The main event of UFC 138 last night (November 5, 2011) provided UK MMA fans with plenty of excitement.
Come on, now. Did anyone really expect this fight to need all five rounds?
For two full rounds, Mark Munoz and Chris Leben exchanged punches, took each other down and downright beat each other up. You had some classic Mark Munoz ground and pound and some even more prototypical Chris Leben "zombie mode" attacking.
It was a thrilling battle, but in the end, Munoz was able to do more damage and the bout was halted after a rather unsatisfying corner stoppage in between rounds.
So what part of Munoz's gameplan helped carry him to victory? And where do both fighters go from here?
Munoz's gameplan was made evident in the first 30 second of the fight as he wisely refused to stand directly in front of Leben during striking exchanges and then dropped down and took "The Crippler" down the second he came in wild with a winging right hook.
As would become a repeated theme throughout the fight, Leben attacked Munoz with a guillotine choke that had next to no chance of actually forcing a tap. Instead, it sapped much-needed energy out of his powerful arms. As the red-haired warrior rose to his feet with a wall-walk strategy, Munoz kept the pressure on in the clinch unleashed some vicious right hands to the body.
After another Munoz takedown, we were privileged with a classic Leben moment.
Despite being in an absolutely horrible position, seated on the ground with Mark Munoz looming over and dropping heavy leather on his face, Leben just ignores the threat, accepting the fact that he'll have to absorb punishment to get back to his feet.
Despite eating punches that would knock a lesser man senseless, Leben not only rises to his feet but backs Munoz off with a big left hand of his own. He would actually go on to stuff a Munoz takedown and win the final 30 seconds of the first round rather handily with ground and pound of his own.
In round two, however, nearly everything would go wrong for "The Crippler."
It didn't help that he was already breathing very heavily at the beginning of the frame while Munoz seemed completely unaffected by the brisk pace of the opening round.
After once again finding himself on his back, Leben attempted to use a closed guard attack, but Munoz made him pay.
"The Filipino Wrecking Machine" immediately postured up and dropped a huge right hand to open up Leben's guard and he didn't stop there.
After another devastating right hand which likely opened up a cut, he proceeded to blister "The Crippler" with a huge flurry of ground and pound.
Munoz made an unwise decision to stand up and drop more punches which allowed Leben to quickly turn into him and pop back to his feet, but much of the damage had been done as the Ultimate Fighter season one veteran was bleeding heavily from his left eye.
Leben would again try to fight back but instead of looking to land punches, he tried another guillotine choke. It appeared that he squeezed this one harder than ever which likely completely gassed out his arms. Leben would attempt one last guillotine after the fight was reset when the doctor checked the cut on his eye and that appeared to be all she wrote for Leben.
In between rounds, he looked like a broken man, the will to fight completely sapped from him and his corner stopped the punishment.
So what went wrong for Leben? First off, his conditioning completely failed him. It was obvious that Mark Munoz was clearly in better shape for this fight as he was able to throw heavier punches, wrestle and move on the feet better than Leben throughout the whole fight. The other problem, obviously, was Leben's faith in his guillotine choke.
He should have realized it the first time that it wasn't going to work but he kept going back to it and that severely depleted all the energy he had remaining in his arms. His reliance on the guillotine choke as an attack method completely undermined his ability to attack with his punches. Lastly, speed was definitely a factor. Leben was not able to keep up with Munoz's pace and he likely saw the writing on the wall between the second and third rounds. It wasn't going to get any easier for him.
So what's next for "The Crippler?" There are a few options in the division. The most obvious choice is to give him a slight break to recover and then give him Jason Miller if he loses to Michael Bisping at the Ultimate Fighter 14 finale. Beyond that, there aren't many solid options at the moment. Perhaps something along the lines of Kyle Noke or Dongi Yang, or even someone from Strikeforce like Robbie Lawler would be enticing. First thing's first, though, he has to improve that cardio.
For Mark Munoz, this was one of the most complete performances of his middleweight career. He stepped in against one of the most heavy-handed fighters in the division and almost never found himself in trouble. His gameplan was terrific, his cardio was magnificent and his ground and pound was as lethal as ever. He gets better and better every time we see him in the cage.
Despite asking for a title shot, that's simply not going to happen for the former national champion wrestler. Brian Stann didn't get an immediate shot after beating Leben earlier this year and neither will he. The likely best option would be to face Michael Bisping in a number one contender's match if "The Count" were to get by "Mayhem" Miller. Other options include Rousimar Palhares or perhaps someone along the lines of Tim Boetsch. Whoever he faces in his next fight, he's definitely knocking on the door for a title shot with his performance last night.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Do you agree with Munoz that he deserves a title shot after his two round thrashing of Leben? Would he even stand a chance against Anderson Silva?
For complete UFC 138 results, including blow-by-blow, fight-by-fight coverage of the entire pay-per-view (PPV) event as well as immediate post-fight reaction click here, here and here.
All gifs by Zombie Prophet via IronForgesIron.com.