This Saturday. June 11, 2011, on the main card of UFC 131: "Dos Santos vs Carwin," two of the most consistent middleweights with the promotion will duke it out for the right to rise to contender status, as the powerful Mark Munoz takes on jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia.
Munoz continues to improve and he's rebounded nicely from an Aug. 2010 loss to Yushin Okami by scoring back-to-back victories over Aaron Simpson and C.B. Dollaway in his last two fights. The Filipino-American has showcased an evolving striking game and he'll be looking to demonstrate it again on test subject number three.
Maia is also riding a two fight winning streak after failing in his shot at UFC gold last April. The former ADCC grappling champion has put in significant time to round out his MMA game in recent years but it may have come at the expense of his jiu-jitsu, as his last four fights have all gone to decision.
He'll want to prove he's still got it against a tough customer in Munoz.
Will Munoz score a repeat performance of his most recent first minute knockout against Dollaway? Can Maia return to the form that awed the UFC middleweight division with five straight submissions? Which 185-pounder will take the next step to a potential title shot?
Check out our complete fight preview after the jump to find out:
Record: 10-2 overall, 5-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Yushin Okami (UFC on Versus 2), Matt Hamill (UFC 96)
How he got here: Mark got into MMA as a pure wrestler. He won an NCAA title while wrestling for Oklahoma State in 2001 while wrestling at 197-pounds. After two easy first round knockouts in the WEC, he made his UFC debut against Matt Hamill in the light heavyweight division and was famously knocked senseless with a huge head kick. That was all he needed to decide to drop a weight class.
At middleweight, Munoz became famous for his ridiculously powerful ground and pound, blasting both Ryan Jensen and Kendall Grove on the ground before coming up short against Yushin Okami at the second UFC show on the Versus channel.
"The Filipino Wrecking Machine" teamed up with some of the best Brazilian strikers in the sport in a mutually beneficial relationship, as he helped fighters like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Anderson Silva shore up their wrestling while they helped him advance his striking skills.
His hard worked paid off as the Reign Training Center owner was able to outstrike Aaron Simpson at UFC 123 and he followed it up by knockout out C.B. Dollaway in less than a minute this past March.
The quick destruction of Dollaway thrust Munoz back into contender status and he'll have a chance to prove he belongs when he faces former title challenger Demian Maia this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: If it were one year ago, the answer would be simple. Take Maia down, avoid submissions and pound the hell out of him.
With Munoz's steady progression as a well-rounded mixed martial artist, that's no longer the case.
While beating up Maia on the ground is still a great option, the former national champion wrestler can now stand and strike with Maia, maybe even land that knockout blow like he did against Dollaway.
If Munoz's striking has continued to advance on the curve that it has been on previously, he might be considerably ahead of Maia in the stand-up department. If so, look for Munoz to use his wrestling defensively to keep the fight standing and work his combinations.
Demian has improved his striking as well but he's not a knockout threat like Munoz and he's been known to leave himself wide open when wading in (ex. Nate Marquardt).
There is a very real possibility that despite both men being extremely fluent on the ground, this match turns into a stand-up battle.
Record: 14-2 overall, 8-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 112), Nate Marquardt (UFC 102)
How he got here: No one made a brighter entrance to the UFC than Demian Maia. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) phenom made his UFC debut in 2007 and submitted his first five opponents with four of those finishes earning him the "Submission of the Night" award.
He capped off his streak by slaying future title challenger Chael Sonnen with an easy takedown-into-mount-into-triangle choke transition that had grappling fans raving.
His momentum was sent to a screeching halt after Nate Marquardt blasted him with one punch just 21 seconds into their UFC 102 fight but after rebounding with a decision victory over the always-tough Dan Miller, Maia was awarded a title shot against Anderson Silva as a replacement for the injured Vitor Belfort.
The title fight with Silva was an unmitigated disaster. The seemingly indifferent champion taunted and danced his way to a victory although Maia earned some respect for his performance in the final two rounds, not giving up, aggressively pushing forwards and arguably winning them on a few judges' scorecards.
Maia got back on track with consecutive decision victories over fellow esteemed grapplers Mario Miranda and Kendall Grove in his last two fights and he's hoping to enter contender status again with a victory over Munoz on the UFC 131 main card.
How he gets it done: Maia has gone great lengths to improve his striking since the Marquardt knockout, but despite that, he's still not dangerous on his feet. You could go as far as to say that he has the least stand-up power in the middleweight division.
He's been able to win striking battles in his recent fights due to improved footwork and technique but that's also been because he's had opponents on the defensive due to his Brazilian jiu-jitsu acumen.
Mark Munoz won't be afraid of Demian Maia taking him down because he's got confidence in his takedown defense. Maia will almost certainly not want to stand and trade with his powerful opponent this time around.
If he's smart, he'll try to clinch Munoz and work his excellent trips and judo-style takedowns along the fence. Getting up close and personal with Munoz will be a priority due to the Filipino's tremendous power.
Putting the wrestler on his back will be the key to victory, although that's easier said than done. If Maia can take this fight to the ground, he'll have to be mindful of Mark's base and his lethal ground and pound. If he eats one big punch, he'll drop to a brown belt, a couple more and he'll be down to white belt level. He's going to have to be the aggressor on the ground if he wants to win this fight.
Maia's also been known to give up dominant positions to go for the finish. It's won him fans but it might not be the best idea for this fight. If he gives up mount to go for a risky arm bar and he doesn't get it, it could be lights out in a heartbeat.
Fight "X-Factor:" A man named Marcel Louzado. He's been helping Munoz prepare for Maia's vaunted jiu-jitsu for quite some time. Why is this a big deal? He's defeated Maia in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) tournament competition several times throughout his career.
How much Munoz will be able to absorb from Louzado is another question altogether, but he's definitely got his head in the right place. The only submission Mark's had in his career has been forcing Ryan Jensen to tap to punches. If he can learn enough to avoid being put in bad positions by the submission wizard, that may be all he needs to give himself an opportunity to land a big power strike and end Maia's night.
Bottom line: Both men are 33-years-old and they know there's only a short window remaining in their athletic primes to make another run at the title. This fight could be an entertaining brawl standing with major possibilities of a classic grappling war if it goes to the canvas. Both men are going to bring it on Saturday night so expectations are high for this bout.
Who will come out on top at UFC 131? Let us know in the comments section below!