When we last left our heroes...Lo and behold, our main event of the evening. Wait...really? This isn't the first bout on a GSP headlined card or something? If you're a UK fan, you're used to eating the month old McRib scraps from the Zuffa table. None of this it to say that this is a bad fight. It's one of the more intriguing matchups at Middleweight, not just because of the interest in seeing how Machida does at 185, but because it's a fascinating matchup for style snobs.
Machida, once the darling of the LHW world, hasn't done much to garner the fan interest he once established for himself. His last two fights have been tepid affairs. Against Dan Henderson, neither fighter did much to engage the other (though I didn't personally find it to be that terrible), and against Phil Davis...well, the less said about that fight the better. Machida deserved the decision, but hey...you never leave it in the hands of the judges because their role is not to do their job.
While we wait with baited breath to see how Machida fares at 185, he'll have to get through Mark Munoz first before thinking about more high profile fights in the future.
As for Munoz, the Oklahoma State wrestler has led a very solid and steady career following his embarrassing head kick knockout loss to Matt Hamill.
He's only had two losses in that time; one to Yushin Okami (not embarrassing, despite Okami being cut), and Chris Weidman (somewhat embarrassing in practice, but not on paper). In the meantime he's collected solid wins over the likes of Demian Maia (fantastic fight), and Tim Boetsch.
Not much else can be said about this fight. Dana isn't dealing with two guys who like to sell their bouts by mean mugging for the camera, or committing mortgage fraud. Frankly, it's a breath of fresh air, but the ‘just bleed' child in all of us hopes that what they lack in pre-fight heat, they'll make up for in in-fight pyrotechnics.
What both men can do: While "elusive" will be the word of the day in the commentary booth, it barely describes Machida's true brilliance. Yes, Machida is hard to hit, but he's hard to hit because he's usually the fighter landing first. As in, he doesn't win fights by sheer defensive attrition.
Machida has finished just five fights in his UFC career. But his first three bouts dating all the way back to UFC 67 against Sam Hoger all involved opponents getting dropped and hurt at some point in the bout. Without sounding overly revisionist, that only leaves two real "boring" decisions; Tito Ortiz and Dan Henderson.
Machida's style is well documented, so I don't need to say much about his straight left, or snapping crane kicks. I think opponents tend to assume Machida is a counter striker, and plan accordingly. But that's not necessarily the case. Many of his strikes are landed while Machida is moving in; not backing up.
As a grappler he's got excellent fundamentals. Something validated in his grappling match with Rafael Lovato Jr. Unlike Brendan Schaub, Machida didn't retreat like he was being attacked by a Mastodon ('The Last Baron' should be on everyone's playlist).
As for Munoz, unlike most wrestle-boxers he's really acquainted himself with submissions. No, he's not some sort of lights out grappler, but he's slowly been morphing into the Alpha Male types. He still somewhat eschews submissions in favor of ground and pound, but you can tell he knows what to look for.
His striking is worlds better when he's in top control. Which brings us to his standup...
What both men can't do: A part of his game that is still very raw. He doesn't commit to his boxing the same way he commits to his ground and pound, and he still leaves his hands too low.
The funny thing about Machida is that if I could come up with the biggest flaw in his game, it would be his striking. He's one of the sturdiest fighters in the clinch, has excellent takedowns, and stupendous balance. But while his standup is his blessing, it's also his curse.
As we saw in the Shogun fights, committing to leg kicks is still one of the ways you can counter his attacks. In addition, his karate style has equipped him with habits that don't cater to the MMA atmosphere. With his tendency to back straight up in an exchange, he can still get caught.
Munoz isn't necessarily the guy to challenge that. Which is why I favor Machida like all sane people. Mark will be forced onto the feet because for all of his wrestling prowess, he doesn't have a particularly strong shot. Even if he did, Machida can defend takedowns with ease. No doubt, his unlikely background in Sumo has benefited him in this regard.
With that in mind, does anyone think Munoz is the better striker?
X-Factor: I feel like these "x factors" are just excuses to bitch about judging in MMA, but if Cecil Peoples' shoe fits...I don't think Machida fights have some sort of dark history, and I feel like the first Machida/Shogun fight was blown out of fanboy proportion (as in, it was no robbery; I scored their first fight the same way as Jordan Breen). But it's hard not to think of the judges as reptilian overlords, bought and paid for by the Culinary Union at this point.
Nonetheless, to stay on topic, this one is pretty straightforward. Munoz can;t get the takedown, and gets hammered with pinpoint strikes ala Ryan Bader from outside. I'm just not sure that Munoz will do a 40 yard dash into Machida's fist like Bader.
Prediction: Lyoto Machida by TKO, round 3.