Demian Maia might be one win away from a shot at the UFC welterweight title, and the fact that he stopped thinking about it led to this pivotial moment of his career.
Maia, a former title contender at 185 pounds, came close to fighting for the welterweight gold in 2013 after a perfect 3-0 start in the division, but losses to Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald moved him down in the rankings. Two years and four wins later, Maia is once again close to his dream.
"Before it was too much pressure, I was just thinking ‘I wanna win the title, I wanna win the title. If I don’t win the title I’m not gonna be happy when I finish my career’," Maia told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. "But after I lost to Rory, I just relaxed. I love what I do, that’s great. I make money doing what I love, let’s see what happens. Once I relaxed, things started to flow better.
"I was always very, very focused, just thinking about the title. Everything I did in my life was about the title, but that’s too much pressure over me. When I relaxed more, even my performance became better. Now, it’s not like ‘I need to fight for the title, I will win’. I just relaxed, and I know I will fight for the title and I know I have a great chance to win. That’s why I want the chance, but I need to speak so I fight for the title."
After dominant victories over Gunnar Nelson and Neil Magny, Maia will now face Matt Brown at the UFC 198 card in Curitiba, Brazil, and the May 14 bout could determine the next contender. Not focusing on the belt led him to this position, and he already sees himself in a title fight in 2016.
"Sometimes I don’t talk too much, that’s myself, but I truly believe I can be the champion," he said. "I feel, I can visualize that. I’m gonna fight for the title this year, I visualize that. And I feel I can be the champion."
Maia feels he can be the UFC champion, even though he doesn’t see himself as the best welterweight on the planet.
"I think I adapted well for MMA," Maia said when asked if he has the best jiu-jitsu in MMA. "I think I studied a lot. The thing is there are fighters that… you have to think outside the box. When Lyoto (Machida) won the title, it was because he was different. So when you’re different, it’s easier to get there. Almost everybody is a good kickboxer with good ground skills, wrestlers with small differences.
"If you ask me ‘are you the best one in the welterweight division?’ I don’t think so. ‘Are you the toughest one?’ I don’t think so. Or the best striker? I don’t think so. But ‘can you win the title?’ Yes, I think so, because I’m different than the other guys that used to fight. I’m different than they normally expect. I’m feeling well, I’m feeling healthy, and I’m learning more tricks to be even more different that is gonna be harder for the guys to fight against me."