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Colby Covington isn’t likely to be invited to Brazil anytime soon. After his unanimous decision win over Demian Maia, he went on the offensive, shoved away the translator and called Brazil a “dump” filled with “filthy animals.” The comments enraged the fans, leading to Covington being escorted by security out of the area. The Ultimate Fighting Championship chose to dive headfirst into the flames, though, booking Covington for an interim title shot against Rafael dos Anjos at for UFC 224 on May 12 in Rio de Janeiro. Not wanting another public-relations fiasco after Conor McGregor attacked a bus, the promotion moved the fight to UFC 225 in Chicago.
The move means Maia needs to get through his UFC Fight Night 129 main event with Kamaru Usman on Saturday in Santiago, Chile, if he has any plans to return to title contention. Win or lose against Usman, he figures to be rooting for dos Anjos in June. The dos Anjos-Covington winner nets the interim welterweight title and, more importantly, the next shot at undisputed champion Tyron Woodley. Maia only benefits if dos Anjos winds up with the unified title, as he was not particularly competitive in decision losses to Woodley and Covington.
Unfortunately for Maia, dos Anjos may be the least likely of the three to end up with the unified championship. Covington should be able to control dos Anjos enough to accrue rounds and secure a decision, similar to Khabib Nurmagomedov’s win over the Brazilian in 2014. Dos Anjos has improved since his encounter with Nurmagomedov, but the move to 170 pounds appears to have left him with diminished punching power. With his punches packing less heat, his pressure-based style is not going to deter Covington’s forward movement. Even if dos Anjos manages to beat Covington, a horrible style matchup with Woodley would await. Woodley dwarfs the former lightweight champion in size, would feel comfortable being the aggressor and might even let his hands go. It’s hard to see a scenario in which dos Anjos beats both Woodley and Covington.
That leaves Maia on the outside looking in at 170 pounds. He needs someone he has not yet faced -- i.e. Robbie Lawler, Darren Till or Santiago Ponzinibbio -- to win the title, though we could be a year or two away from that at best. In the meantime, Maia needs to stay active and healthy and start winning again. Because he is not an action fighter with built-in entertainment value like Lawler, Donald Cerrone or Mike Perry, he will have to confront -- and defeat -- young, hungry fighters like Usman in order to improve his positioning in the rankings. Needless to say, Maia is not in a good spot.
Usman poses a difficult test for Maia, whose takedowns rely more on size and persistence than wrestling technique. However, his wrestling has improved in recent years, particularly after his decision loss to Anderson Silva in 2010. During a seven-fight winning streak that netted him a title shot against Woodley, Maia’s wrestling enabled him to quickly take down opponents and finish them by advancing to the back. Maia has historically struggled against high-level wrestlers. According to FightMetric, he went 0-for-7 on takedowns against Chris Weidman, 2-for-22 against Rory MacDonald, 0-for-13 against Covington and a staggering 0-for-24 against Woodley. Maia has fought five All-American wrestlers in his career and completed one takedown -- a lateral drop against Chael Sonnen in 2009. A three-time NCAA Division II All-American wrestler at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Usman should be able to stifle Maia’s takedowns and control the fight.
At 40 years of age, Maia is on the Back 9 of his career, and his physical skills have begun to erode. The drive on his takedowns has grown less explosive, his reflexes a tick slower; and his punches have continued to lose zip. That will lead to more and more defeats, forcing him further down the rankings until he retires.
Maia’s best hope -- and he’s too nice to admit it -- is to win against Usman and stay ready in the hope that someone pulls out of a title fight. We’ll call it the ol’ Michael Bisping special. If that doesn’t happen, well, Bellator MMA is always hiring.
Pressley Nietering is a third-year student at Clemson University.