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The Blueprint - Leben vs. Munoz

Michael DiSanto breaks down Saturday's UFC 138 main event between Chris Leben and Mark Munoz...
Mark Munoz is another in a long line of decorated collegiate wrestlers to find success in the UFC. And he just so happens to be part of a growing number of those former collegiate wrestlers who has fallen in love with the standup part of mixed martial arts.

It’s not a big surprise that he loves standing and banging with opponents. The “Filipino Wrecking Machine” happens to posses legitimate lights out power in his right hand. That phrase is used a lot, often in hyperbolic fashion. But it is absolutely applicable to Munoz. Just ask Kendall Grove or CB Dollaway, both of whom basically got stopped with a single shot.

As a result, the former Oklahoma State University star has abandoned his wrestling for long stretches of his recent fights. He instead comes out headhunting with vicious looping bombs, knowing that if he can just land one, the fight will come to an abrupt, thrilling conclusion.

Fans love that style of fighting. But there is only one problem. Chris Leben lives for that style of fighting, and he is Munoz’s opponent on Saturday in the main event of UFC 138 in Birmingham, England.

There is nobody in the division, possibly nobody in the UFC, who loves an all-out firefight more than Leben. This guy is the personification of a throwback fighter. His game plan for each and every fight is the same. Take the center of the cage. Plant his feet. Fire away with both hands with little regard for his personal safety until someone falls down.

The formerly labeled “Cat Smasher” can get away with that style of fighting for two reasons. First and foremost, he has what many believe to be the sturdiest chin in the division. This guy has engaged in more back-and-forth rock’em, sock’em robots fights than anyone at 185 pounds, and he has only suffered two losses by knockout—one to Anderson Silva and one to Brian Stann. That speaks volumes about his durability.

Second, Leben has every bit as much show-stopping power in his punches as Munoz or anyone else. The southpaw doesn’t need to wind up to bomb out an opponent. He is an equal opportunity slugger—short, compact concussive blows and wild haymakers. Either one can bring a fight to a close in an instant. Just ask Wanderlei Silva.

I know Munoz is red hot right now, with three straight wins. I don’t care. If this guy decides to throw caution to the wind and get into a firefight with Leben, he is going to get knocked out—period.

Don’t get me wrong. Munoz has the power to become the third man to score a knockout win over Leben. That is certainly a possible outcome. But it is an extremely unlikely one, if the fight is fought in a phone booth. It is a more likely outcome, if Munoz keeps on the outside and darts in and out with bombs, always threatening the takedown.

Of course, Leben has terrific takedown defense. Few fighters have been successful taking him down with traditional single-leg or double-leg takedowns. That is probably due to the years he spent training on a daily basis at Team Quest with otherworldly MMA wrestlers like Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland.

Leben also has a vastly underrated ground game, particularly from his guard. He is effective at defending from his back, and he also has a nice range of submissions from that position. But those are risks that Munoz must take, if he wants to maximize his chances at winning.

That means convincing Leben that he is going to stand and trade, and then quickly changing levels to look for a takedown once his foe uncorks one of those deadly left hands. That is easier said than done because Leben fights with a pressure-first, all-offense style that forces his opponents to take a stand and fight, even if they don’t want to.

It’s the old Mike Tyson adage: “everyone has a game plan until they hit.” That applies to fighting Leben. Everyone has a game plan to stick and move until they experience his non-stop pressure.

That seems like a simplistic breakdown of the fight—one heavy on rhetoric and light on Xs and Os.  But this fight isn’t about intricate Xs and Os.  It’s about Mark Munoz trying to find a way to take Leben to the ground without getting suckered into a slugfest, something he loves to do himself.  It’s about Leben firing right down the middle with malice aforethought the second he sees Munoz set his hips to fire one of those long, looping overhand rights.  

It really is that simple. Sure, Munoz needs to focus on circling to his left to avoid walking into Leben’s best weapon. True, Leben needs to keep his weight neutral in his stance so that he can quickly sprawl and brawl when Munoz looks for takedowns. Granted, both men want to win the battle of the feet, jockeying to keep their lead foot on the outside of the other man’s lead foot to maintain the optimal throwing lane.

But those are details. This fight will largely be fought on instinct once one of the pair lands a bomb, which is almost certain to happen within the first minute of the fight.  

I’m not sure who is going to win this one. Some might suggest that Munoz has the perfect style to beat Leben due to his tremendous wrestling base. Others will astutely note that, if Demian Maia was able to hurt Munoz with a single right hand, Leben will certainly stop him. Both statements ring true, in my opinion.

All I know is that this matchup promises one thing: a fan-friendly bout.

QUICK FACTS

Chris Leben

•    31 years old
•    5’11, 185 lbs
•    22-7 overall (12-6 UFC)
•    4-1 in last 5
•    6-4 in last 10
•    Won last fight
•    0-1 in bouts taking place outside the United States
•    5 post-fight awards (Knockout of the Night 3 times; Fight of the Night twice)
•    Current layoff is 126 days
•    Longest layoff of career is 315 days

Mark Munoz
•    33 years old
•    6’0, 185 lbs
•    11-2 overall (6-2 UFC)
•    5-1 in last 5
•    8-2 in last 10
•    Currently riding a 3-fight winning streak (has two 3-fight winning streaks in UFC career)
•    2-0 in bouts outside the US
•    Fight of the Night once
•    Current layoff is 147 days
•    Longest layoff of career is 227 days



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