Mark Munoz blasts Kendall Grove with a powerful right hand on his way to a TKO victory on Saturday night at UFC 112 - Photo by Martin McNeil, ESPN.com
Okay, fans. After beating the issues of Anderson Silva's in-fight antics, Dana White's post-fight reaction, and Douglas Crosby's scoring of Penn vs. Edgar like a dead horse for the past few days, let's clean the slate and focus on the brighter side of UFC 112.
The three major upsides of UFC 112 revolve around some of the lower card battles involving Rafael Dos Anjos, Phil Davis, and Mark Munoz. All of their battles resulted in impressive finishes of their opponents, and all of those fights showcased the higher skill each fighter possesses in specific disciplines within their skill-sets. Their performances more than likely got many fans interested in seeing each of these fighters progress through the ranks, most notably Davis.
Davis is an interesting specimen as he's a fairly tall light heavyweight with a significant advantage in the wrestling department over his counterparts in the division. The 2008 NCAA Division I wrestling champion showed his relentless thirst for the takedown against a very lengthy Alexander Gustafsson, and he ultimately put him on his back and transitioned beautifully to an anaconda choke to end the fight.
His strength and ability to learn seem to be his two greatest assets for the future. Obviously, his wrestling is going to be complimented by his immense strength, and opponents are going to find it difficult to avoid being flattened out on the ground by such a vaunted wrestler. Where a guy like Joe Warren fails, Davis seems to be succeeding in learning the Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques to avoid being submitted, and his own submission game will likely improve dramatically with trainers like Lloyd Irvin in his corner.
Similarly, Mark Munoz, a 2001 NCAA Division I wrestling champion, has found a different way to finish fights by utilizing his vaunted wrestling ability. Munoz's win over Kendall Grove at UFC 112 didn't look imminent as Grove not only dropped Munoz with a stiff uppercut, but he also threatened with multiple submissions while Munoz attempted to impose his will on Grove with double leg takedown attempts.
During the second round of action however, we saw exactly why fans were becoming more and more interested in Munoz as he's progressed following his loss to Matt Hamill. While Munoz lacks the technical acumen to throw his heavy hands with precision, he does possess the tenacity and power to crush opponents with a single land of his fist. Even while caught in Grove's lengthy-limbed guard, Munoz was able to posture up, escape his legs, and unleash a series of blows that ended the fight.
Munoz still remains a question mark against better competition, but with some improvement in his recognition of the incoming submission and training in his stand-up game -- he could become a middleweight version of Josh Koscheck, a fighter who has devastating power in his hands, brutalizing ground and pound, and impressive wrestling. It may be a bit far-fetched as Munoz is already at the ripe age of 32 years old, but it would be an exciting prospect to have a guy like that in a division that some fans consider stale at best.
Lastly, Rafael Dos Anjos showed exactly what he's capable of against a very game Terry Etim. Etim had a reach advantage combined with some above average Muay Thai striking skills, but Dos Anjos' edge on the ground was significant. There was a lot of talk about the drilling that Anjos was doing with Evolve MMA in preparation for this fight, and we were supposed to see some significantly improved Muay Thai. Etim's reach seemed to be the deterrent in showcasing any stand-up improvements however.
Fortunately, it looks like Anjos' concentration on improving his Brazilian jiu-jitsu abilities in translation to MMA paid off in a big way with the finish. I'm still a bit hesitant to consider Anjos a lock for becoming a major player in the division down the road. Without a true insight into how his striking is looking, we can't really determine if he's improving substantially.
As with any black belt in BJJ, the worry is that their striking skills won't improve to a level that will make them a competent and complete mixed martial artist. The problems with getting opponents to the ground become a major issue at the higher rungs of the division.
Potential future match-ups
Davis has some interesting options. Matt Hamill would make the most sense as a fighter within the same area on the depth chart in the division, but he's taking on Keith Jardine at The Ultimate Fighter Season 11 finale. So, my vote would probably be pinned on Vladimir Matyushenko.
While I think Vladimir is a solid veteran who has shown some great combinations and wrestling in his last few fights, his age almost assuredly guarantees he'll never reach the top. Davis won't have an easy time, but he should definitely have the wrestling ability to beat Matyushenko over three rounds. .
Munoz sits in potentially the top 30 or 25 in the world at middleweight, and there are a number of lower-tier guys he could battle that would make sense. Unless of course there is a style match-up that Joe Silva has in mind. Jorge Rivera is a guy who could come in and take on Munoz as he's also an aging guy that they could sacrifice to Munoz. Unfortunately, Rivera could actually pound Munoz in the striking department.
Alessio Sakara might not be a bad fight either as his weakness is the ground, but Munoz would be at a disadvantage against Sakara's boxing. Any fight moving up is going to be a challenge, but I think Rivera and Sakara are decent options out of the fighters awaiting bouts right now.
Dos Anjos is a bit tougher to call. Clay Guida, Spencer Fisher, Mark Bocek, Takanori Gomi, Joe Stevenson, Gleison Tibau.. the list goes on -- are all available right now. I actually think Stevenson wouldn't be a bad fight for Dos Anjos as he doesn't provide challenging striking ability, and Anjos could be a real menace on the ground. It's a toss-up at this point, and it all depends on where the UFC sees each of these guys going.