As much as the sport of mixed martial arts has grown, it still is prize fighting at its core, and business comes first.
For a true martial artist such as Demian Maia, that can be a problem.
UFC matchmaking for some big events recently has skewed toward the perceived money fight over perhaps the more deserving fighter. It’s a trend that’s been prevalent in boxing for years and is driven in MMA by two-weight champion Conor McGregor, who fought non-title welterweight fights with Nate Diaz instead of defending his featherweight belt, and then defeated Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight title at UFC 205.
But the idea of the money fight has spread elsewhere. Michael Bisping defended the middleweight title against Dan Henderson, who was ranked outside the top 10, and now he’s called for a matchup with former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
“In the 1930s, in boxing, to be the heavyweight champion of the world was really, really big, people wanted to see the toughest guys,” Maia said. “But what I’ve figured out now, in the ‘50s, ‘60s, boxing started to become more entertainment than sport.”
Maia was in New York last week to watch his division’s title fight at UFC 205 between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson, which was ruled a majority draw after an intense five-round battle.
UFC president Dana White believes a rematch between Woodley and Thompson will happen. He also said Maia is “right there” and could be next in line for the winner, and the Brazilian believes he’ll get his shot if the UFC stays focused on the sport.
“I try to never be sure about that because sometimes things change, but I pretty much know that there’s nobody in front of me and that’s the most interesting fight in the division right now,” Maia said.
Fortunately for Maia, the welterweight championship mostly has stayed away from the money fight. After a dominant run by St-Pierre, in which a fight with Nick Diaz could be the only perceived money fight, the title has changed hands between three top men in the division in Johny Hendricks, Robbie Lawler and Woodley. Each fight has been against a deserving contender who made their name in the division, not somebody jumping around looking for an extra belt.
Now that he’s on a six-fight win streak, including three submissions, Maia (24-6, 18-6 UFC) said he’s doing what he can to make sure he isn’t passed over.
“Normally my division has been more the sports decision,” Maia said. “But you have to keep campaigning, even Dana said that, keep campaigning because you may be the next, and they know that I’m next, but like I said you never know.”
Maia is focused on himself, but he also worries about the future of MMA. He’s seen its growth so far and doesn’t want the sport he’s dedicated himself to go the way of boxing. He believes boxing could be much bigger now, but corruption and money-grabbing in matchmaking has taken away from the sport.
“I think in the long term, you make money with focusing on the sport,” Maia said. “People learn. If you market somebody, let’s say GSP, a lot of people were saying he was doing boring fights because he was taking the guys down and controlling them, but he was winning, and he was the guy who selling the most.”