Cover photo courtesy of sportskeeda.com
As any pure MMA fan knows, fights are all about match-ups. We’ve seen Damien Maia face multiple folk-style based wrestlers in the last couple years and those match-ups have not gone well for him. The key statistic is Maia going 0-49 on takedown attempts in 3 combined fights versus 3 high level collegiate wrestlers in Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman. Ben Askren has a wrestling resume that blows those 3 other wrestlers out of the water, which on paper does not bode well for Maia. Meanwhile in Ben’s short time in the UFC he’s had a rough time with two strikers who aren’t really known for their wrestling, but certainly aren’t ignorant in the world of wrestling. Where Askren vs Maia gets really intriguing is it’s highly unlikely Ben will be afraid of Damien’s ground game. I don’t believe anybody anticipates Askren will take a similar game plan to the above mentioned wrestlers, who simply defended Maia’s takedown attempts and forced a boxing match. We’ll likely see a lot of extremely high level grappling and knowing Ben, we’re bound to see some “funky” things happen in those grappling exchanges.
**Photo courtesy of LivingMMA.com
Before competing in the UFC, Askren was known for being able to implement his wrestling game relatively easily, rarely being hit. In his short time in the UFC, he can’t say the same thing. He’s been hit, and HARD. He’s absorbed more than 8 strikes per minute and has yet to land one significant strike in his 2 UFC fights spanning just over 3 minutes. Lawler came very close to finishing Askren after slamming him on his head, but Askren showed incredible resilience and somehow worked his way to a 1st round finish via bulldog choke. We all know what happened with Masvidal, one epic knee landed 3 seconds into the fight and 2 seconds later the ref was jumping between the fighters to stop an onslaught of punches to an already unconscious Askren. With Maia, those same worries simply aren’t there. I’m not saying Maia has zero striking and isn’t athletic at all, but he definitely isn’t Lawler or Masvidal. On Maia’s end, he doesn’t have to worry about Ben just defending takedowns and punching him in the face, he signed the right fight if he truly wants a high level grappling match in the octagon.
**Photo courtesy of dailymail.co.uk.
If you’re an old school MMA fan like me, this main event feels like a throwback fight of BJJ vs Wrestling similar to fights we’d have seen 20 years ago. Personally, I’m EXCITED. What makes it really intriguing is the high level grappling styles of each man and anticipating how the fight plays out. Askren is known most for his awkward scrambling ability that seems to always land him in dominant position, hence the nickname “Funky”. Maia is most known for his slickness in taking people’s backs, locking in rear naked chokes and squeezing the life out of his opponents. Will Maia be able to handle Ben’s scrambling ability and take his back? If he gets top position or takes his back, can he keep it and do anything with it? What happens when Ben gets Maia on his back? Can he deal with Askren’s top pressure? Those are the questions the grappling fans want to see answered.
**Photo courtesy of themmacommunity.com
Let’s start on the feet and try to envision how the fight gets to the ground. With Maia’s lack of success against other high level wrestlers in getting the fight to the ground by his own will, I find it hard to believe he will find success there against Askren. More than likely it will be Askren who takes Maia down. Can Maia sweep Askren or be slick enough in a scramble to take his back and get the position he loves so much? If Maia gets stuck on his back playing a guard game, can he do anything from the bottom to submit Askren? Being Askren has never been submitted in MMA and has only been submitted once in high level BJJ competition, I would think the odds are slim there for Maia. On Ben’s side, what will he be able to do when he does get a takedown? Will he be able to land any meaningful GNP or will Maia nullify Askren’s top game? Will Maia become mainly defensive or frequently attack from his back? Could Ben possibly submit Maia? Being Maia has never been submitted and only KO’d once in his MMA career, I’m highly doubting Ben will be able to finish him. As for Askren, if what it takes is a massive flying knee to finish him then I’m doubting Maia has what it takes to get a finish either. I see it highly likely this fight goes the distance.
**Photo courtesy of mmafighting.com
For Maia, it may be a good idea to deviate from the typical game plan. Perhaps Maia should try to keep the fight standing and take advantage of a very rare boxing advantage. This may be the first (and only) time Maia has a decent edge striking on the feet. Could he be willing to try and keep it standing? Perhaps do to Askren what guys like Woodley, Usman and Colby did to him? Why not! It certainly seems like a better game plan than dealing with Ben where he’s at his best; on top of people. For Ben the game plan seems easy; do what you always do. Put your opponent on their back, keep them there and rack up GNP strikes and make it impossible for the judges to do anything else but award you round after round.
**Photo courtesy of thebodylockmma.com
My prediction is a unanimous decision victory for Ben Askren. These two men are old dogs, we’re unlikely to see any new tricks. I see this, in a similar way, like Edgar vs Faber. Two similar enough styles, but one is better in the specific areas needed most to win in the match up presented. A closer comparison may be thinking back to Damien Maia vs Jake Shields, a fight where Shields implemented a top heavy game plan to earn a split decision victory in a close fight. Askren has to be thinking “If Jake Shields can beat him that way, this should be a piece of cake for me.” Maia needs to execute on a great game plan to avoid that fate in this “grapplers paradise” match-up.
Jason Marlowe, UnknownMMA