Mark Munoz and Gegard Mousasi might not be dancing on the cut line, but it's safe to say both men really need to win to stay relevant in the middleweight division.
Both men lost to Lyoto Machida in their last bouts. The increasingly crowded 185-pound division is ready to push the loser of this bout out of contention.
The Mousasi-Munoz scrap is the headline bout for UFC Fight Night 41 in Berlin on Saturday. There's no television for this event. Only subscribers to UFC Fight Pass will be able to see the bouts.
Here are the vitals.
When: Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET
Where: The O2 World in Berlin, Germany
Live Stream: UFC Fight Pass (Subscription Required)
|UFC Fight Night 41 - Fight Card and Predictions|
|Prelims||12:30 p.m. ET|
|Viktor Pesta vs. Ruslan Magomedov||Heavyweight||Pesta by KO|
|Andy Ogle vs. Maximo Blanco||Featherweight||Ogle by submission|
|Peter Sobotta vs. Pawel Pawlak||Welterweight||Pawlak by KO|
|Vaughan Lee vs. Iuri Alcantara||Bantamweight||Alcantara by KO|
|Magnus Cedenblad vs. Krzysztof Jotko||Middleweight||Cedenblad by KO|
|Nick Hein vs. Drew Dober||Lightweight||Hein by submission|
|Main Card||3 p.m. ET|
|Tom Niinimaki vs. Niklas Backstron||Featherweight||Backstrom by decision|
|Luke Barnatt vs. Sean Strickland||Middleweight||Strickland by submission|
|Francis Carmont vs. CB Dollaway||Middleweight||Carmont by decision|
|Mark Munoz vs. Gegard Mousasi||Middleweight||Munoz by TKO|
|Card per UFC.com, predictions by Brian Mazique|
Niinimaki vs. Backstrom
Backstrom is undefeated and making his UFC debut at featherweight. At 6 feet tall, you have to wonder how long the 24-year-old will be able to make 145 pounds. For now, he offers Niinimaki a tough test in the latter's second UFC bout.
Niinimaki beat submission guru Rani Yahya at The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale in Nov. 2013.
Niinimaki is the more well-rounded of the two, but Backstrom's long reach and varied striking attacks could present a major problem.
Based on the stand-up game, Backstrom should win by decision. RJ Gardner of MMA Corner agrees and also believes this could be one of the best fights of the night. He writes:
"Niinimaki is as tough as they come. He is going to give Backstrom a run for his money, but the youngster will be too much for the veteran. In what will surely be the 'Fight of the Night,' Backstrom will win via unanimous decision."
Barnatt vs. Strickland
Not many are talking about this match, but it could be outstanding. This may very well be a preview of two of the division's top contenders in a few years.
Both Barnatt and Strickland are undefeated middleweight prospects, although Barnatt may eventually have to move to light heavyweight.
He stands 6'6" and will carry in a four-inch height advantage over Strickland.
That said, Barnatt will have to prove he's capable of staying on his feet to use that reach. Strickland's takedown offense has been impressive. He submitted Bubba McDaniels in his UFC debut and will be a big threat on the ground in this one.
Barnatt's future is bright, but his takedown defense isn't good enough to keep Strickland from controlling him on the mat.
Strickland will win by second-round submission.
Carmont vs. Dollaway
This one is going to be good. The key to this fight is Carmont's stamina. Dollaway is a vicious competitor who will do anything to win a fight. If Carmont gets gassed, his edges in strength and athleticism won't be as important, and Dollaway will outwork him for the win.
If Carmont is the strategically aggressive and confident fighter he was against Costas Philippou, then he should win.
Let's bet on the latter.
Carmont will win by unanimous decision in a dominant performance.
Munoz vs. Mousasi
Per Elias Cepeda of Yahoo Sports, Munoz isn't hiding his game plan against Mousasi. Munoz said:
"I am confident. I am a wrestler and I've done it pretty much all of my life. I know how to do that. I've also been in MMA for a long time. I'm confident I can get Mousasi to the ground and I am confident I can keep him there."
It's not a bad strategy considering wrestlers like King Mo have dominated Mousasi with takedowns in the past.
It's also a good approach early in the fight to gain a psychological edge. If Munoz can exert his dominance in grappling, it could demoralize Mousasi and drain him of energy.
Even if he is able to get back to his feet, he may not be able to stand and trade with the powerful Munoz.
The Filipino Wrecking Ball should claim another demolition project with a second-round TKO victory in the main event.
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