No. 5 ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight contender, Mark Munoz, welcomes former Light Heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida, to the 185-pound division this Saturday (Oct. 26, 2013) in main event of UFC Fight Night 30, which takes place from Phones 4U Arena in Manchester, England.
Munoz had an excellent start to his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, defeating his first five opponents. However, he lost his Octagon debut via knockout to Matt Hamill, causing him to drop a weight class. It turned out to be a wise decision, as he won three straight fights. He was close to a 185-pound title shot, but a loss to Yushin Okami sent him back down the ladder.
Four straight victories, including two technical knockout victories, earned Munoz a top contender's match with Chris Weidman. Unfortunately for "Filipino Wrecking Machine," Weidman brutally knocked him out. Munoz took almost a year off to recover from injuries. During this time, Munoz became depressed (AND FAT), but made an inspirational comeback, returning to the Octagon in the best shape of his career.
In his return, Munoz put a 15-minute beating on Tim Boestch. After his original opponent, Michael Bisping, pulled out with an eye injury (more details here), "The Dragon" offered to fill in. Can Munoz get the most high-profile victory in his career?
Let's take a closer look:
Munoz is more of a brawler than a boxer. He's aggressive on the feet, charging his opponents with powerful shots. His defense suffers because of his inexperience and aggression, but he also can force his opponents to shell up under his onslaught.
"Filipino Wrecking Machine" occasionally uses the jab. He throws it like many average fighters in terms of technique, but he doesn't really use it to set up his other strikes. When he does throw a jab or two, he often follows it up with a straight right hand.
Munoz's right cross is fairly powerful, and he should throw it more often. He frequently lands it when he throws his right as a lead, mostly because of its ability to cover distance. In his fight with C.B. Dollaway, his right hand slipped by his opponent's left hook and it crushed "The Doberman." For once, it was Munoz landing the knockout off of a straighter shot rather than his opponent.
More often than not, Munoz will charge his opponent with a barrage of left and right hooks. When he starts flinging hooks, he does a good job turning his hips into them, which gives them power. If his opponent starts to duck, Munoz will follow his left hook with a right uppercut.
Munoz lands his best strikes from the clinch. Even in close, Munoz gets good torque on his hooks to the head, body and even the legs. He switches up targets frequently and will mix in hard knees to further make his attack more unpredictable. If he feels his opponent covering up, Munoz will back out from the clinch and land harder shots. In addition, at close range, his opponent has a harder time catching him lunging in.
Munoz's striking defense has long been his greatest flaw. Not only does he lung in with punches, which is always risky, but he leads with his face, meaning he doesn't move his head of the center line as he attacks.
This makes him exceptionally easy to counter ... perhaps the worst trait possible to have against Machida.
Chris Weidman's counter elbow knockout wouldn't have been possible if Munoz kept his back. In addition to this finish, Munoz nearly got finished by a massive Kendall Grove uppercut because of the same problem. If Munoz wants to defeat Machida, he needs to seriously work on his defense.
A two-time All-American wrestler and NCAA champion, Munoz has some of the best wrestling credentials in UFC. While he hasn't always looked the part, there's no denying Munoz is an extraordinarily talented wrestler.
Munoz loves to blast through his opponents with double legs. His initial blast is quite powerful, and he's able to cut a corner if his opponent can defend the initial drive. Munoz prefers to hit his takedowns in the center of the Octagon, but he can wrestle against the cage, too. If neither the blast nor corner turn work, Munoz can transition to a single-leg and attempt to finish that.
Munoz has a pretty low takedown completion percentage (27 percent, according to FightMetric). This is not because he is a bad wrestler, he simply is very determined. Munoz does not give up on his attempts, repeatedly shooting for doubles even if his opponent consistently stuffs them. This determination is very respectable and is likely a big part of Munoz's success.
The Kings MMA-trained fighter may actually be better from the clinch. He has a very sneaky inside trip that he hit on Boestch twice in their recent bout. Both times, he controlled "The Barbarian" with double underhooks before thrusting his leg between Boestch's and leaning in.
It's hard to describe, but Munoz is an expert at scrambling, something that comes from years of grappling experience. When Munoz can force a situation where the outcome favors the man with quicker muscle memory, he generally wins. In the below .gif, Munoz is able to slide under Aaron Simpson and out the back door almost immediately. This was not really a pure wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu technique, just Munoz getting an underhook and being quicker than Simpson.
The highlight of Munoz's game is absolutely his monstrous ground striking. It's so good it has its own nickname, "Donkey Kong" ground-and-pound. The key to Munoz's destructive ground striking is his ability to create space then land punches with his entire body.
Once Munoz gets on top of his opponent, he immediately begins trying to posture and break guard. He loves to stand over his opponents' guards, force their hips back, then blast them with long punches. An important trait about Munoz's ground-and-pound is that once he begins throwing hammers, he doesn't stop. He'll stand above his opponent and drop bombs until he changes position or the referee stops the fight.
In other words, Munoz refuses to hold back.
One of Munoz's best positions to work from is the turtle. From the turtle, Munoz will drop bombs on his opponents with shots to the body and head, frequently shifting targets. Recently, Munoz repeatedly cracked Boestch's body with winging punches from this position, as well as when he sprawled out on top of Boestch.
There are downsides to throwing ground-and-pound with as much vehemence as Munoz. He often allows his opponents to stand back up to land a few extra punches. Against someone who's a better striker than him or is difficult to takedown, this is a obviously a problem.
Unfortunately, Machida is both of these.
Look below at Munoz allowing Chris Leben stand up to land a couple of punches. Leben is was moving at his normal speed, which is quite slow, and he was still able to get back to his feet repeatedly.
Munoz's takedown defense is a bit enigmatic. Sometimes, he's able to cause scrambles, reverse position or at least return to his feet. Other times, he seems completely unable to do much of anything, like in his loss to Weidman. Now, Weidman is a spectacular grappler and deserves credit for controlling Munoz, but it's not the first time that has happened. In fact, even "The Crippler" managed to drag down Munoz to the mat at one point.
Munoz is a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, but has yet rarely displays it inside the Octagon. He didn't get famous for ground striking by trying to choke his opponent. As far as I can remember, Munoz has never had any truly significant submission attempts.
One thing that Munoz does display is astoundingly good submission defense. Munoz wrestled two of middleweight's best submission artists, Demian Maia and Weidman, and was able to resist all of their submission attempts. Against both men, Munoz was able to survive dangerous positions and submission attempts that would fell most grapplers.
Many fighters, including the above two, Leben, and Boestch, have all tried to finish Munoz with front chokes. Whether it be guillotines or d'arces or their many modifications, Munoz weathers the submission, patiently waiting for opportunity to slip out as he hand fights. If it's looking extremely dangerous, Munoz will start jerking side to side or spinning, anything to cause a scramble.
Best Chance For Success
Munoz has a monumental task ahead of him. If I were to design a fighter to capitalize on Munoz flaws, while nullifying his strengths, it would be Machida. "The Dragon" has excellent range striking and distance control, fight finishing counters, and extremely formidable takedown defense. In addition, Machida is excellent at getting back to his feet on the rare occasion he is taken down, making it even more difficult for Munoz.
The most important thing for Munoz here is to stay patient. If he gets too aggressive with his striking and leads with his head, he will get Ryan Bader'd. Instead, he needs to focus on cutting off the Octagon with his footwork and only try to land his hooks when Machida circles around him.
Both things are much easier said than done.
If Munoz ever has an opportunity to grab hold of Machida, he must hang on. Forcing Machida to wrestle, even in the clinch, will fatigue him and slow his punches. Munoz best chance is to take this into late rounds, as it's unknown how Machida will react to his 185-pound debut.
Should Munoz somehow get Machida to the ground, he absolutely has to be more cautious with his striking. He can't afford to let Machida back to his feet to land a few, ultimately meaningless, shots. Controlling and tiring Machida should be his only goals until Machida fatigues.
Can Munoz overcome this adverse style match up or will Machida be successful in his new division?