Machida was still one of the top fighters in the world at 205 pounds, but a controversial loss to Phil Davis at UFC 163 prompted the Brazilian to look for a quicker path to his next title shot. He believes he'll have to do less at middleweight than he would at light heavyweight to fight for another UFC championship.
Having only lost to champion Chris Weidman over the past three years, Munoz will be a good test to see where Machida stands in the 185-pound class. Also a former light heavyweight, Munoz is a Top Five middleweight right now, so a win over him would immediately place Machida in the running for a title shot.
What are Machida's chances of picking up an important win in his first appearance as a UFC middleweight?
Here is a look at how "The Dragon" matches up with Munoz in all areas.
Stats courtesy of UFC.com.
Machida's striking can go from boring to spectacular in an instant, and it has frequently been the latter in bouts against wrestlers like Munoz.
The main reason is the overwhelming desire of wrestlers to close the gap against Machida. In trying to do so, wrestlers like Ryan Bader have walked directly into Machida's trap.
Bader looked to close distance on Machida by switching stances while throwing a jab (top). Machida's straight right counter beat Bader's recoiling jab back to his chin, which led to one of the more brutal knockouts in recent memory (bottom).
Attempting to clinch with Machida by moving forward constantly is almost never a smart decision. The best way to get in tight on him is to force him to be the aggressor. Phil Davis was partly successful in doing this and was at least able to earn a narrow decision win.
Munoz evades 59 percent of strikes thrown at him, making his striking defense much more porous than that of Bader, who eludes 71 percent of strike attempts. He was stopped by a counter from Chris Weidman, who—while an excellent striker—isn't nearly as practiced a counterstriker as Machida is.
If Munoz presses forward with power punches, as he usually does, his fate against Machida won't be much different from Bader's.
Although Machida thrives on countering, Munoz can throw first and land without having to eat a punch on the way in.
In fact, unless he intends on engaging Machida in a staring contest, Munoz is probably going to have to be the one who throws first in most exchanges. Even when moving forward, Machida usually waits for his foes to create the action.
That doesn't mean Munoz will still have to fall victim to Machida's counter straights.
If he can time his attacks in concert with Machida's lead leg coming forward, Munoz can ensure the Brazilian will be in range for his power punches. At UFC 163, Davis showed that Machida is susceptible to jab-overhand right combinations when he's the one moving forward.
As Machida pushed off with his left leg (top left), Davis moved forward with his jab (top right), closing the gap between him and the Brazilian more than he would have by being the aggressor. Unprepared to counter with his weight on his lead leg, Machida tried to retreat as he would if Davis were the one moving forward to begin with. However, because he helped to close the distance, Machida was still within range of Davis' overhand right and took it on the chin (bottom).
With the important assumption that the former light heavyweight champion was in his southpaw stance, this combination would have worked just as well had Davis thrown a tad later and Machida countered. Since "The Dragon" almost always counters the jab with a step-back straight, Davis' overhand would have caused his head to slip to the inside of Machida's straight left, and his right hand would have landed from a blind angle over the Brazilian's shoulder.
Dan Henderson couldn't land his lethal overhand right on Machida because he didn't force the Brazilian to close the distance for him. Every time Henderson wound up, Machida stepped back and was well out of range for the "H-Bomb" to land.
If Munoz wants to have any success while standing with Machida, he needs to be patient and wait for his opponent to move forward. That would be uncharacteristic of Munoz, who is aggressive in all areas.
Even if Munoz does play it smart and forces Machida into being the aggressor, he'd probably be better served using the opportunities to get in close for takedown attempts rather than striking.
Machida isn't going to seek out takedowns with regularity, but his clinch grappling is impressive, even when he has tangled with elite wrestlers.
Against Dan Henderson, Machida scored a takedown on a Greco-Roman wrestling Olympian from the over-under position.
Sensing Henderson's forward pressure (top left), Machida dipped his left shoulder backward (top right). Since Machida was also lifting with his right underhook, Henderson needed to step forward with his right leg in order to keep his balance. Machida ensured Henderson wasn't able to do that, though, by blocking the Pride FC champion's right foot with his left foot (bottom left). Without any posts available on his right side, Henderson toppled to the canvas (bottom right).
Machida isn't going to look to work from the top against Munoz, but he can use his trips to free himself from the high-level clinch work of the former NCAA champion wrestler.
While Munoz has strong offensive wrestling, he frequently makes mistakes defensively. He's been taken down in each of his past three fights and thwarts a smaller percentage of takedown attempts against him than Henderson.
In Munoz's fights that have lasted longer than four minutes, only Weidman has avoided being taken down.
While Machida is going to have his hands full with Munoz's relentless wrestling, Munoz is also going to have a tough time dealing with Machida's sturdy base. Having defended 82 percent of opponent takedown attempts, his takedown defense is better than any opponent Munoz has outwrestled inside the Octagon.
Even more notably, Munoz's best takedown technique might be his inside trip from over-under position. If you'll remember the Machida takedown detailed on the previous slide, Henderson attempted that same technique just before being taken down himself by the Brazilian.
The above image shows how Munoz went to the inside trip to score a takedown on Tim Boetsch in his most recent outing. As Boetsch stepped forward with his right leg (top left), Munoz laced it with his left leg (top right). He then used his underhook to drive Boetsch's isolated right leg over his own left leg for a takedown (bottom).
Coming down from the light heavyweight division, Machida is going to be even tougher than usual in the clinch. Defending over 80 percent of opposing takedowns also bodes well historically for him in the matchup with Munoz.
Over the course of his UFC career, Munoz has met six opponents who have denied more than 80 percent of takedown attempts. Three of them defeated Munoz, while the other three combined for nine takedowns while only surrendering three combined.
Securing the clinch against Machida is hard enough. Even if he gets there against Machida, Munoz is far from guaranteed to secure his takedowns.
If Machida does score a takedown on Munoz, he's unlikely to take many risks from the top position. When he wound up on top of another elite wrestler in Phil Davis, Machida simply held onto the advantageous position as long as he could before cutting his opponent loose.
Machida had Davis' back with an arm trapped (top left). From there, he could look to chop Davis' left arm out from under him by extending his own left arm, which would flatten the bottom man out. However, Machida hung on for 20 seconds until Davis worked his way to his feet and broke the Brazilian's grip.
It may not get him any closer to finishing wrestlers, but this is a smart strategy for Machida to employ against opponents like Munoz. Knowing one of the few ways Munoz can beat him is by spending time on top, Machida would record top-control time of his own without taking any risks. That would help him balance out any time spent on bottom.
If Machida wins this fight, it isn't going to be because he dominated on the ground. However, any time he spends on top will be less time he has to spend worrying about Munoz's takedown attempts.
Machida hasn't submitted anyone off his back in MMA competition, but he does have a good defensive guard.
On the lone occasion he was grounded by Henderson, Machida kept his guard closed and prevented Henderson from posturing up. That will be important against Munoz, who can end fights quickly when given space to land his ground-and-pound.
Any time spent underneath Munoz will not be good for Machida, though. Regardless of posturing up or not, Munoz can generate a lot of power from the top. If not much is happening in the striking department, he can also steal rounds by spending time in control on the ground.
Whether he can finish Machida on the ground or not, Munoz being on top would be a strong sign that the fight is going well for the former Oklahoma State University wrestler.
Other intangibles aren't worth mentioning in comparison to the fact that this will be Machida's first fight at 185 pounds.
There have been no indications that he has had difficulty dropping weight for UFC Fight Night 30. However, it'll be hard to tell how this move has affected him until he begins his cut for Friday's weigh-in. The Brazilian may not even be aware of how he'll be impacted until a few minutes into his fight with Munoz on Saturday.
Munoz made the same transition years ago, and his career has benefited from the move to the middleweight division. Until he proves otherwise, there's little reason to believe Machida can't also move forward as a result of his drop to 185 pounds.
Machida's move to the middleweight division isn't something nobody saw coming. Many felt "The Dragon" has been best suited to compete at 185 pounds, but he chose to remain a light heavyweight for years while his friend and training partner, Anderson Silva, ruled the middleweight class.
Now, should Silva fall short in a rematch with Chris Weidman in December, Machida will have a chance to claim the UFC middleweight title for Brazil.
If he's going to dive right into middleweight title contention, Munoz is a good first opponent. Machida has always fared well against aggressive wrestlers, and Munoz fits that description better than just about anyone in the 185-pound Top 10 rankings.
Expect Munoz to have a difficult time getting his hands on Machida, who should counter well and eventually test the chin of an opponent who has been knocked out twice inside the Octagon.
Machida defeats Munoz by (T)KO in the second round.