away. He may not have the explosive traditional takedown skills of a former wrestler, but he combines excellent throws with a willingness to put himself on his back if need be, making the prospect of avoiding the ground game altogether nearly impossible.

That seems to be just fine with Marquardt, who says that he's perfectly prepared to go to the ground with the submissions ace, though he doesn't plan to go easily.

"I've seen enough of his stand-up to know that his ground game is much better than his stand-up," said Marquardt. "I wouldn't say he's one-dimensional; He knows how to fight on his feet and he throws hard punches. But he definitely does not have the experience that I have on the feet. He's not as quick or as skilled as I am."

If there's anyone who can force Maia into more of an MMA bout and less of a grappling match, it may be Marquardt. As far as raw strength and power go, he's in the upper echelon of the UFC's middleweight division. He also has no glaring weaknesses. A black belt in jiu-jitsu, he holds a victory over another world-class grappler in Dean Lister. And Marquardt (31-8-2) also finished his last two fights with knockouts.

On paper, Marquardt appears to be the best candidate to knock off Maia. But just because he's well-rounded, Maia says, that doesn't make him invulnerable.

"He doesn't have one thing that he is the best at, but he's good at everything," said Maia. "He's a well-balanced fighter. There's nothing that he does better than everybody, but there's nothing he's not good at either."

Of course, Marquardt has heard that line of reasoning before.

"The last guy who said that was Wilson Gouveia," he said. "And I knocked him out."

But beyond the question of who will emerge from this middleweight contender fight with the victory, there's also the question of what they will have gained. A few months ago, this looked like the fight to see who deserved the next shot at Anderson Silva's middleweight title. Then Dan Henderson propelled himself into the mix with a brain-jarring knockout of Michael Bisping, while Silva went up to light heavyweight and embarrassed former champ Forrest Griffin.

Afterward, Silva's manager suggested that the winner of the Maia-Marquardt bout face Henderson to determine who really deserved a shot at the champ. Not surprisingly, few outside of the Silva camp are thrilled at that suggestion.

"I'm sure that who wins here deserves [a title shot]," said Maia. "[Silva] is the middleweight champion. It's not his choice. If he wants to keep his title, he needs to defend it against whomever the UFC says. That's his job."

Marquardt already had his shot at Silva back in the summer of 2007. Though Nate "The Great' started strong, one wrong move allowed Silva to reverse him and put him away with strikes just 10 seconds before the end of the first round.

"You watch that fight, and you'll see that I dominated the first four and a half minutes, so I know I can beat him," Marquardt said. "He's a great fighter. He's one of the best, but so am I. I'm a lot more dangerous now. I changed after that fight. For a while I was fighting to not lose. Now I'm not holding back anymore."

For Marquardt to get a second chance at Silva, though, he'll have to tackle Maia's lethal ground game. It sounds easy enough when you know exactly what your opponent plans to do. Then again, if it were easy, someone would have done it by now.

GROSS: Nogueira's legacy on the line vs. Couture at UFC 102

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