Demian Maia VS Ben Askren

Demian Maia VS Ben Askren: pre-fight analysis

Demian Maia will fight Ben Askren at UFC Fight Night 126 on the 26th of October in Singapore. This is a dream matchup for a lot of MMA fans and experts alike because it will determine who is the best MMA grappler, as Ben Askren puts it.

Well maybe not since there are other candidates for that title (like Khabib Nurmagomedov), but it will for sure be a clash of two grappling styles and the two very successful grapplers in MMA.

Demian Maia VS Ben Askren matchup stats
Demian Maia VS Ben Askren matchup stats

Top online UFC betting sites have Askren as a favorite in this bout, but is that really the case? Let’s explore this in-depth.

STRIKING

For the first time in his life, Demian Maia will have a significant striking advantage over an opponent. Usually, he was the one looking to bridge the distance and take his opponent down, but this time this might not be the case. Maia has used his striking effectively in fights before and is capable of doing damage, while Askren has never used it other than as an aid to close the distance.

Advantage: Maia

WRESTLING

Ben Askren is a decorated collegiate wrestler with a college record of 153-8, and 87 match win streak achieved in his junior and senior year. Apart from that, he took part in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 where he won one and lost one match. So he is a very accomplished and experienced wrestler.

Demian Maia is one of the rare Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners to embrace wrestling, and successfully incorporate it in his fighting repertoire. He has even taken some wrestlers down before submitting or dominating them in MMA.

He usually goes for the double leg or single leg, but if he doesn’t get it and opponent sprawls on him, Maia usually pulls them into his half-guard and either looks for the sweep or to get up with the underhook and take them down from some kind of a body lock. He has done that very successfully over the years.

Askren also usually shoots in for the double leg, but his head goes to the far side with opponents in the orthodox stance which can leave him exposed for the knee strike. Since Maia fights from a southpaw stance, that risk is lessened since Askren will probably be shooting with the head on the outside.


Ben Askren double legs Dan Horbnuckle

Just like Maia, if Askren fails the double or the single leg, he goes for clinch takedowns where he has many variations.

It is amazing how Askren was able to completely shut down most of his opponents’ striking and dominate them with wrestling. Often times making it look very easy.

One notable thing about Askren’s wrestling is that he revolutionized it by adding a lot of scrambles to the game that were previously not used. He changed folkstyle (collegiate) wrestling and forced everyone to learn about funks and other scrambles he uses, so they would stay up to date. He did that by using his strength and explosiveness disadvantage to his favor by developing the style suited best to his lanky body type and genetics.

Folkstyle is the best wrestling style for MMA because of the rules. Competitors are rewarded points for getting back on the feet, reversals (scrambles) and pinning too.

Although I favor Askren when it comes to wrestling, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Maia managed to take him down. He did that to some wrestlers, and Askren did get taken down in fights, but his scrambles are on a very high level which allowed him to reverse the position or get up.

The question is can Askren get up or reverse the position if he gets taken down by Maia?
Can he take Maia down safely without getting caught in some submission?

Advantage: Askren

GROUND FIGHTING

This is where it gets interesting. Both fighters have built their careers on taking people down and finishing them there or at least dominating them. They are both formidable ground fighters, but with quite distinct styles.I have made a video on the best position and strategy for MMA ground fighting, where I describe both styles in-depth, and you can watch it here.

BJJ Scout has made fantastic video studies of both fighters and you can watch them here:
Ben Askren study: part 1, part 2, and part 3.
Damien Maia study: part 1, part 2 and part 3.

He calls Maia’s overall ground fighting strategy BJJ meta, and Askren’s folkstyle meta.

In summary, Maia prefers to take the mount or backmount and his entire game is optimized for that goal. In mount, he punches the opponent until he turns, then takes the backmount and looks for the rear naked choke or a neck crank.

Damien Maia neck crancks Rick Story
Damien Maia neck cranks Rick Story

This is not all he does and he will submit from other positions if given the chance which is not surprising since he was an ADCC 2007 champion in -87kg, as well as World Cup BJJ winner. He also has a dangerous guard, but it is unlikely that Askren will get caught in that position.

Askren, on the other hand, use to look for the mount and backmount before, but now prefers to get the side control from where he looks to trap his opponent’s arm into a side control crucifix and finish the fight from there. Or to punch from the sprawl-on-hip position and the cross-body ride. From either of these positions, he will look for submissions without compromising the top position.

He abandoned the mount/backmount goal as his wrestling skill set allows him to be much more successful with sprawl-on-hip/side control/cross-body as the goal.

Ben Askren dominating in the sprawl-on-hip position
Ben Askren dominating in the sprawl-on-hip position

Until we see the fight play out, it is difficult to determine who is more likely to do well on the ground.

Advantage: no one.

ATHLETICISM

This one is difficult to determine. On one hand, Ben Askren has never been too athletic, and the lack of strength and explosiveness was one of the reasons he developed his unique “funky” style of wrestling which brought him so much success. His endurance is solid, but we do not know if he will gas out if he gets dominated since he is usually the one doing the dominating.

The fighter on top usually makes the bottom one more tired by forcing him to defend and by being heavy. Askren is masterful at that and this is what tires his opponents out, both mentally and physically. He is a fantastic pinner, which is helped by his amazing static strength. He has conditioned himself to squeeze for a very long long time, and one of the videos where he showcases his strength is when he squeezes watermelons.

Demian Maia is not the most athletic guy around, but I believe he is stronger and more explosive than Askren. That can help him get the takedown which would be huge if of course, he can keep Askren down.

I don’t know about the endurance since I’ve seen Maia both dominate people and gas out as well.

Advantage: Maia

EXPERIENCE

Both fighters are very experienced and have had many matches in both their sports, as well as MMA.

Maia is almost 42 years old, Askren is 35, and both are nearing the end of their careers. In fact, Askren came out of retirement when he got traded by ONE FC for UFC’s Demetrius Johnson. I believe Ben Askren peaked sometime around 2012-2013, and it’s a shame he couldn’t join the UFC then.

With many matches in BJJ and grappling, and many medals in both domestic and international competitions, Demian Maia is roughly equally experienced as Ben Askren. He had more wrestling matches than Maia had BJJ ones, an incredible winning streak, and also competed in the Olympics, but Maia placed higher in international competitions. The most notable result being his gold at the prestigious ADCC in 2007.

Askren won the Fila World Grappling Championships in 2009 which is a great result, but ADCC is considered to be a harder competition to win. It does indicate that Askren can do well in grappling too.

Maia has 36 MMA fights, while Askren has 20. On top of having more fights than Askren, Maia fought much stiffer competition and was in title bouts twice. First against Anderson Silva for the 185lb belt, and second against Tyrone Woodley for the 170lb belt. He lost both times by a decision.

Even though both are similarly experienced when it comes to their respective sports, Maia edges Askren out because of more MMA fights and tougher competition he faced.

Advantage: Maia.

INTANGIBLES

This fight is really tough to predict as there are many intangibles. In fact, even though I gave you my opinion of the different segments and who I think has the advantage in which, I have to admit that all of them are intangibles.

Askren helped Tyron Woodley prepare for the title fight by imitating Demian Maia. He said it was frustrating because Maia is so basic. While that might be the case, solid basics are what wins most fights and we will soon find out if Askren can stop Maia’s highly trained fundamentals. Especially on the ground.

Even though Askren is a better wrestler on paper, Maia has been known to take wrestlers down and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he managed to do that with Askren.

The most interesting aspect of this fight is the ground segment, which is highly anticipated by many MMA fans. Maia has adapted his BJJ skills impressively for MMA, while Askren has a very effective folk-style oriented ground & pound style. Both have embraced the others’ sport to complement their own, and both have become much dangerous because of it.

Can Askren stop Maia’s half-guard? Can he get him in a side-control crucifix? Can he constantly dominate and punch Maia in all top positions? We will have to wait and see, but I’m not so sure.

Perhaps they will cancel each other out in the grappling department, and then Askren has to contend with Maia’s striking which is superior to his almost non-existent one. Maia will have to be careful not to overextend too much when striking which would leave him vulnerable to takedowns and the bottom position, which he tries to avoid as the top one is preferred in MMA.

Then we have the endurance factor. The fight is scheduled for 5 rounds and it is difficult to tell who it favors more. Maybe Askren, but more likely the one that is able to implement his strategy more, and thus save energy.

Maia has had three losses in welterweight, and all three came from good wrestlers: Tyrone Woodley, Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman. He also lost to Chris Wideman in middleweight.

The difference is that Askren lacks their striking skills, and while I don’t believe Maia will KO Askren, his striking could pose a problem.

CONCLUSION

I believe Maia will win this fight and that his ground fighting skills will be too much for Askren. If it was anyone else, any other BJJ black belt in welterweight, Askren could probably manhandle him. But that is going to be hard to do with a fighter of Maia’s credentials and skills.

I believe Askren style of ground fighting is better suited for MMA than Maia’s against most people, but Maia is probably Askren’s kryptonite.

I wouldn’t be surprised at the least if the opposite turns out to be true and Askren shuts Maia down and dominates him. As I said, this whole fight is intangible and we will just have to wait and see.

Askren has lost to Jorge Masvidal recently, making this his first loss in an MMA fight. He got knocked out in 5 seconds which could have shaken his confidence, but that doesn’t appear to be the case judging by his interviews. But you never know.

If he loses this fight, Askren will be in a very bad place with 2 back to back loses in the UFC. He might even retire. Maia is in a similar position, but at least he’s on a two-fight win streak.

I’m a long time fan of both fighters and cannot wait until they touch gloves.
Who do you think will prevail, Maia with his BJJ meta style, or Askren with folkstyle meta?

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