The question of who is next for middleweight champion Anderson Silva may be answered after Wednesday night's UFC on FUEL 4 main event. Mark Munoz clearly has the deeper resume; he's fought for the promotion for over three years, has won seven of his last eight, and is coming off an impressive TKO over Chris Leben. Chris Weidman, meanwhile, entered the UFC with the tag of promise, and has largely delivered, boasting an unbeaten record and a fast-evolving game.
Both are authentic talents within the division, yet there is no clamoring among the masses for either man as Silva's next challenge. That could change with a decisive, exciting performance on Wednesday, and that's probably what it will take to vault into that coveted spot.
It's a bit surprising that with much less experience, Weidman was installed as a slight favorite by oddsmakers, and bet up even further by gamblers.
He's coming off a UFC on FOX 2 unanimous decision win over Demian Maia. While the victory was solid if unspectacular, it showcased a few underrated aspects of his game. For example, he was able to pass Maia's guard twice, no small feat against a highly decorated submission expert.
It's a skill that could play into the Munoz fight. Of the two, Weidman has a far superior takedown accuracy percentage. Despite much being made of Munoz's collegiate wrestling credentials, according to FightMetric, he's successfully landed only a dismal 23 percent of his takedown attempts. While Munoz has looked much better in the category in recent fights -- he's a combined 8 for 16 in his last two fights -- he's shown himself to be vulnerable in that department against other decorated wrestlers. Against CB Dollaway, Munoz didn't attempt any takedowns, but Dollaway was successful in his only try; against Aaron Simpson, he gave up five takedowns while he could only put Simpson on the mat once.
Now, it certainly bears noting that those stats notwithstanding, Munoz won both of those fights, so he's not a one-trick pony by any means. If anything, he's focused far more heavily on improving his striking than anything else, turning a former weakness into a strength. As a result, he lands 50 percent of his strikes, a strong number.
Munoz has flashed plenty of power in his striking, both in standup and on the mat, where his ground and pound can be overwhelming.
Anyway, even if Munoz's takedowns don't work, he often uses his positioning to drive his opponent against the cage where he can use his strength in the clinch to dirty box and wear down his opponent. That's a tactic he's used in multiple fights, notably against Simpson.
Given Weidman's size and strength as a big middleweight, that'll be no easy task against him. Weidman is well schooled in all aspects of the fight game. While he's no striking technician, he's serviceable and getting better. When it comes to wrestling, his timing and execution are outstanding, as he's completed 69 percent of his takedowns and never been taken down himself. And on the mat he's fast becoming a terror. Maia could do little with him there in extended time.
In that fight, Weidman was seen running out of gas, an issue that would project into the Munoz matchup since it's scheduled for five rounds, two more than the Maia fight. But it must be remembered that Weidman took that fight on short notice, with just 11 days to cut weight and prepare.
This time around, he had nearly three months to get into proper shape and prepare, and he's looked good with full camps -- just ask Tom Lawlor and Jesse Bongfeldt.
So how does the battle of collegiate wrestling All-Americans with good hands play out? Closely, for at least some time. Munoz is coming back from an injury layoff, but it wasn't terribly long, so he shouldn't have developed any major cage rust. Because of that, he should be in prime condition.
The edge in striking goes to Munoz, who has shown more variety and demonstrated more power, but Weidman has a 7-inch reach advantage that should assist him in keeping things even. Weidman gets the edge in wrestling and ground work. If Weidman takes what's available, he'll find some success. Going punch-for-punch with Munoz isn't it. Weidman is an athlete who has exhibited a strong fight IQ, so I expect him to make the quicker adjustments, and mix things up. He won't hesitate to trade with Munoz, but he'll also duck under some punches and muscle him to the ground. And I think on the ground, he'll have a solid advantage with his dynamic abilities there. He's simply figured out MMA wrestling better than Munoz so far, and that should shine through here.
Weidman is in some ways a newer and more promising version of Munoz. That doesn't mean the original can't win, but aside from landing a fight-changing right hand, I think Weidman will out-class him and announce himself as a contender. Weidman via third-round submission.