Competing in the first major middleweight bout since Anderson Silva defended his title against Chael Sonnen, Mark Munoz and Chris Weidman have an edge over all other 185-pound fighters in the hunt for a shot at the belt. If the winner of the UFC on Fuel TV 4 main event walks away without injury, Silva could make a quick turnaround and meet that fighter before the end of the year.
Heading into Wednesday's matchup with Weidman, Munoz has been out of action for more than eight months. Munoz was previously scheduled to meet Sonnen in a title shot eliminator, but he suffered a nasty elbow injury in training and was replaced by Michael Bisping. Now, Munoz will return to the Octagon for the first time since picking up a fourth consecutive victory in a bout against Chris Leben.
During Munoz's absence, Weidman has quickly risen toward the top of the middleweight division with victories over Demian Maia and Tom Lawlor. Despite accepting the bout with Maia on short notice, Weidman was able to show improved striking in what currently stands as the biggest victory of his MMA career.
Who: Mark Munoz vs. Chris Weidman
What: UFC on Fuel TV 4 Main Event
Where: HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
When: Wednesday, July 11 at 8:00 p.m. ET on Fuel TV
Tale of the Tape
* - Unofficial
Mark Munoz +115
Chris Weidman -145
Will Munoz be hindered by ring rust?
The eight-month furlough between fights against Leben and Weidman has been the longest break in action during Munoz's five-year MMA career. While fighters have come back strong after much longer layoffs, every competitor handles inactivity differently.
The severity of the injury that forced Munoz out of his bout with Sonnen must also be considered. Following an elbow injury during training, Munoz had 24 bone spurs removed to regain motion in his joint. There has been no evidence to suggest Munoz's elbow is still a hindrance, but it still has to be a significant point of concern for his followers heading into a bout where he could be forced into throwing a lot of punches against a fellow wrestler who is capable to keep the fight standing.
Here's a graphic look what was actually removed from Munoz's arm less than six months ago:
Can Weidman continue his rapid progression?
Weidman has improved with every fights and consistently appears more well-rounded every time he steps into the Octagon. While his striking was sufficient against a former top middleweight contender in Maia, Weidman will need to be even better on his feet against a more powerful Munoz.
Under the guidance of Matt Serra, Weidman has turned into a jiu-jitsu purple belt with two UFC wins via submission. Now, it is time for Ray Longo to work his magic and prepare Weidman to utilize a reach advantage that could be an important factor against Munoz.
Keys to Victory
The former Oklahoma State University wrestler must push the pace and force Weidman to prove his lack of conditioning in his most recent bout against Maia was really a product of short notice and a significant weight cut.
Munoz will need to work his way inside and test his opponent's chin early. If he can do that, Weidman may begin to fight on his heels and lose his five-inch reach advantage. This will also allow Munoz to become the aggressor and possibly corner Weidman against the cage, which could lead to an all-important takedown in a bout that very well could end in a five-round decision, as both fighters are evenly matched and have gone the distance in nearly half of their contests.
A jab will be a very important tool for Weidman in this fight, and not only because it will keep him outside the range of Munoz's power and takedowns. Once Munoz becomes frustrated with his inability to overcome a reach disadvantage against Weidman, he could begin to throw wild counters, which will open up the opportunity for a takedown.
Munoz may have an outstanding wrestling background, but he has been taken down in four of his past five fights, according to FightMetric.com. A two-time All-American at Hofstra University, Weidman is arguably a better wrestler than any of those opponents who were able to take Munoz to the ground and would benefit greatly from forcing his fellow wrestler to fight off of his back.
Time and time again, bouts between two skilled wrestlers have turned into stand-up fights. The UFC on Fuel TV 4 main event should follow that pattern for the most part. While it's tough to discount his knockout power, Munoz looked much less impressive on his feet against Maia in June 2011 than a mostly unprepared Weidman did in his January matchup against the Brazilian.
Weidman will make excellent use of his reach advantage in what could turn into a sloppy striking affair. Six years younger than Munoz, Weidman should also be able to utilize a speed advantage to remain on the outside.
In the UFC, Weidman hasn't shown much knockout power, so this bout may be decided by the judges. However, Weidman's physical advantages on his feet should result in an easy decision for the three individuals scoring the bout.