Grappling ace Demian Maia inched closer to a tilt with UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre with his workmanlike win over perennial contender Jon Fitch at UFC 156.
The 35-year-old Maia presumably made the right choice dropping to the UFC's talent-rich welterweight division. A former middleweight title challenger, Maia has impressively reeled off three straight wins, including a stellar first-round submission victory over Rick Story at UFC 153.
Last year at this time, a win over Fitch would have immediately thrust the Brazilian's name into the division's title picture. But the fact that Fitch has gotten his hand raised just once in his last four outings likely means that Maia needs at least one more quality win to punch his ticket to the big dance.
Although droves of world-class fighters exist in each of the UFC's nine divisions, fighters like St-Pierre and his next challenger, Nick Diaz, make the welterweight division a proverbial jungle.
The bulk of the starving fighters in pursuit of St-Pierre's belt will fight in what UFC president Dana White dubbed a "welterweight tournament" at UFC 158 on March 16. White referred to the event as an makeshift tournament because of the fact that six of the world's top 10 welterweights will do battle on the card.
Aside from GSP vs. Diaz, UFC 158 will include a pair of pivotal welterweight showdowns in Rory MacDonald vs. Carlos Condit and Jake Ellenberger vs. Johny Hendricks.
If Condit prevails for a second time against MacDonald in their rematch, then "The Natural Born Killer" certainly deserves another crack at the belt. Condit nearly pulled off a massive upset against St-Pierre, plus he's only suffered one other setback in the UFC, a controversial split decision loss to Martin Kampmann in 2009.
MacDonald would become equally deserving of a title shot with a win over his nemesis and the only man to smudge his record, Condit. MacDonald has yet to lock horns with Ellenberger or Hendricks, but besting a fighter with a résumé like Condit would raise "Ares" stock significantly.
After swiftly dispatching of Fitch and Kampmann, the once-beaten Hendricks will look like an irresistible title challenger if he can get past Ellenberger. "Bigg Rigg" has won nine of 10 fights in the UFC, with his only loss coming via unanimous decision to Story in 2010.
With MacDonald, Condit, Hendricks and Ellenberger fighting on the same card with similar goals in mind, Maia simply must remain patient.
White and Joe Silva will surely pit Maia with a top-flight contender—perhaps one of the elite welterweights fighting at UFC 158—in his next bout. A win over a fighter like MacDonald or Hendricks would make Maia the man to beat at 170.