Belal Muhammad knows Demian Maia won’t ‘fold or break’ at UFC 263

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PHOENIX – Belal Muhammad isn’t expecting an easy night at the office at UFC 263, even if he’s facing a 43-year-old version of Demian Maia.

Muhammad (18-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC) gets another big fight opportunity on Saturday when he meets Maia (28-10 MMA, 22-10 UFC) in a welterweight main card matchup at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. The bout airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.

Although Maia has mentioned the possibility of retirement around this fight, Muhammad doesn’t view that as a sign of weakness or vulnerability. He knows Maia will want to go out of a high, and for that reason, he expects a very tough fight.

The Brazilian is known for his durability in addition to an elite grappling game, and if Muhammad wants the statement victory he wants, he’s got to be on his A-game.

“I’m going to have to put him to sleep if I want to finish this fight,” Muhammad told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at the UFC 263 media day on Wednesday. “He’s not one of those guys that’s going to fold or break. He’s gone five-round fights with the world’s best. I’ve got to show the world like, ‘Yo, this guy’s contender.'”

Maia was not the matchup Muhammad wanted most at UFC 263. His preference would’ve been to rematch Leon Edwards, who he fought to a no contest at UFC Fight Night 187 in March after an accidental eye poke ended the bout in the second round.

Muhammad was campaigning to run it back with Edwards, and while the Brit is also fighting at UFC 263, it’s against Nate Diaz in the featured bout. Muhammad admits he’s a bit bothered by that setup, but said the fact he’s in such close proximity to Edwards could lead to fireworks.

“There’s a little salt on my shoulders right now, but it’s all good. For me right now,” Muhammad said. “I’ve got to get past Demian Maia. I don’t want to get distracted with Leon and then see Leon in the back and give him a three-piece and the soda, then that’ll get me my rematch.”

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Whether Muhammad and Edwards end up fighting in the future again remains to be seen. Right now he’s focused on Maia, though, and the difficulty of the task at hand isn’t lost on him.

Maia might be the oldest active fighter in the 170-pound division, but his game has aged gracefully over the years and he’s still winning more than he’s losing. The scenario is such that it’s on Muhammad to make him look his age and usher Maia out the door, and he said he’s willing to do it for the upside of moving into the title discussion.

“He’s still a huge name, a great name, big name and he’s a legend respected by all fighters,” Muhammad said. “To have a guy like that on my resume before he retires? It’s going to be great. People say, ‘He’s 42 he’s at the end of his career.’ He’s literally 3-1 out of his last four and he literally almost beat Gilbert Burns. He had him a bad spot, mounted him, took his back. So, he’s still dangerous.

“I don’t want to look past Maia, but when you beat a guy liked that you’re looking at a No. 1 contender fight or guys that are in that title picture.”