Demian Maia (15-3) vs. Chris Weidman (7-0)
In an intriguing middleweight pairing, the former title challenger Maia is looking to spoil the coming-out party of Weidman, one of the division's hottest prospects.
Maia, 34, is widely regarded as the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner at 185 pounds and one of the best in the entire sport. A 3rd degree black belt, the former ADCC submission wrestling world champion is coming off a decision win over Jorge Santiago.
Entering the UFC with a perfect professional record, Maia made a statement by submitting Ryan Jensen, Ed Herman, Jason MacDonald, Nate Quarry and Chael Sonnen in his first five appearances. Losses to Nate Marquardt, Anderson Silva and Mark Munoz have sent the Brazilian southpaw back to the drawing board as he hopes to regain some of the momentum he possessed in 2008.
Weidman, 27, has looked sensational in his three fights since joining the UFC, outpointing Alessio Sakara in his debut before submitting Jesse Bongfeldt and Tom Lawlor.
The former two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler has made the Serra-Longo Fight Team his home, learning the intricacies of striking and submissions from former welterweight champion Matt Serra and Ray Longo. Weidman has climbed to purple belt rank in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, looking increasingly comfortable transitioning between positions on the canvas.
The New Yorker accepted this fight on short notice after Maia's initial opponent Michael Bisping was promoted to co-main event status. Sensing that he could seize the opportunity and catapult himself into the top 10 of the division with a clear-cut win over Maia, Weidman didn't hesitate when he got the call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva.
Weidman's biggest weakness is probably his striking game. Maia is unlikely to pose much of a threat standing, which makes this a great matchup for Weidman on paper.
The American wrestler will use his bread and butter to put Maia on his back. His improving submission skills will be critical tools to keep him out of danger against Maia's slick locks. If he can avoid getting tangled into the Brazilian's web, his athleticism and wrestling base should allow him to control key positions and emerge triumphant in the biggest fight of his young career.
Verdict: Weidman via decision