Coming into his bout with Chris Weidman in July of 2012, Mark Munoz was riding a four-fight win streak. He had conquered Chris Leben, Demian Maia, CB Dollaway and Aaron Simpson, and he was on the precipice of a title shot.
He was that close.
Then Chris Weidman handed him a brutal KO loss, and to make matters worse, he broke his foot and sat on the sidelines for nearly a year, watching the sport continue on without him.
In his return fight, he bested Tim Boetsch at UFC 162: the same card where his conqueror, Weidman, KO’d Anderson Silva to become the new middleweight champion.
In the combative sports, time is one of the most precious commodities a fighter can have. Losing time due to injury can not only lead to ring rust, but it can see a fighter on the rise turn into a fighter on the back burner, simmering out of the corner of the public eye.
Munoz is back on the winning track, but he needs to make some noise. With so much attention being afforded to the Weidman vs. Silva rematch, not to mention the rise of Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and the drama surrounding the “rejuvenated” Vitor Belfort, Munoz is a Top 10 fighter on the verge of being forgotten.
He can change all of that with a victory over the elusive Lyoto Machida.
Sometimes the position of underdog is a good place to be. Nearly everyone is going to be looking at Machida, expecting him to make a serious impression at middleweight. If Munoz can defeat him, he can steal the spotlight for himself and in the process, reclaim some of the luster that was knocked off his name by the fists and elbows of Weidman.
But moreover, he can show the world just what kind of quality fighter he really is; that he has turned the corner from KO victim to title contender.
Defeating a former champion from a heavier weight division would be a nice feather in his cap and would go a long way toward proving he still has what it takes to be a serious threat in the division.
Now that Weidman is champion, the landscape of the division has changed. Of course, Silva may reclaim the title, but the world has been reminded that MMA is a sport of change.
In other words, it’s an exciting time to be a middleweight fighter just outside the Top 5 of the division. He holds his future in his hands, and thanks to the attention Machida brings their headlining bout at UFC Fight Night 30, there will be many eyes on his fight.
But will it be a story of a grand return for Munoz, or a coming-out party for Machida?
Most fans and pundits expect a cautious fight between them, just as they expect Machida to win thanks to his style and the size advantage that he should enjoy.
Machida will probably be the bigger man come fight night, and he has always been a hard fighter for wrestlers to deal with. Thus, Munoz has a chance to show he is much more than a wrestler with a high submission acumen.
Munoz has never had to deal with a fighter like Machida before; very few are as evasive and dangerous as “The Dragon” and on paper, Munoz has many obstacles to overcome if he wants to claim a victory.
Machida is very good at reading body movement, has excellent cage awareness/ring generalship, knows how to stop takedowns and is a deadly counter-striker. He has proven adept at getting opponents to follow him and blasting them as they rush in to close quarters.
But all of that hasn’t proven Machida to be invincible. He’s been knocked out before, and submitted and he’s coming off a disappointing and highly disputed loss to Phil Davis.
That, when coupled with the drop to a lower weight class, could mean Machida is out to make a statement. This would make things easier for Munoz if Machida wants to be the stalker in an attempt to prove himself a force to be reckoned with.
If Machida is aggressive, Munoz should, in theory, have more chances to make contact or catch him in transition from pursuing to striking. If he could snatch a takedown at those times, he could steal a round by implementing a heavy top-control strategy with controlled ground-and-pound.
There is a great deal of pressure on Machida in this fight to prove that a shot at the title is academic. While his decision to drop to middleweight doesn’t exactly equal a forced exodus from the land of 205, it does come with certain expectations.
UFC Fight Night 30 is the perfect time for Munoz to confound those expectations and remind everyone that the realities of the sport are far removed from paper.