Searching for Future Champions returns with a look at a talented Brazilian submission artist, Pedro Munhoz. Check the story stream on the right side of the page or the links at the bottom of the article for previous installments, where I've laid out the methods and criteria for inclusion.
8) Pedro Munhoz, Bantamweight (9-0)
Camp: Black House/Kings MMA
Years Pro: 4.75
The past few years have seen quite the stream of talented Brazilians moving to the US to train, including Fabricio Werdum, Edson Barboza, and Glover Texeira, and the result has been a crop of exceptional fighters skilled in the submission and striking skills that are common in their home country, but with the wrestling acumen to make those skills really work in the cage. Black House's Pedro Munhoz is the next representative of this trend. An accomplished black belt in BJJ, he complements his fantastic ground game with excellent wrestling and a striking game that's developing nicely under the watchful eye of Rafael Cordeiro. The current RFA bantamweight champion following his win over longtime WEC and UFC veteran Jeff Curran, Munhoz will defend his title this Friday against undefeated prospect Billy Daniels, and with a win here it's a safe bet that a UFC offer will follow soon after.
Let's start with the weakest link in Munhoz's game, his striking. It might be the least-outstanding part of his arsenal, but Munhoz is far from unskilled on the feet: he wields an ever-improving Muay Thai game, complete with an array of quick and sharp round and front kicks at range, solid combination punching, and particularly sharp step-in elbows. He's not a power puncher at this stage in his career, and he might never become one, but his striking is perfectly serviceable. He shows good footwork and movement, understands the range, and covers distance effectively. Most importantly, he's shown substantial improvement from fight to fight: his striking has gone from nonexistent in his early bouts to being good enough to help him to win fights against experienced competition like Jeff Curran on the feet.
Munhoz's striking mostly serves as a bridge to get him into his wheelhouse, close-range clinch fighting and wrestling. His strikes do an excellent job of disguising his shots, level changes, and clinch entries, and he transitions smoothly from phase to phase. The quality of Munhoz's wrestling is worth noting, especially for a fighter without a background in the sport: one of his training partners, an experienced fighter, told me that initially he thought Munhoz was an American wrestler during their first training session. He shows excellent drive on his shots and consistently gets deep onto his opponent's hips, he runs the pipe with beautiful technique on single legs, and is perfectly willing to go for big, crowd-pleasing lifts and slams. Munhoz hasn't used them as much recently, but he also has some nice trip takedowns in his arsenal. His lack of size (5'6") could potentially be a disadvantage during extended clinch grappling situations, but he consistently digs for underhooks and works to spin his opponent; I've never seen him get controlled for long. Aside from the takedowns, however, Munhoz's best tool at close range is his elbows. He throws them consistently from the single collar tie and on breaks, and works in the occasional sharp knee to mix things up. If Munhoz gets his hands on his opponent, they're likely to eat hard shots and almost certain to end up on the mat.
Where Munhoz really shines is on the ground. He's a dangerous submission artist and well-regarded BJJ black belt, with finishes by guillotine, heel hook, and rear-naked choke, and he's always looking for an opening; however, he boasts a complete grappling game, with excellent scrambling instincts, solid control and a heavy base from top position, and good sweeps from his back. Munhoz chains all of these aspects of his grappling game together nicely, turning submission attempts (especially leg locks) into sweeps and scrambling opportunities into rapid submissions. When he gets on top, he weaves together solid ground strikes and guard passes, and works fluidly to dominant positions. In sum, Munhoz's ground game is clean, technical, and fast.
Munhoz is ready for the UFC right now, and I was honestly surprised that he wasn't signed after beating Curran. He has nothing else to learn or to prove at the regional level, even under the banner of a good promotion like RFA, and it seems like a foregone conclusion that he'll be off to face higher competition if he beats Daniels tomorrow. Munhoz has shown consistent improvement from fight to fight, continuously sharpening his striking and wrestling games to complement his legitimate ground skills. Most importantly, he trains under fantastic coaches at Black House and Kings MMA, and has access to high-level training partners. While he might not possess the jaw-dropping explosiveness of some of the other prospects on this list, he's certainly athletic enough to successfully compete against the upper echelon at bantamweight. Of the prospects I've examined, I think Munhoz is the one of the safest bet to make an impact and become a mainstay of his division's top 10.
(Apologies for the lack of video, as I haven't been able to find much of anything. I contacted RFA, but they have yet to respond.)
25-23: Steve Mocco, Michinori Tanaka, and Nick Newell
22-20: Max Nunes, Gleristone Santos, and Walter Gahadza
19-18: Ramazan Emeev and Rick Glenn
17-16: Georgi Karakhanyan and Jim Alers
15-14: Tyrone Spong and Marlon Moraes
13-12: Mansour Barnaoui and Islam Makhachev