In the third middleweight tango on the UFC 162 main card, two-time collegiate wrestling Big-12 champ and All-American Mark Munoz draws the fiercely uncivilized Tim Boetsch in match up that will ultimately influence the top-end of the 185-pound rankings. The five-fight pay-per-view event stars incomparable UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva defending his title against Chris Weidman and starts at 10:00 p.m. ET on Saturday night.
Both Mark Munoz (12-3) and Tim Boetsch (16-5) debuted in the UFC as light-heavyweights: Munoz at UFC 96 with a 5-0 record and on the heels of slaughtering two foes in the WEC by 1st-round KO, and Boetsch at UFC 81 with a 6-1 record (lost to Vladimir Matyushenko in the IFL) and violent finishes in every win (3 TKO's, a guillotine and 2 submissions via strikes; 4 of 6 stoppages in the 1st round).
The results of their respective Octagon premieres were vastly different, however. Munoz ate an early high kick from Matt Hamill and suffered his first career loss in devastating fashion whereas Boetsch earned a special place in the heart of fans by unforgettably tossing David Heath face-first into the canvas like a schoolyard bully collecting lunch money. Hamill enters the equation once more, as "The Hammer" went on to finish Boetsch by 2nd-round KO in Boetsch's following match.
Another common opponent between the two is Yushin Okami, a staple in the Top-5 middleweight rankings: Okami edged Munoz by split decision and was on his way to a dominant decision over Boetsch before "The Barbarian" uncorked a vicious hail of leather in the waning moments of the last round to mount a dramatic come-from-behind TKO. To summarize their middleweight stints in the UFC, Munoz ends up at 7-2 with losses only to Okami and current #1 contender Chris Weidman while Boetsch just saw a 4-fight surge snapped by Costa Philippou.
Munoz has been criticized by some for not transferring his All-American-level wrestling to the cage, but, with Chael Sonnen at 205, Chris Weidman and Okami are the only current 185ers that one could reasonably assess as better with takedowns -- so being one of the top three MMA wrestlers in the world isn't too shabby. To widen that scope of middleweight wrestlers/takedown artists, the next two candidates would probably be Hector Lombard and Boetsch.
Boetsch was utterly dominant in his high school wrestling career, snaring the state championship all four years, but didn't set the world on fire at the collegiate level for Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania (D1). Regardless, Boetsch is still a commanding wrestler but, of more importance, he's just dauntingly imposing physically. The effortless keg-tossing of Heath was definitely a harbinger of the primitive savagery that makes Boetsch's nickname so befitting.
Generally, Munoz is more inclined to pursue singles and doubles from outside, relying on his quick level changes and powerful explosiveness after flinging leather as a decoy. Boetsch's shots from outside are still decent but they're somewhat lacking in set up, fluidity and penetration, leaving clinch takedowns as the preferred method. The Matt Hume product almost shows signs of Judo with his leg-reap, head-and-arm or body-lock trips and throws. In contrast to his shots from distance, Boetsch's natural tendency to march straight ahead while mashing whatever is unfortunate enough to be in front of him with knees and fists serves as a pretty decent set-up when he switches from striking to clinch-takedown attempts.
A safe way to summarize the wrestling aspect: both are amongst the division's upper-end of wrestling talent and I don't expect either to have a massive, glaring advantage in the takedown department, though a slight edge could go to Munoz from outside and Boetsch in tie-ups. That's not to say one can't have the wrestling advantage in either category, but doing so would entail clever timing and instincts, or executing the best possible set up to cloak the attempt more so than strict wrestling potential or accolades.
I wouldn't consider Munoz a largely strategic fighter but, especially compared to Boetsch's more brash and direct approach, he's more calculating and methodical. Boetsch tends to lower his head from outside and barge into range with a big right hand before looking to work the clinch or takedowns, and Munoz lays back a tad more while trying to get a read on his opponent's movement and attack patterns; this in between intervals of intelligently aggressive offense.
Munoz has cleaned up his boxing over the years and has managed to transfer the same ungodly power of his ground-and-pound on the feet with a smoldering straight right. Munoz has more of a tendency to counter-strike and formulate two- and three-punch combinations in rhythm.
Overall, Boetsch usually stays in one gear and thrives when he can stay in his opponent's grill and make the fight a fight, and Munoz imposes his game with tactical and sporadic outbursts. And those tendencies have been a strength and a weakness for both -- Boetsch struggles when he encounters a more technical adversary or one he can't muscle around (Hector Lombard, Phil Davis, Costa Philippou) and Munoz doesn't like being pressured constantly or lured into a fast-paced brawl (Demian Maia, Chris Leben and Weidman).
Boetsch deserves a mention for being particularly gritty in the clinch. Not only do most of his takedowns come from that position, but he inflicts paralyzing head control with the single or double collar tie and throws some nasty knees as well. In fact, I expect Boetsch will endeavor to spend much of his time in the clinch with Munoz, where he can lean on him, keep him in his cross-hairs for knees and dirty boxing and threaten with takedowns. I see Munoz being a bit more comfortable in open space, especially if he can't put Boetsch on his back early, and trying to gain ground with accurate boxing combos.
In a way, these guys are really similar. They both have decent striking with huge power, they're capable wrestlers and imposing their size/physicality is an integral factor. I expect a feeling-out period to start this match with either intending to physically control the pace. Boetsch will likely be game to lock horns immediately, so I feel the 1st round and whoever can have his way the other will set the tone for the remainder. There are logical cases on both sides but I tend to agree with the narrow margin favoring Munoz on the betting lines.
My Prediction: Mark Munoz by decision.