Demian Maia, he’s a fourth-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, an ADCC champion and perhaps the greatest grappler in mixed martial arts. But as a practitioner of a ground-based fighting art a key part of his game is how he takes the fight to the ground and in this breakdown we will be examining his favourite takedown tactics.

Setups & Takedown Entries

Let’s start with his setups, his most common entry into his shots is the jab fake where he faints his jab in order to draw a reaction out of his opponent by either blocking or a counter shot and when they do react he drops his level underneath their lead hand and straight onto a single leg. Another way is waiting for his opponent to jab or step in with their lead leg and as soon as they extend their leg Demian Maia will time it and drop down into a single leg as a southpaw with his right leg forward the single-leg shot is a much quicker and easier option that is always there against Orthodox opponents.

Running the Pipe

Once Demian Maia gets in on the single-leg his preferred finish is running the pipe where he rotates his outside leg backwards which spins the opponent while at the same time dropping the head shoulder and chest pressure down on the opponent’s thigh this shifts the opponent’s centre of gravity to a point where they would need the use of their trapped leg to stand and maintain balance but instead they’re forced to sit down. This finish works in open space but also against the fence where you must rotate your opponent away and off the fence to prevent them from using it to lean on and maintain balance in place of their trapped leg.

Head on the Outside Single Legs

While it is most common to do this with the head on the inside Demian Maia has also used this finish with the head on the outside and while this is not surprising in wrestling, in BJJ where submissions are involved this is often seen as too risky in a rookie mistake as it gives your neck to the opponent for a guillotine choke. While that risk certainly does exist here it is being used safely against multiple high-level competitors.

Back Trip Takedown

From the single leg, another finish Demian Maia executes is the back trip where his outside hand may reach and secure hip control on the far waste of his opponent as he looks to trip the far leg out from underneath them while circling his way down to the mat and over the top of the blocked leg this will result in Demian Maia taking the back or landing in top position and he will even look to trip the far leg without gaining control of the waist.

Demian Maia will also look to trip the near leg proactively hooking it after his shot if he is unable to lift it or if his opponent can get it back to the mat and this all works in combination with his back taking strategy of constantly spiralling around his opponent looking to secure hooks.

Spiralling to the Back

In fact, in his first MMA fight, Demian Maia charges straight into the clinch and immediately circles to the back and executes a trip on his opponent. Although it does have the goal of securing his hooks once he gets their back and secures a body lock he has a variety of trips he will execute to bring his opponent to the mat most often he is blocking a leg and dragging his weight and the opponent backwards over the top of it but he will also continuously hack away at any leg of the opponents that is available to attack as a means of destabilizing them and breaking them down.

Trips against the Fence

Here against the fence, Demian Maia looks for a trip that allows him to begin rotating towards his opponents back now from a T – position he looks to trip again which rotates him all the way to the back where he completes the takedown.

The trip against the fence is another of Demian Maia’s favourite takedowns. Once there Demian Maia will look to secure under hooks and trip the opponent by reaping at the calf and rotating them away from the fence and dropping his weight at the same time this is made easier if the opponent’s foot is placed away from the edge of the fence but Demian Maia will also stretch to the hook if necessary.

One danger in executing trips in this fashion is that during the process of lifting your leg to trip you momentarily place yourself at a disadvantage as soon as you lift a leg to trip you now only have one point of balance while your opponent still has two and even three if they are leaning against the fence this creates a risk of your opponent reversing the takedown and landing in top position regardless of that risk Demian Maia was able to make this takedown work consistently may be in part due to his opponent’s hesitation in wanting to go to the ground at all.

He had success with this technique even from a front headlock position and was able to score the takedown in open space and I also have to mention the amazing lateral drop he scored on Chael Sonnen then immediately transitioned into a triangle choke for the win.

Double Leg Takedowns

Demian Maia will also switch to a double leg if necessary when he does his favourite means of finishing is to turn the corner which he does by pushing off from his outside leg to drive his force at an angle across his opponent’s hips. Driven by his pursuit for the back Demian Maia will constantly spiral and rotate towards his opponent’s back taking them to the ground with him.

An on occasion he will also switch to a double leg against the fence favouring a bump and dump where he can secure his hands together behind the back of his opponents and then bump them off the fence also if you remember back to the start of the analysis where we covered running the pipe well if the first attempt of that is not successful it sets up a switch to a double leg by reaching for the far knee and driving across the opponent’s hips and here is a very interesting leg entanglement that Demian Maia uses to sweep and secure a double leg takedown.

Pulling Guard in MMA

Another option that Demian Maia would use to secure a takedown is to pull guard his general sequence would be to take a shot and then if sprawled on you would look to scoot into a half guard position secure and under hook and then use it to sweep or stand back up and finish a takedown or else he would jump guard from an upper-body clinch with an over hook a pulling guard does come with obvious risks but Demian Maia made it work for him on multiple occasions at a high level. I do have another study on pulling guard in MMA so check that out if that is an area that interests you.

Future of Demian Maia BJJ Takedowns

So where to from here well aside from a brief moment as K1 Maia, when he turned into a kickboxer, his submission game has been one of the sharpest in all of the UFC taking him to 12 submission victories and working his way into two title shots in two different weight categories.

No matter what happens in his future he will always be known as one of the greatest grapplers in freestyle fighting but I would be remiss to conclude this breakdown without mentioning that Demian Maia is now 0 for 49 takedown attempts in his last 3 UFC bouts with all of his opponents able to completely shut out his takedown game and nullify any chance of a submission being accomplished.

An important note is that a common thread with all three of these opponents was that each one was an all-American folkstyle wrestler so that leaves me with a question if the submission techniques and effectiveness of a ground-based fighting art are completely negated if you cannot get the fight to the ground then how much emphasis should be placed on takedowns within that system.

It is also worth noting that the rate of submission victories overall in the UFC has been falling however this is not a reflection of jiu-jitsu being less applicable but rather the level of jiu-jitsu has risen across the board as now every UFC competitor will be training with jiu-jitsu practitioners day in day out and if a competitor was to stop training jiu-jitsu or submissions and let a skill disparity develop that will quickly find themselves submitted.

With that being the case is it better to focus on MMA or going for takedowns control and ground striking?

That concludes our study on Demian Maia’s takedown game if you would like to see more on his guard pulling techniques then check out my dedicated study on Pulling Guard in MMA.