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After Kamaru Usman defeated Demian Maia in the UFC Fight Night 129 main event on Saturday in Santiago, Chile, he did not call out anyone in the cage. Instead, he took to social media to ask welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, “Who did it better?” Depending on your point of view, it could have been a call-out or a nod to acknowledging that Woodley helped write the blueprint on how to safely hurdle a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like Maia.
Woodley and Usman both hold decisions over Maia and did so by doing their best to stay out of range of his single-leg takedown and clear of his potent ground game. Maia will shoot for takedowns, but when an opponent sprawls, he then attempts to slide underneath into half guard. It only requires him to get close enough to try that chain of moves; Woodley and Usman showed the best way to avoid his advances.
While Woodley helped put the Maia Plan in place, the question Usman asked -- Who did it better? -- deserves answering. You would have to say the latter based on the fact that he engaged more and backed away when Maia invited him into his guard. Usman also took the risk of sprawling and holding a front headlock just long enough to maintain position and curry more favor from the judges. Whenever Maia retreated to the butt-scoot position, he backed away and urged him to stand. There was a point where the cagy Brazilian tried to cinch an arm-triangle from the bottom, but Usman never panicked. He remained in top position, stayed calm and refused to allow Maia the leverage to roll and finish the choke. As soon as the hold was released, Usman stood up and resumed his attack.
Fans are generally critical of fights that lack finishes or fail to devolve into knockdown, drag-out brawls, so fighting smart tends not to get the recognition it deserves. Woodley and Usman did what they had to do to ensure victory against Maia. Future Maia opponents -- he has three fights left on his contract -- would be wise to follow their lead; and Maia might want to look at tweaking his single-leg-to-half-guard game plan.
Usman might not have called out anyone, but in posing his question to Woodley, he did include the following hashtag: #ImComing4thatStrap. Depending on the champion’s health and the outcome of the upcoming interim title fight between Colby Covington and Rafael dos Anjos, his opportunity could come sooner rather than later.
Edward Carbajal serves as the lead MMA analyst for Frontproof Media and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in Ishin Ryu Karate. He has covered combat sports since 2014 and has been a fan of MMA since UFC 1. You can follow him on Twitter @Carbazel or at his website TheBlogBoardJungle.com.