Is CB Dollaway Ready to Make the Leap to Middleweight Contender?

When they look at CB Dollaway, some observers still see the favorite who got tapped out by the ultimate underdog in Amir Sadollah in losing the Ultimate Fighter's season seven. Or they might see the guy who was chocked unconscious by Tom Lawlor back at UFC 100.

But if Dollaway wins his fight with Mark Munoz at UFC on Versus 3, they might have to learn to deal with a new view of him. Try this on for size: CB Dollaway, middleweight title contender.

A win would give him four straight victories, a longer UFC streak than any middleweight aside from current champion Anderson Silva. In a division short on young contenders, that alone might help him vault his name into the mix.

Dollaway's evolution began with the self-realization that comes from losing.

"It sucked at the time," he says now. "It definitely put me in a low place, but it definitely humbled me and made me go back to the gym and analyze what's what's wrong with my game, what's missing out of my game."

Two years into his career, Dollaway discovered that some of his assumptions about MMA were simply wrong. It was then that the collegiate All-American wrestler realized that he could not simply rely on taking his opponent to the ground and pounding him. And it was then he made the change.

"Basically I had to get out of a little bit of the wrestling mentality," he said. "When I first started fighting, wrestling kind of ruled all. You know, I'd be able to go in and take guys down and not have to worry about other parts of my game as much. I kind of skipped over the jiu-jitsu side of things, and I think maybe that loss to Amir Sadollah the second time was one of the best things for my career."

At the time, Dollaway had been a favorite to beat Sadollah, even though he'd lost in their first matchup. But the sequel was nearly a rerun of the original, as Dollaway was forced to tap out to an arm bar. Because of it, the questions about Dollaway's submission defense exploded. Sure, he could get it to the ground, but how would he be able to stay out of the traps set by some of MMA's best submission artists if he couldn't avoid being tapped by a UFC rookie?

After winning two in a row, the question popped up again when Dollaway lost to Lawlor via guillotine choke in only 55 seconds. But after winning another two fights, he got another opportunity to prove what he had learned, this time against Joe Doerksen. It seemed like a perfect fight to test his progression on the ground. Doerksen was a black belt with over 30 career wins by way of submission. He would be just the type of fighter who could put Dollaway in danger and maybe even prove that Dollaway wasn't yet where he needed to be.

Yet, an unexpected thing happened in the fight. Dollaway outgrappled and outworked the black belt on the ground, eventually catching him with a fight-ending guillotine. While many expected Dollaway to win the fight, few had expected him to tap out such a wily veteran. Even Dollaway learned something about himself.

"It's huge," he said. "You know, sometimes, you yourself think, 'Oh, my game's getting good,' but you don't know how good until you do something like that, you know? It's kind of like a payoff for all the hard work you put in, when you can do something like that. It just makes you open your own eyes and give yourself ... it makes you believe in yourself and know that you can finish guys on the ground and that you can be a threat there as well."

Now a winner of three straight, Dollaway finds himself matched up against a fellow former collegiate wrestling All-American.

Interestingly, the two started their professional careers within a few months of each other, though Munoz is 33 and Dollaway is 27. In Munoz's last fight, he defeated Dollaway's old wrestling coach and current training partner Aaron Simpson. But Dollaway says that doesn't make this fight any more personal.

"I like Mark, he said. "He's a great guy. But, yeah, of course I want to get that victory back, you know, for our team and kind of just get those little bragging rights. I definitely want to go after it, [there's] nothing personal with Mark."

Preparation for the fight was at least partially interrupted by recent issues regarding Dollaway's camp switch. Along with Simpson and Ryan Bader, the trio left their former camp to open a gym of their own, but since is not yet officially open, there has been some extra work that's taken up his time. Dollaway calls the issue a challenge, but says he's ready to fight Munoz.

With his jiu-jitsu problems behind him, Dollaway might finally be ready to become a mover and shaker in the division, a fact not lost on his game opponent.

"Just seeing the progression in his striking, in his Muay Thai and his kicks and then his jiu-jitsu as well ... he's come a long way from when I saw him on the show," Munoz said. "And, you know, on his three-fight winning streak, he's definitely a force to be reckoned with in the division."

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