They are six feet tall, hail from Brazil, wear black belts with their jiu-jitsu kimonos, and, in September of 2008, each taught classes at the three-day fantasy camp, Paradise Warrior Retreat (www.paradisewarriorretreat.com) held near Toronto, Canada. But, beyond that, Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Demian Maia are a stark contrast. Sobral’s tattoos and constant intensity emanate an aura of aloof malevolence whereas Maia’s easygoing approachability draws people in. Despite the men’s careers in violence, one loudly plays to the stereotypes (public arrests, psych-out stare downs, suspensions from state athletic commissions) while the other appears insipidly normal.
The Demian Maia public awareness campaign is starting to heat up, though, thanks to his perfect UFC and overall MMA record (4-0, 10-0)—and the sheer dominance displayed in those wins. Six of his victories have come in the first round, and only once has he had a fight progress past the second round. More and more fans are beginning to notice Maia, and his first round destruction of Nate Quarry via rear naked choke at last month’s UFC 91 diminishes his chances of living the normal life for much longer.
In fact, during his post fight interview with Joe Rogan, Maia stayed true to his nice guy form by issuing the most humble challenge ever heard in the octagon. When asked, “What’s next for you?” instead of the stock “Whoever the UFC puts in front of me” answer virtually every fighter reads from some invisible cue card, Demian replied that Michael Bisping would present a good match. I asked Maia why he named Bisping, and he said, “Because I know [Bisping’s] one of the toughest fighters, and I think it is a good challenge for me. Also I want to be on The Ultimate Fighter [TV show], and he is going to be one of the coaches next season. I want to be the other one.” If there is one thing that will ruin your chances of continued anonymity, however, it is reality television.
Recently, an additional difference between Sobral and Maia emerged; Babalu captured the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight title from Bobby Southworth. If Maia’s streak continues, a date with current UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva looms. Whenever Maia’s shot at the gold belt comes, he is confident. “I believe I could do pretty well,” he said. “With [Silva] I should put my best jiu-jitsu to work. If I do that properly, I’ll win.”
Of course, if he wins, the publicity and recognition that come with holding a UFC title will change his life. Let’s hope it does not change who he is: a regular guy with some scary skills.
Email correspondence with Demian Maia dated December 7, 2008.