Demian Maia went out of his element in a fight against Dan Miller at UFC 109 on Feb. 6 in Las Vegas in order to prove he can strike and is more than just a grappling expert.
The performance apparently impressed the Ultimate Fighting Championship brass enough that the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt was chosen to replace the injured Vitor Belfort and challenge Anderson Silva for the middleweight championship in the main event of UFC 112 on April 10 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Belfort announced Thursday that he had surgery on his left shoulder and would not be healed in time to meet Silva in a highly anticipated championship match. Because of injuries and other commitments, the UFC had few options, particularly if it wanted Silva to stay at middleweight and defend the belt rather than move up a class and taking a non-title fight at light heavyweight.
The choice of Maia also carries a risk, because Maia has a cut on his left eyelid and is medically suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission until Aug. 6. Suspensions can be shortened if the fighter is cleared earlier by a doctor, and the UFC must believe that Maia will heal quickly.
UFC president Dana White wasn't available for comment, but released a statement praising Maia's selection.
"It's always tough when a top fighter like Vitor Belfort has to pull out of a big title fight, but we have found a high quality replacement," White said. "Top contender Chael Sonnen was not available due to injuries sustained in his fight with Nate Marquardt, so top six middleweight Demian Maia will step in to fight for the title.
"Maia is an Abu Dhabi grappling champion, a five-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion, and he is 12-1 in MMA and coming off a win over Dan Miller at UFC 109. Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia will be a matchup between MMA’s best striker and MMA’s best grappler."
Maia is 1-1 against the men who fought in the co-main event at UFC 109 for the right to become the middleweight division's No. 1 contender. He submitted Sonnen in just 2:37 of the first round at UFC 95 in London, but was knocked out in only 21 seconds by Marquardt at UFC 102 in Portland, Oregon.
In addition to Silva-Maia, there will be a second championship bout on the card, as lightweight title-holder B.J. Penn meets Frankie Edgar.
The UFC wanted a high-profile card for its first foray into the Middle East. In January, Abu Dhabi-based Flash Entertainment purchased a 10 percent stake in the company.