Refocused Demian Maia believes he's better than ever for UFC Fight Night 29

Kevin Iole

Dana White seethed virtually the entire time he stood at the dais at the post-fight news conference following UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The UFC president was exceptionally angry about the way then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva performed in the main event that night.

Typically, White didn't hide his feelings and let Silva, as well as the rest of the world, know it.

But in another corner of the room, Demian Maia seethed as well. Maia was plenty angry, too, though for a vastly different reason.

Maia was on the losing end that night, and literally had no success in trying to perform a move on Silva and perhaps capture the championship.

He'd gotten the fight when Vitor Belfort was injured in training and had to pull out. Maia spent the next two months working on his plan to upset Silva and earn the title, and was confident when he walked to the cage.

Looking back on it, though, Maia realizes he never had a chance.

"When I fought Anderson, I wasn't prepared psychologically for an event at that level," Maia said. "I trained hard and I did my best in there, but I didn't understand psychologically how important the fight was and I wasn't prepared for it properly at that level."

Maia was angry at himself after the bout for not giving himself the best chance to win. Having been in the cage with Silva, even if he did spend 25 minutes futilely chasing him around the cage, taught Maia a lot about what it takes to succeed at the highest level.

And so, it will be a vastly different fighter who walks into the cage Wednesday in Brazil to take on Jake Shields in the main event of UFC Fight Night 29, a bout that could lead the winner to a welterweight title shot.

Maia has won three in a row since dropping to welterweight 15 months ago and has the look of a vastly tougher, more confident athlete. He fights now expecting to win, not hoping to win.

To a large degree, Maia went back to basics. He is one of the great jiu-jitsu fighters in mixed martial arts, but he'd spent much of his training trying to improve his relatively mediocre standup.

The difference in Maia between his stint at middleweight and his three fights at welterweight is clear.

"I've really increased the volume of grappling in my camps and less striking," Maia said. "I was working hard for a long time on my striking. I wasn't trying to become a striker, but I wanted to improve it. This is the UFC and they want exciting fights and I wanted to get more exciting when I was fighting standing up.

"I think it was a process in my life I needed to pass through. Now that I know my striking is OK, I can concentrate again on my grappling."

The fight with Shields might be grappling heavy, and that would suit Maia just fine. He's at a point now where he just needs to rack up victories.

He believes he's remade himself as a fighter, both mentally and physically, since his loss to Silva in 2010. It was one of those situations in which he won by losing.

There's little shame in losing to Silva, who is arguably the greatest MMA fighter in history, but there is shame in not learning from it.

"One of the things that I know for sure is that the minute I walked out of that cage after going 25 minutes with Anderson Silva is that I was a better fighter instantly," Maia said. "I learned what it takes to succeed at that level. It was a good lesson for me.

"People are asking me a lot about getting another title shot now, and it's a dream of mine, of course. I think every fighter would tell you that. But sometimes, you don't understand what it takes until you're there and you've done it. I had that experience and I understand now. I have a very, very tough test to pass against Jake Shields, but if I get another shot some day, I will be much better prepared than I was the first time."

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