The Brazilian was separated from Usman while maintaining standing back control in the first round of the fight, but former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Serra says that referee call may have cost the Brazilian the bout.
“This is the thing, he had his back,” said Serra on UFC Unfiltered. “I was not surprised the way things went after that. You have one shot sometimes in a fight like this, especially because he didn’t have a camp. People do not understand. That’s why I predicted a first-round choke by Demian Maia. He was on his way there. They weren’t just holding each other up against the cage. It might have looked like it but Kamaru had an overhook and that overhook was the only thing stopping Demian from taking that back. It was a very awkward position where [Usman] was not getting out of that. The only way he could look to free himself was to let go and expose his back. Otherwise, you’re just stalling. Now, could he keep that up for another minute and 15 seconds or whatever it was? Maybe. If so, alright, let’s see what happens in round two. Or, with thirty seconds left, he could try to scramble and still get strangled. Just in the montage before he walks out look at how many times he’s strangled guy - powerful wrestlers like Rick Story, gutty, gritty guys who do not tap easily like Carlos Condit or Matt Brown. This is not a coincidence. So for [Roberts] to take away his one shot, Leon Roberts, you should be ashamed of yourself and I think you possibly could have cost him the fight. Leon, you f**ked up, Leon. You really did.”
Maia would never get another dominant position again for the remainder of the fight, despite many takedown attempts.
Serra even wonders if referee Leon Roberts was influenced by some of the negative reactions coming from the crowd.
“Are you getting influenced because you’re maybe hearing some boos in the crowd or something?” said Serra. “Your job is not to make this s**t entertaining. It’s one thing if a guy is stalling. I get worked up because Demian Maia took that fight like a f**king warrior and he saved that card and he had his position, he had what he wanted. He was this close! We don’t know what would have happened!”
There has been no complaints from Maia on the matter, who took the fight as a late replacement for the injured Santiago Ponzinibbio.