UFC On Fuel TV 4: Mark Munoz Vs. Chris Weidman Dissection

Munoz x Weidman

The main event of tonight's UFC on Fuel TV 4 show pits 2-time Division 1 All-American wrestlers and elite middleweight contenders Mark Munoz vs. Chris Weidman. The main card, featuring 6 fights in all, starts on Fuel TV at 8:00 p.m. ET after the 5-piece lineup that will stream on the UFC's Facebook page beforehand.

Mark Munoz (12-2), aka "The Filipino Wrecking Machine," was a NCAA Division 1 national champion, a 2-time All-American and a 2-time winner of the Big 12 at Oklahoma State University. He debuted as a light-heavyweight in the WEC at 3-0 and, after dusting 2 opponents by 1st-round TKO, in the Octagon at 5-0 against Matt Hamill. "The Hammer" dropped Munoz with a 1st-round head kick and Munoz set his sights on 185-pounds.

The new weight class proved to be a wise choice, as the end result was cutting a 7-1 swathe through the division with 4 stoppages via strikes, a #3 slot in the consensus MMA world rankings and being on the cusp of a title shot. Perennial contender Yushin Okami is responsible for Munoz' only loss in his recent run, but the match was a competitive split-decision and Okami has regressed a few steps after consecutive losses.

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Undefeated (8-0) Chris "All American" Weidman earned that nickname for his dual All-American wrestling honors at Hofstra University (Division 1). He burst onto the scene at 4-0 as a 2-week replacement against Alessio Sakara and convincingly handled the Italian boxer with well-timed takedowns to pick up a one-sided unanimous decision in his Octagon debut. Weidman's follow-up performances against Jesse Bongfeldt and Tom Lawlor would be the only UFC bouts he had ample time to prepare for, which reflected in the results, as both opponents were strangled in the 1st-round: Bongfeldt with a nasty standing guillotine and Lawlor with a slick D'arce choke.

Weidman's latest win was his biggest albeit the least impressive -- with an 11-day heads-up, he filled in for Michael Bisping to face Demian Maia in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 2. Between Maia being ill and Weidman making the best of yet another abridged training camp, the fight was rather uneventful and altogether forgettable. Regardless, Weidman walked away with a unanimous decision and retained his unblemished record.

After the jump, wrestling aficionado Mike Riordan expounds on their collegiate and MMA wrestling tendencies and I will bellyache about the importance of top-level experience before lending my analysis of the match up.

Continued in the full entry.

SBN coverage of UFC on FUEL TV 4: Munoz vs. Weidman

Considering the wrestle-centric style of Munoz and Weidman, I asked Mike Riordan to chime in on their backgrounds and tendencies:

Mike Riordan: Let's take this opportunity to say that Mark was a FILA junior world runner-up in 1998, losing to future 2-time Russian world champ Sazhid Sazhidov; this never gets brought up and is his most impressive wrestling accolade, more so than even his NCAA title. I will also never stop being amazed about how Mark was a weight above Daniel Cormier (197 lbs and 184 lbs respectively) in the Oklahoma State lineup.

Mark's MMA wrestling has been effective enough -- he has relied upon it all the way from a stone's throw distance to a title shot. He has had some trouble replicating his beautiful and flowing wrestling from his amateur days in the cage. MMA wrestling, by necessity, is utilitarian and without adornment and I do not believe that Mark is fully comfortable with this. His wrestling can, at times, be a little sloppy in the cage and leave him in some unfavorable situations. This tendency was on full display in his fight against Chris Leben to whom Mark, a legitimate world class wrestler, surrendered a take down.

Weidman was never a "style-points" sort of college wrestler and did whatever it took to score. This is not to say his wrestling was ugly (I'm looking at you, Shane Roller) but it was definitely pragmatic; he was willing to take what ever his opponent gave him. He takes this approach into fighting: his wrestling is not built to please the senses, but designed to get him on top of his adversary while averting risk.

This is a case of a fight between a martial artist with superior wrestling credentials and athleticism versus a combatant with an impressive wrestling resume in his own right but with a more integrated and well rounded MMA game.

Let's start with Mike's closing summary, particularly his astute comment on Weidman's smooth assimilation of his diverse talents, as I feel that's the greatest sign of the 28-year-old's potential.

We often take the "mixed" aspect of MMA for granted. While becoming proficient in the endless and individual building blocks of combat is an obvious necessity, fusing those skills together and alternating between them on instinct is equally or more imperative -- and that's where Weidman shines. This trait is a common challenge for wrestling-based fighters trying to improve their striking, as the footwork and stance of the two separate arts simply don't jive well.

While Munoz would seem to have the edge in punching power, Weidman is not only eerily comfortable with his boxing, but seamlessly switches back and forth between wrestling and striking like it's second nature. This is a rare and remarkable skill for being just 8-fights deep in his career, and likely attributed to Weidman's stellar coaching staff. The Serra-Longo fight team is comprised of striking coach Ray Longo and MMA legend Matt Serra, who handles the wrestling and submission grappling.

In addition to Weidman's freakish comfort with wrestling and boxing, he also has an extended grasp of submission grappling, giving the phenom the oft-coveted 3-dimensional arsenal. Between his boxing, wrestling and submission grappling, there are no positions or situations in which Weidman is glaringly vulnerable. His tidy stoppages over Bongfeldt and Lawlor emphasize this perfectly: he wreaked havoc on the feet with his dual-pronged medley of takedowns and strikes and immediately transitioned to submission-mode in order to attack their necks with fight-ending catches. Therefore, he's not only comfortable in all aspects, but extremely dangerous and an ever-present threat.

Munoz, like most wrestling crossovers, opted for a power-over-finesse approach with his striking. This outlook is responsible for his 50% TKO ratio (6 of 12 wins) but has also left a little to be desired from a fundamental standpoint. Spending some time with the great Rafael Cordeiro at Kings MMA and training steadily with the likes of Jake Ellenberger at Kings MMA has allowed Munoz to harness his striking into a more complete shape. His off-balance hooks and haymakers have been whittled into straighter and tighter punches that are unhinged with more balance to react and defend and Munoz can now methodically joust in the pocket instead of looking to steam-roll his foe with the unbridled power of his hands and his takedowns.

Lately, Munoz has hung back and played the counter-punching role and made his opponent come to him. This, facilitated by his cleaner and more calculated offense, enables him to side-step and plunge his jab, lead left hook or simple 1-2 through the openings that most advancing aggressors are plagued by. Though he doesn't excel with on-the-fly transitions between boxing and wrestling as well as Weidman, Munoz has increased his takedown efficiency by setting the tone with his hands while retreating and then changing things up by planting his feet and springing for power doubles while his opponent is coming forward. This shortens the distance, doesn't require as much set up, exploits his opponent's momentum and keeps them guessing as to his intent.

Most of the detailed comparisons between Munoz and Weidman are inconclusive, mainly because Munoz has tackled an exceedingly superior list of competition, both in quantity and quality. Perhaps I over-stress this factor but, in my opinion, any experience against top competition -- be it a win or loss -- is more valuable than none or a lesser amount. Of Weidman's 8 fights, 4 were UFC caliber and 2 (Lawlor, Maia) could be considered upper-echelon talent. Further, while Maia is a common opponent between Munoz and Weidman, the former faced a much more active and virile version of the BJJ whiz than the drained and emaciated Maia that sputtered out against Weidman. That's not to discredit Weidman's decision over Maia in the slightest, however, it's important to account for 50% of Weidman's top-level competition performing in atypical fashion.

In a sport where "anything can happen," experience in general is invaluable, and experience against the elite is even more so.

In addition to Munoz's salient advantage in prestige and volume of competition, he'll have more power on the feet and his wrestling credentials are a tad bit steeper. Of course, Weidman's wrestling seems better adapted to MMA thus far, but the only opponent with a chance to stop his takedowns was the feisty Tom Lawlor, so naturally it should actualize with more efficiency. Weidman's boxing overall (stance, defense, balance, footwork, head movement) is more polished, he'll have a substantial 5" reach advantage (76" vs. 71") and his aforementioned knack to phase-shift between striking, wrestling and submissions could be the deciding factor.

It's hard to fathom how a fairly green fighter who's encountered a significantly inferior list of opposition has come in as the favorite on the betting lines. That indicates that the strong push for Weidman is based largely on potential rather than tangible occurrences. Don't get me wrong -- Weidman could absolutely win this fight, but I'm not sure how anyone could be thoroughly convinced toward one or the other without basing it on a vibe, impression or gut feeling. The match up is razor thin but my personal prediction hinges upon Munoz proving himself more consistently against better competition.

My Prediction: Mark Munoz by decision.

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