Before UFC 138 ever started, Mark Munoz said that he believed he was finally hitting his stride and was ready to make a statement in the middleweight division.
The former NCAA champion wrestler did exactly that with a hard-fought performance and victory over Chris Leben to cap off UFC 138.
In what had to be one of the craziest rounds of the year, Munoz and Leben went after each other with reckless abandon during the first five minutes of their fight, throwing the fact that they had 25 minutes to battle out the window.
Leben on a couple of occasions looked to put Munoz away with guillotine chokes, as well as launching his signature sledgehammer lefts and rights. Meanwhile, Munoz played a very smart and tactical strategy putting Leben on his back and wailing away with what has become the most vicious ground and pound in the sport.
Munoz has learned so much about MMA since he started fighting that some wondered if he was going away from his wrestling too much, but he fought Leben with the best strategy available to him and he says that was the game plan all along.
The first round was a dogfight with back and forth exchanges, and both Leben and Munoz tried to gain a slight upper hand. As the fight wore on, however, Leben’s gas tank started to drain and Munoz was able to kick into overdrive.
A right hand came crashing down on Leben’s eye courtesy of Munoz, and a large gash was opened up as the former “Ultimate Fighter” season 1 competitor started to wear a crimson mask of blood. A brief doctor’s check allowed the fight to continue, but Munoz was unrelenting in his attack.
Seeing Leben as a wounded animal, Munoz went in for the kill and threw punches with all of his force behind him, looking for the finish. The second round horn sounded, but that was all she wrote.
As Leben’s corner checked on him, he simply said that he couldn’t see and that was all they needed to signify the fight was over and declare Munoz the winner.
“Chris Leben is a tough, tough competitor,” Munoz said about his opponent. “I knew I had to look out for his left hand, and he came with it. I had to get rid of my brawling instincts and I had to stick to my wrestling, so that’s what I did.”
While it certainly wasn’t the highlight finish he was looking for, Munoz punished Leben and definitely earned the victory. Following the fight, Leben paid Munoz credit for his evolved fight style and his ability to get the victory.
“Hard to fight when you’re choking on blood. He got me good,” Leben stated. “Munoz is a National Champion wrestler, he’s as good as they come on the ground and I definitely need to evaluate my ground game after that performance. He did a fantastic job on the ground. It takes a man to know to know when they’re beat and he beat me tonight.”
The win marks Munoz’s fourth win in row and two straight over top ten level competition. Munoz has always been known as one of the most respectful competitors to ever step foot in the Octagon, so it’s no surprise that even when he asks for a title shot, it’s a polite request.
“I paid my dues in this weight class and I think I deserve a title shot,” Munoz said. “The thing is, Anderson Silva is by far the best pound-for-pound fighter. I give him all the respect and honor, but I think I deserve a title shot right now. I consider him a friend, but right now I would love to get a title shot.”
Munoz and Silva have spent considerable time training together in the past, although recently the two middleweights haven’t worked together. The UFC’s reigning middleweight champion would appear on a collision course for a rematch with Chael Sonnen, but if the UFC opts to go another direction Munoz seems to be the perfect choice.