UFC Fight Night 41 from Berlin will feature a number of headline fighters. However, no match tops the main event middleweight fight between Mark Munoz and Gegard Mousasi. With both fighters coming off losses to Lyoto Machida in their most recent appearance, Saturday night's meeting stands as a critical opportunity for each to rebound.
At 36 years old, Munoz is running out of time, especially with two losses in his last three fights. He's unlikely to make a title run at this stage, but the Filipino Wrecking Machine remains as confident as ever about his chances against the younger Mousasi:
Indeed, considering the losses to Machida and Chris Weidman, Munoz is gaining the reputation as a pawn in the success of others. The veteran fighter is aware of this reputation, and as he tells Fox Sports' Damon Martin, he is desperate to reverse that trend:
I don't want to be known as a gatekeeper, nobody does. You want to be known as the best in the weight class, in the division, so I understand that. Gegard and I are both high up there on the list and with a win over Gegard it's definitely going to stamp my place to put my name in the hat as a No. 1 contender.
It's a bit of a stretch, but if Munoz were to defeat Mousasi, he would likely vault into the top five of the middleweight rankings and earn an opportunity to regain the contender tag in his next fight. Conversely, a loss could send the seventh-ranked Munoz out of the top 10 and into irrelevancy.
If there's an area where Munoz holds a decisive advantage, it's in the grappling department, as he could keep Mousasi on the defensive if the fight stays on the ground. With 160 career significant ground strikes, Munoz ranks third all time among 185-pound fighters, illustrating an avenue to victory in which he simply outworks Mousasi.
However, the Dreamcatcher possesses a significant edge in striking ability, something that could result in a quick fight. Moreover, as he tells Steven Marrocco of MMAJunkie.com, he's aware that Munoz will likely try to defeat him based on his NCAA wrestling background:
'Probably he’s going to surprise me with a little standup before he tries to take me down,' Mousasi told MMAjunkie. 'I know his game plan; he knows my game plan. But I have some tricks.'
Munoz made his intentions clear when he gave a recent interview in which he said Mousasi’s wrestling was weak and would be challenged during the fight. At a pre-event media day, he doubled down on those comments and said it wasn’t much of a secret that he would try to use his wrestling to win.
That will be a difficult task for Munoz considering Mousasi's fluid movement ability. The 28-year-old Dutchman possesses much more versatile striking capability; coupled with his well-rounded boxing background, it's no wonder that he has compiled 18 career knockouts or TKOs.
The ability to fend off Munoz's early energy could determine the fight's outcome. Mousasi has a significant reach advantage on his opponent, so if Munoz wears down chasing after Mousasi's legs, a single punch could end the bout:
Mousasi is still trying to force his way to the top of the middleweight discussion, as he has fought just twice since transferring from the defunct Strikeforce division. Considering where Munoz is at in his career, it will likely take multiple victories for Mousasi to think about challenging either Machida or Weidman.
But as a durable fighter who has never been finished by strikes, Mousasi has demonstrated the killer instinct present in all great fighters. While it's Munoz who is desperate to place his career back on track, Mousasi is the younger and superior fighter with higher aspirations.