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As complex as the ground battle was between grappling specialists Demian Maia and Jake Shields, the final result likely came down to one thing: Who was on top?
Shields (29-6-1) scored an upset split decision over Maia on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 29 inside the Jose Correa Gymnasium in Sao Paulo. Two judges scored the five-round contest 48-47 for Shields. The third saw it 48-47 for Maia.
Many anticipated heavy grappling exchanges in the 170-pound main event. The two fighters obliged, for the most part, going back and forth in what basically turned into a grueling position battle.
Ultimately, it was Shields who controlled that battle more. While some would certainly say Maia (18-5) still boasts the more dangerous submission game, Shields neutralized it over the course of the fight by consistently working to top position.
"That was one of the hardest two or three fights of all time [in my career]," Shields said. "It ranks up with [Georges St-Pierre] and [Dan Henderson]. [Maia] is a phenom. I expected that going in. He gave me all I could handle. I'm thankful I got the win."
Maia, who saw a three-fight win streak snapped, got off to a strong start. He quickly took the center of the cage, shot in and secured the fight's first takedown from a bodylock. After Shields worked to his feet, Maia jumped on his back during the scramble but eventually lost position and wound up on his back.
What happened next proved to be Maia's downfall -- nothing really. Playing conservatively, Shields rarely looked to pass Maia's guard but remained active enough with short elbows to prevent a standup by referee Marc Goddard.
Shields' confidence grew as the fight hit the second and third rounds. He was successful working out of Maia's guard again in Round 2 and executed a nifty reversal into top position in Round 3 when Maia threatened to take his back.
Maia began to defend the takedown better in the fourth, as the pace of the fight seemed to catch up on Shields. That carried over into the fifth as well as Maia, possibly sensing he was down on the scorecards, let his hands go more.
Shields hung on to record his second consecutive win. He defeated Tyron Woodley at UFC 161 in June, also via split decision. A former middleweight titleholder in Strikeforce, Shields would be on a four-fight win streak, but a decision over Ed Herman in August 2012 was overturned to a no-contest after Shields failed a drug test.
Maia suffered his first loss since dropping to the UFC's middleweight division early last year.
A welterweight contest between Erick Silva and Dong Hyun Kim ended via knockout -- but not for whom you'd expect.
In a back-and-forth affair, Kim (18-2-1) knocked Silva out cold with a straight left 3:01 into the second round. The finish came at a time when Kim was also badly hurt.
The fight's early moments clearly belonged to Silva (15-4). The Brazilian prospect defended Kim's takedown attempts while making him pay for them, landing several hard knees to the South Korean's midsection after sprawls.
Action picked up considerably in the second frame. A left-hook, right-cross combination by Silva staggered Kim early. After a flying-knee attempt failed to knock him down, Silva dropped Kim with a right elbow to the temple.
Kim would survive and get back to his feet, but only to eat more hard right hands by Silva. A crucial moment in the fight took place next, when Kim denied Silva a takedown by grabbing onto the fence.
Referee Mario Yamasaki quickly issued Kim a warning, but the foul likely changed the momentum of the fight. Shortly after the failed takedown, Silva threw a wild punch that Kim countered with the left hand up the middle that knocked him out.
Kim extends his win streak to three with the victory. The stoppage is his first since he posted a third-round TKO win over Jason Tan in May 2008. Seven of his nine UFC wins have come via decision. Silva drops to 3-3 in the Octagon.
A light heavyweight contest between Thiago Silva and Matt Hamill turned into a grinding 15-minute affair -- mostly for those watching.
Silva (16-3) did enough to earn a unanimous decision, his second consecutive win, but it wasn't pretty. Both veterans were completely exhausted by the final bell, with referee Keith Peterson paying close attention specifically to Hamill.
|Thiago Silva's aggression helped earn him the approval of the judges.|
The contest was already off to a bad start, as Silva missed the 206-pound weight limit during Friday's weigh-in. He came out firing inside-leg kicks on Hamill, which would continue throughout the fight.
Hamill (11-5) scored an early takedown in the middle frame but did nothing with it. He tagged Silva with a few left hooks to the liver that slowed him down, but at that point, Hamill had already slowed down himself from absorbing kicks.
The final round was basically a wait for the fight to be over, as neither could really muster any firepower. Silva had dropped Hamill with a right hand in the second round but failed to finish him. From that point on, the action consisted mostly of Hamill shooting half-hearted takedowns and eating more kicks to the leg.
"I think it was a bad fight; I had a bad weight cut, which was my own fault," Silva said after the bout. "I disappointed the UFC, but I'll make up for it. I had many chances to knock him out, but I gassed out.
"It was a bad fight -- even though I won. He takes punches well, but I feel I could have finished it and just didn't have the energy. I am not pleased at all."
Silva posts back-to-back wins for the first time since May 2008. The 30-year-old scored a first-round knockout over Rafael Cavalcante at a UFC on Fuel event in June. Hamill drops to 1-3 in his past four contests.
Fabio Maldonado has won back-to-back UFC fights for the first time in his career following a split decision nod over Joey Beltran.
|Fabio Maldonado, left, proved the more effective striker against Joey Beltran.|
Fighting in his hometown of Sao Paulo, Maldonado (20-6) narrowly edged Beltran via judges' scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29. The win improves his overall UFC record to 3-3.
The fight had its share of awkward moments, as Maldonado grew visibly frustrated by the game plan utilized by Beltran (14-9). Seeking just his third win in nine fights, Beltran held Maldonado up against the fence for long stretches of time and looked to dirty box.
By the end of the first round, Maldonado threw his hands up, willingly placed himself against the fence and started hitting his own chin in an effort to taunt Beltran.
The action moved to the center of the cage in the second round, which favored Maldonado. Using his superior boxing skill, Maldonado circled away from Beltran's offense and popped him consistently with the jab.
At one point, Beltran did stick him against the fence again, where he landed a hard elbow that knocked out Maldonado's mouthpiece.
The third round was close, with Beltran returning to his game plan of pushing Maldonado against the cage. He landed a big overhand right that finally appeared to hurt Maldonado. Following a brief pause after an accidental low blow, Beltran managed to score a takedown, dragging Maldonado with a front headlock.
Afterward, Maldonado admitted the contest was close -- but would not go so far as to say he emerged the loser.
"He thinks he won, but when he watches it again, he'll realize he's crazy," Maldonado said. "I know he usually likes to slow down the pace to explode in the end, so I had to watch my pace, too.
"I had a few opportunities to finish it but I was always mindful of that. The only indecision for me is whether I won just two or all three rounds. I wish I had thrown more punches, boxed more, and hadn't stayed so much against the fence. I did damage there, too, but I know the judges sometimes see the fence as a sign of control. He's a tough guy -- with a tough chin."
Rousimar Palhares (15-5) scored a submission over Mike Pierce in his welterweight debut, securing one of his notorious ankle locks in the opening round.
Referee Keith Peterson broke up the action just 31 seconds in, as a frantically tapping Pierce (17-6) screamed in pain. It marked the 12th submission victory of the Brazilian's career.
"There's really no way to put this into words," said Palhares, while thanking the Brazilian Nogueira brothers for the win.
|Mike Pierce, facing, proved to be another victim of Rousimar Palhares' submission ankle lock.|
Pierce did not look happy following the bout, as it appeared Palhares might have held onto the submission longer than necessary. Palhares has a history of doing so and was even fined for it in 2010 by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.
The contest got off to a quick start with Pierce shooting immediately for a takedown. He was successful but forced back to his feet immediately when Palhares dove underneath for a leglock.
Palhares then shot for his own takedown, and, while Pierce looked to defend it against the fence, he rolled into the ankle lock that eventually produced the tap.
The loss snaps a four-fight win streak for Pierce and drops him to an overall UFC record of 9-4. Palhares improves to 8-4 in the Octagon.
In a fight that could go a long way in determining a future UFC bantamweight contender, Raphael Assuncao edged TJ Dillashaw via split decision.
Dillashaw (8-2) nearly took things out of the judges' hands when he threatened with a rear-naked choke in the first round.
Assuncao (21-4), ranked the No. 6 bantamweight in the world by ESPN.com heading in, survived and went on to win the next two rounds, according to two judges. Final scores read 29-28 twice for Assuncao and one 29-28 for Dillashaw.
"It was a very tough 15 minutes," Assuncao said through a translator. "I did my best. After the second round, my eye got swollen, but I was amped up after defending when he was on my back."
The first round was a bit of a feeling-out process as the two bantamweights looked to establish their range. Momentum swung heavily in Dillashaw's favor when he sprawled on an Assuncao double-leg shot and rotated to the Brazilian's back.
With time left in the round, Dillashaw snuck his left arm onto Assuncao's chin but couldn't quite slip it underneath to the neck. Assuncao signaled to referee Mario Yamasaki he was fine with a thumbs-up.
Assuncao rallied in the second round, defending Dillashaw takedowns and landing clean counter strikes and jabs. An uppercut from Assuncao had Dillashaw bleeding badly from the nose late in the frame.
The third was razor thin and ultimately decided the outcome. Turning to the jab again, Assuncao kept Dillashaw at a distance and opened a cut over his right eye. Dillashaw continued to move forward, though, throwing kicks to the body and uppercuts inside.
Dillashaw sees a four-fight win streak snapped in the loss. Assuncao extends his win streak to five.