With the super fight between Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre seemingly off the table, Chael Sonnen’s career hanging in limbo and Nate Marquardt throwing in the towel at middleweight, there is no clear-cut contender at 185 lbs. to challenge the winner of the Silva vs. Yushin Okami title fight at the upcoming UFC 134, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
That means there’s a lot at stake for both Damian Maia and Mark Munoz in their upcoming fight at UFC 131 in Vancouver, British Colombia on June 11.
A win would put either Maia or Munoz at the top of the middleweight heap, and an impressive win could mean a shot at the title.
For Maia (14-2) a title shot would be a chance at retribution for what happened in his first and only title fight at UFC 112, the organization’s debut show in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
As it now stands, Maia’s championship fight against Silva is one of the biggest debacles in UFC title fight history, causing a furious Dana White to storm out half-way through the match.
Few held Maia accountable for the bizarre events that took place that night, but there were many who felt that Maia didn’t belong in the cage with Silva in the first place. Maia got the nod after original number one contender, Vitor Belfort, pulled out due to injury.
That night, Silva, for whatever reason, chose not to engage with Maia. He spent much of the fight taunting and mocking Maia, who was left frustrated as he awkwardly stalked Silva around the cage.
Silva won a unanimous decision, doing enough to win the fight. As for Maia, although he did win somewhat of a morale victory by earning the respect of fans for trying to make it a fight, one would imagine he would’ve just as soon taken home the belt.
If Maia beats Munoz on June 11, he might get another chance to do just that.
Mark Munoz (10-2) has quickly established himself as a rising star in the middleweight division. His last win, a 54 second drubbing of C.B. Dollaway at UFC Live: Sanchez vs. Kampmann, might be his most impressive to date.
Munoz dropped Dollaway with a heavy right and then secured the stoppage with some ground and pound. The win pushed Munoz up the ranks of the middleweight division and into a matchup with Maia, one of the division’s top fighters.
Munoz’ only loss at 185 lbs. was a split decision to Okami, a guy who is now fighting for the belt.
Munoz has shown he can compete with the best in his division, but a win over Maia would help make his case as a possible contender.
What makes this matchup exciting for the fans is the different skill sets that each fighter brings to the cage.
Munoz follows in the tradition of fighters such as Dan Henderson and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, powerful wrestlers who would just as soon knock you out on your feet.
Like Henderson or Rampage, Munoz has the power in his hands to end a fight. He also has the wrestling chops to take the fight to the ground, where he is able to dish out some brutal ground and pound.
Maia is an elite grappler. There are few fighters at middleweight who have any interest in going to the ground with Maia, Munoz included.
Maia submitted the first five opponents he faced in the UFC, picking up ‘submission of the night’ honors for four of those fights, which is a UFC record.
However, compared to his mastery and finesse on the ground, Maia’s standup is still quite basic. He has made noticeable strides in his striking technique, but it is still the weakest aspect of his game.
Going into his fight against Nate Marquardt at UFC 102, Maia was undefeated in his MMA career, having gone 11-0, with 10 finishes, but it only took Marquardt 21 seconds to hand Maia the first loss of his career.
Maia left his chin open while moving in to throw a strike and Marquardt dropped him. It is the only time Maia has been stopped in his MMA career, but it’s not the kind of mistake he can afford to make against the heavy-handed Munoz.
Munoz is going to want to use his wrestling to keep this fight standing. Spending any time on the ground with Maia is simply flirting with disaster. Despite Munoz’ dangerous ground and pound, he does not have the grappling to hang with Maia on the mat.
As for Maia, the effort he has made to improve striking has been noticeable in his last few bouts, but this is not a fight for him to showcase his progress. Munoz poses a serious threat on the feet, being only one punch away from ruining Maia’s night.
Maia is only going to want to use his striking to set up take downs. Once on the ground, Munoz’ offense will be nullified as he will focused on defending submissions and fighting for survival.
The question is which fighter is going to impose his will? Can Maia take the fight to the ground and make Munoz fight for survival, or will Munoz be able to use his wrestling to frustrate Maia and bust him up with standup?
As a fan, I can’t wait to find out.