MMA: Maia tops Askren in grappling UFC fight

In the end, it was Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Demian Maia (left) who emerged on top.
In the end, it was Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Demian Maia (left) who emerged on top.ST PHOTO: KELLY HUI

Expert grapplers Demian Maia and Ben Askren defied critics who predicted yesterday's main event at Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) Fight Night Singapore would be a boring bout.

For one, the pair spent most of the first and second rounds of their welterweight fight at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on their feet, trading strikes or engaging in clinches.

And when they did take the fight to the ground, they thrilled the 7,155 mixed martial arts (MMA) fans with their slick skills.

In the end, it was Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Maia who emerged on top, submitting Olympic wrestler Askren with a rear-naked choke in the third round.

Maia, 41, praised his fallen rival after the fight, which earned both fighters the US$50,000 (S$68,168) Fight of the Night bonus.

"In my opinion, he and I are the best grapplers in the game," said the Brazilian of his American rival.

"(We are) pure grapplers who really represent the (respective) arts. So it was an interesting clash of styles. I didn't know what to expect, but I trusted my game."

"I think Askren is still great, and he can beat most guys in the division. He can take a punch and can take you down."

Askren, 35, was not available for the post-event press conference, but tweeted barely half an hour after leaving the octagon with his second straight defeat.

"Made a bad decision and I failed," he said. "Sorry to everyone who I let down."

The former Bellator and One Championship welterweight champion's course in the UFC is now hazy. He signed for them last November and won in controversial fashion on his debut, but then was knocked out by Jorge Masvidal in July, before last night's defeat.

Maia's path is clearer. Despite stringing three wins in a row, he is targeting two more fights in the UFC before retiring, and last night suggested Diego Sanchez as a possible next opponent.

In other fights last night, Ciryl Gane put in a hugely impressive performance in his win over Don'Tale Mayes. The 29-year-old Gane, touted for big things in the UFC, earned his second submission win in as many UFC fights, after locking in a heel hook on Mayes in the third round of their heavyweight fight.

Michael Johnson's return to the lightweight division, meanwhile, turned sour for the American after the judges scored a majority decision win for his rival, Scottish fighter Stevie Ray. Johnson controlled the first two rounds, drawing blood from his rival, but Ray dominated Johnson on the ground in the third and final round which proved enough to sway the judges.

American fighter Beneil Dariush also earned a win with a first-round rear naked choke submission of Frank Camacho in their lightweight duel, while Russian Muslim Salikhov won his welterweight battle with Argentinian fighter Laureano Staropoli via unanimous decision.

Gane and Dariush each picked up a US$50,000 bonus for Performance of the Night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 27, 2019, with the headline 'Maia tops Askren in grappling UFC fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe