It’s odd to think that there’s another UFC card a handful of days after one of the biggest of the year in UFC 148 that has championship implications in the middleweight division. While Anderson Silva may have retained the title, the next potential contender to his throne might be determined tonight.
Mark Muñoz vs Chris Weidman
Fight Breakdown: When it comes to wrestlers in the middleweight division, Mark Munoz and Chris Weidman are two of the three elite wrestlers in the division (the other being Chael Sonnen). The interesting thing is how both fighters use their ground game.
Munoz loves to use ground and pound and doesn’t do the “lay and pray” aspect of wrestling. As soon as Munoz gets the fight to the ground he loves throwing big shots often; he’s absolutely lethal on the ground when he’s able to get top control and unload on a downed opponent. An NCAA champion at Oklahoma State, Munoz has solid standup but his main method of fighting is getting it to the ground and unloading. Standing up he has fairly solid power in his hands but is good enough to use it to level change and get the fight to the ground.
Weidman has taken to submissions in a similar manner; a qualifier to the Abu Dhabi Combat Club submission wrestling championships in 2009 and equated himself admirably with only a year of former BJJ experience. He’s pulled off a number of quality submissions in his UFC career so far and when he gets to the ground he’s going for the tapout. His striking is good enough to set up his takedowns but not elite. He uses it a lot like Munoz does in that his strikes set up his takedowns.
The key to this fight is going to be who can get the takedown. Fights between elite wrestlers/grapplers usually turn into kick boxing matches and this could end up turning into one. If both fighters are willing to stand and trade then this could be a boring fight that looks like a pair of drunks fighting outside a bar. Munoz has slowly developed his kick boxing game to become a well rounded fighter but wrestling is his bread and butter. The interesting thing is that he has some of the best wrestling credentials in the division but perhaps not the best wrestling for MMA; Munoz struggles with guys he can’t get to the ground and did so with Yushin Okami and Matt Hamill.
Weidman’s wrestling for MMA is first rate and over time might end up becoming the best wrestler in the division in short period; it doesn’t hurt that he has first rate NCAA credentials as well as submission wrestling bona fides. We don’t know how good his chin is, which could be a factor if Munoz lands flush, but his ability to use his wrestling to both get the fight to the ground and set up chain submission attempts is something Munoz has to prepare for.
The one curious factor about this fight will be that Weidman is coming off an actual full training camp for this fight. His last two fights he’s been coming off of short notice fights; he cut 30 plus pounds for the Maia fight on Fox and that took a definite toll on him. With a full camp and without a massive weight cut on short notice we’re going to see a fighter who’ll be in great shape. He noticeably gassed against Maia late in the second (his corner was press side for UFC on Fox in Chicago, which I attended live) and unless Munoz pushes a pace that’s ridiculously hard I don’t see Weidman gassing that badly this time.
Why It Matters: There’s a good chance that the winner of this fight is the next contender to the middleweight crown held by Anderson Silva, especially with a win that’s dominant, a stoppage or both.
Prediction: Weidman by submission, round 4
James Te-Huna vs Joey Beltran
Fight Breakdown: Joey Beltran was the kind of fighter at heavyweight that many non-MMA fans view heavyweight MMA: not sculpted and more of a brawler than a technical fighter. A small heavyweight to start, Beltran has dropped to light heavyweight outside the UFC and finds himself back into the UFC against one of the best light heavyweight prospects in the division in James Te-Huna. And while Beltran may have left a division best suited for sluggers who aren’t the most technical, he’s gotten himself into a fight he could’ve had at heavyweight in Te-Huna.
Te-Huna and Beltran are both big fisted brawlers who love to throw down. If there’s a reason why this fight is so high up it’s that someone is expecting the loser to be the one who gets knocked unconscious. A good crowd pleasing brawl always translates to a hyped up crowd for the main event.
Why It Matters: Te-Huna is being given another tough guy that helps suit his brawling style. Beltran is remarkably tough and Te-Huna is going to be a fun fight; a win here and he slowly moves up the ranks.
Prediction: Te-Huna by TKO rd 2
Aaron Simpson vs. Kenny Robertson
Fight Breakdown: Aaron Simpson and Kenny Robertson are at interesting places in their career. Robertson was dismantled by Mike Pierce in his only UFC fight to date, cut by the company afterwards but brought back after Jon Fitch pulled out of this fight. Simpson started in the game late and his ceiling as a fighter may have been lowered because of it. It should be an interesting fight, though, based on both fighters insistence on the ground game.
Robertson has a lot of wins by submission but interestingly enough is coming off a win via spinning back fist. Robertson is a nice prospect but so far hasn’t shown he can make the leap from prospect to UFC caliber fighter. Pierce is a tough opening fight, though, and Simpson isn’t a significantly easier fight either. He has to neutralize Simpson’s wrestling advantage (a long shot) and hope that his stand up is good enough to carry the day.
Why It Matters: This is Simpson’s first fight in the division and he had an insanely tough first fight in Jon Fitch scheduled. Instead he gets Robertson, which feels more like a fight to get him eased into the division than anything else.
Prediction: Simpson by TKO rd 2
Karlos Vemola vs. Francis Carmont
Fight Breakdown: Carmont has a great pedigree in training at Tri-Star with GSP, Rory MacDonald, etc, but not every training partner ends up being a world beater. He has two wins so far in the UFC, though, and now it’s time to step it up against Vemola.
Vemola is a six time Czech wrestling champion and his game plan is going to revolve around getting the fight to the ground. He throws wild and Carmont has to avoid getting into a firefight and the ground with him. Vemola needs to land first and avoid leaving himself open for a counter punch or a takedown by the TriStar product. Carmont needs to work his striking game to win for the most part; being accurate and mixing up what he throws while avoiding getting into a sloppy brawl is his key to winning.
Why It Matters: Both men are burgeoning middleweight prospects and a win keeps them moving in the right direction.
Prediction: Carmont by UD
T.J. Dillashaw vs. Vaughan Lee
Fight Breakdown: This is a classic striker vs. grappler matchup as Lee is a Brit with talented standup and jiu-jitsu against the Team Alpha Male wrestler in Dillashaw. The key to the fight is going to be whether or not Lee can stay off his back; if Dillashaw can thrown him down and work his smothering top game he can control the fight. Lee has to avoid throwing anything that’ll open up a takedown attempt from Dillashaw; this has to be a kickboxing affair for him to get the nod.
Dillashaw’s path to victory is easy enough to see. He has to get Lee to the ground and keep him there. Lee has shown in the past that guys can advance position (Chris Cariaso got mount on him, twice) and Dillashaw will finish him if he gets mount with significant time on the clock. On his back he has to keep the Alpha Male product in half guard and work a sweep or set up a scramble; Dillashaw goes for the kill when he gets the shot and if Lee exposes his back or his neck it could be a shorter night than expected. Dillashaw also sets a viciously fast pace, as well, and Lee has to slow him down or he could get overwhelmed and outworked in short order.
Why It Matters: Dillashaw so far has looked fairly strong in the bantamweight division and might be the best prospect that hasn’t made the leap to contender. A win over Lee sets up Dillashaw to take on someone with more name value and higher on the card.
Prediction: Dillashaw by TKO rd 3
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Anthony Njokuani
Fight Breakdown: The fight fan in me wants to see this turn into a standup affair, as both men are really fun to watch strike. Dos Anjos is a noted BJJ practitioner but he has an underrated striking game. Njokuani excels on his feet striking, as well.
The key to the fight is going to be whether or not dos Anjos gets the fight to the ground. If he can he can submit Njokuani. He has just enough striking to keep his opponent honest but Njokuani might be able to lure him into a brawl as well.
Why It Matters: Both guys are exciting and potential fringe contenders in the near future. A win here moves them up the chain.
Prediction: Njokuani by UD
Tags: Chris Weidman, Mark Munoz, Mixed Martial Arts