It’s safe to say that the betting markets have soured on Mark Munoz. Just a few fights ago, Munoz was just a narrow underdog against Chris Weidman. Now, Munoz was ranked #3 at the time and Weidman wasn’t considered an elite fighter yet. However, Munoz now finds himself a substantial underdog at +250 against Gegard Mousasi, a likely product of being dominated by Weidman and knocked out by Lyoto Machida.
When I look at how Munoz matches up with Mousasi, I can’t help but think he’s being overlooked here. Munoz has historically had two major weaknesses. First is that he’s struggled to land takedowns despite his background as a high-level collegiate wrestler. Munoz has landed just 26 percent of his takedown attempts in the UFC, and he’s only defended 58 percent of his opponents’ attempts.
Second is that Munoz has had a lot of difficulty absorbing strikes without being visibly hurt. He’s been knocked down five times in 249 significant strikes absorbed; the resulting ratio of 49.8 strikes per knockdown is 4th worst in the middleweight division, after Jared Hamman, Andrew Craig, and Rich Franklin. Munoz was also visibly wobbled by strikes in fights against Kendall Grove and Demian Maia, neither of whom are considered knockout artists.
The problem with Gegard Mousasi is that he’s not well equipped to take advantage of either weakness. Mousasi is a fantastic volume striker, a world-class kickboxer who has landed more than three times as many significant strikes as he’s absorbed. However, Mousasi has only landed four knockdowns in 25 fights scored by Fight Metric. Munoz’s chin is fragile enough that Mousasi is still a significant threat to knock him out standing, but it’s not as much of a sure thing as it was when Munoz fought Machida.
In this particular fight, I have to believe that Munoz will quickly close the distance and try to take Mousasi down – and he’s probably going to succeed as Mousasi enters with a below-average takedown defense rate of 51 percent. It’s worth noting also that most of Mousasi’s fights have been against non-wrestlers. When he faced a wrestler in Muhammad Lawal (who is, admittedly, a much more successful takedown artist in MMA than Munoz), he was taken down 11 times and forced to fight off his back for almost the entire duration of the fight.
While Munoz has struggled to land takedowns overall, he’s actually been quite successful in recent fights. Not against Machida or Weidman, both of whom have excellent takedown defense, but he landed five takedowns against Tim Boetsch, five against Chris Leben, and three against Demian Maia. Those fighters don’t have great takedown defense but neither does Mousasi.
I have to think Munoz will succeed in getting Mousasi down to the mat – and that means there’s some serious upset potential in this fight. Munoz has fantastic ground and pound and a rare ability to generate great power in arm punches from inside his opponent’s guard. It’s possible that Mousasi could threaten Munoz with submissions, but Munoz has never been submitted in an MMA fight.
With all of that said, I still have to favor Mousasi to win for a few reasons. Each round starts standing, and it’s very difficult to trust Munoz’s chin for even a brief period of striking. It’s possible that Mousasi will defend the takedowns successfully, and if that happens, Munoz is in huge trouble. It’s also possible that Mousasi will find a way to out-maneuver Munoz on the ground; Mousasi has developed a very sharp guard game and may be capable of reversing position.
Ultimately, Mousasi is the more skilled fighter overall and that’s enough for me to pick him to win. However, I also think Mousasi’s chances of winning are being overrated by the betting public as his history of being taken down is very worrisome to me. I’m picking Mousasi to win but my degenerate gambling action will be on the other side.
Pick: Gegard Mousasi by TKO