The Ultimate Fighting Championship does not make its fans wait long for an encore. With the dust barely settled from the highly anticipated UFC 148 event, the promotion soldiers onward with its fourth Fuel TV offering on Wednesday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
While it is not likely to generate nearly as much interest as its predecessor, UFC on Fuel TV 4 still has plenty to offer: namely, a pivotal middleweight scrap between Mark Munoz and Chris Weidman, with the winner having a legitimate claim to a 185-pound title shot. Weidman has gradually shed the prospect label with four consecutive wins inside the Octagon. Meanwhile Munoz, who has not competed since his victory over Chris Leben in November, is on a four-fight tear of his own. With so much at stake, midweek MMA never sounded so good.
Here is a closer look at UFC on Fuel TV 4 “Munoz vs. Weidman,” with analysis and picks:
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Mark Munoz (12-2, 7-2 UFC) vs. Chris Weidman (8-0, 4-0 UFC)
The Matchup: After he battered Leben at UFC 138, Munoz respectfully requested a title shot against Anderson Silva. If everything had gone perfectly, it might have been Munoz, not Chael Sonnen, who fought Silva at UFC 148. Instead, an elbow injury knocked the Reign MMA product from a No. 1 contender’s bout against Sonnen at UFC on Fox 2, and you know the rest of the story. Now Munoz finds himself perhaps just one win away from a title shot, but he will have to earn it against Weidman, one of the fastest rising prospects in the sport.
Unbeaten in four Octagon appearances, Weidman passed the most significant test of his career in January when he earned a unanimous decision over former title challenger Demian Maia. The Serra-Longo Fight Team member was not overwhelming in victory, but it was understandable considering that he took the bout on just 11 days’ notice. That Weidman could do enough to earn a win under such circumstances bodes well for him down the road.
The wrestling credentials of both men match up nicely, as Munoz was a two-time All-American and a 2001 NCAA national champion at Oklahoma State University, while Weidman twice captured All-American honors at Hofstra University. Weidman has superior jiu-jitsu credentials, giving him a slight edge when it comes to the chess game on the mat. Weidman’s long arms allow him to secure and tighten chokes from difficult positions, as he did in submitting Tom Lawlor with a brabo choke at UFC 139. The constant threat of submissions from Weidman helps him to negate his opponent’s offense in the battle for positioning on the canvas. This should serve him especially well against Munoz, whose ground-and-pound assaults are particularly brutal.
In most of his bouts, Weidman will shoot early and look to impose his will from top position. While his punches are not quite as powerful as Munoz’s, the New Yorker is active from above with punches and elbows as he attempts to pass guard. “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” is not an impenetrable wall; even Leben was able to get him to the floor. However, getting Munoz down is only half the battle. The 34-year-old has solid submission defense, which allows him to create scrambles without fear. Given his overall physical strength, Munoz can be very difficult to hold down.
Despite his background, Munoz is not a dominant takedown machine. In 11 bouts with the UFC and WEC, he has only been successful on 23 percent of his attempts. By comparison, Weidman’s takedown accuracy rests at a hearty 69 percent. Munoz has improved his efficiency over the years, as his striking has developed. In the past, he would shoot for low-percentage takedowns from long distances. Equally skilled foes had little trouble defending these attempts. Against Yushin Okami at UFC on Versus 2, for example, he landed just one of his 15 takedowns over three rounds. In more recent bouts, his standup has enabled him to better set up his shots, making for prettier numbers in that department.
Considering that Weidman has a seven-inch reach advantage, it will be interesting to see how the action unfolds on the feet. Although Munoz can switch stances to hunt for better angles on takedowns, Weidman can keep him at bay by countering and landing leg kicks. Given all of his considerable athletic tools, Weidman will be the one able to dictate distance in the fight.
The Pick: Munoz has dangerous power, whether on the feet or on the mat, but he will have trouble closing the gap and planting Weidman on his back. Look for “All-American” to defend Munoz’s takedowns and score points on the feet in the early going. Once the Californian tires and gets desperate, Weidman will seize an opening on the mat and submit Munoz in round three.
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