The UFC’s Welterweight division is notorious for being one of the most stacked in terms of big names and pure talent. As a result, any Top-15 matchup that’s booked is destined to send ripples across the entire division. However, UFC 263’s bout between Demian Maia and Belal Muhammad could have greater consequences than you can imagine.
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Muhammad has recently gained a significant amount of media attention. After a dominant four fight win streak, and landing a position in the welterweight rankings as 13th, Belal took a short notice opportunity against one of the division’s elite: Leon Edwards. Their bout was booked for UFC Fight Night 187 on March the 13th after Khamzat Chimaev pulled out, due to lingering effects of COVID-19. The fight was seen as a momentous opportunity, as it was Belal’s first main event in his storied four year long career in the UFC, and the opponent was ranked third in the division’s rankings.
Unfortunately for Belal, the fight was ridden with controversy. After a relatively dominant first round for the favourite Edwards, the bout was stopped after a devastating eye poke from Edwards. This seriously damaged Muhammad’s capacity to compete and therefore the fight was stopped. This was arguably the least favourable outcome for Muhammad and his corner, as he was prevented from showcasing his great potential on the bigger stage.
Though respectful in the octagon, Muhammad took to Twitter after the bout, demanding Edwards “sign the contract” for a rematch that he wished to take place as early as UFC 260. However, this would never materialise, as Edwards was matched against Nate Diaz to fight at UFC 262 in the first five-round non-title co-main bout in UFC history.
Not satisfied with waiting around, Belal signed on to fight Demian Maia soon after this announcement. He once again took to Twitter, this time to stress his intention to “go back to work” in his goal to rise “onward and upward” in the division.
Demian Maia has already had a much decorated career within the UFC which has made him an iconic figure for UFC fans, as he made his first appearance in 2007 at UFC 77 against Ryan Jensen. Since that time, he has remained a significant force within the UFC. His initial run in the promotion saw him win six of his first seven, five of them by submission. Next up for him was a title shot opportunity against the UFC’s best in Anderson Silva, which he would lose by unanimous decision.
After a respectable time at middleweight, Maia dropped to welterweight in the search for a new energy and potential second run at a UFC title. After a seven-fight win streak Maia was placed against Tyron Woodley, this being seven years after his previous title opportunity. Though coming up short a second time, and losing his next two after the bout, Maia has remained a mainstay in the division. His recent losses have only been to the elite within the division, facing current champion Kamaru Usman and number one contender Colby Covington back-to-back.
After sustaining a knockout from recent title contender Gilbert Burns in March of 2020, Maia eyes this bout as one of his last. At the age of 43, he has already surpassed many of his peers and has remained as one of the elite for the duration of his career. For the majority of the fans, Maia has nothing left to prove; his skill is still evident after over a decade in the UFC at the pinnacle of the sport.
The bout itself will most certainly be a technical one, with both fighters known for their well-rounded fighting styles, fight IQ and capacity to produce dominant performances reaching into the later rounds. As expected from most of his bouts, the best path to victory for Maia would see the fight going to the ground, while Muhammad’s corner would prefer a stand-up affair in which Maia would be picked apart by the rising prospect.
Considering the radically different narratives that have led these fighters to their bout, ramifications from the bout itself will depend on the outcome. An end to Maia’s career in the win column would be ideal for any of his long-time fans, while a loss would be a solemn goodbye to the seasoned veteran. For Belal, a win would be instrumental in his rise up the division, and would help his chances of another opportunity to face one of the division’s elite. If he were to lose, another win-streak would need to be constructed. It is clear to fans and commentators alike that this bout is integral to the careers of both men.