5 reasons to watch Machida vs Munoz

BY foxsports • October 21, 2013

We know there aren’t a ton of big names on this weekend’s UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Munoz fight card, but history tells us that doesn’t matter.

Over the last couple years, these shows – the smaller events featuring mostly lesser known talents – have produced some of the best fights and most thoroughly entertaining events from top to bottom in the UFC, and it’s not like the top end of this card is lacking in intrigue either.

While fans in Manchester might be bummed about hometown star Michael Bisping being forced from this card (Get well soon, Mike!), the main event pairing still features a pair of athletes looking to make a statement on Saturday, and the lightweight contest that serves as the co-main event has the potential to be explosive.

As an added bonus, West Coast fight fans get to enjoy all the punching, kicking, grappling goodness with their bacon and eggs, as the opening bout of the preliminary card hits the cage at 9am PT/12pm ET.

If watching fights in your pajamas doesn’t get you excited for Saturday’s event, here are five more reasons to watch UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Munoz.

Enter the Middleweight Dragon

Michael Bisping’s eye injury moved up Lyoto Machida’s much-anticipated debut in the middleweight division, and instead of dropping into a fight with fringe contender Tim Kennedy 10 days later, we get to see what “The Dragon” can do against a bona fide Top 10 fighter in Mark Munoz.

The idea of Machida moving to middleweight has been bandied about for a couple of years now, but the former light heavyweight champion had no reason to depart the weight class he once ruled – he was winning fights and remained in title contention.

But his controversial decision loss to Phil Davis dropped him to 4-4 since his championship win over Rashad Evans, and seemed like a blow to his title hopes, so moving to a weight class with a new champion and the potential for a quick climb up the rankings made all the sense in the world. And we’re going to find out immediately if the move down in weight was worth it for Machida, as Munoz is a tremendous litmus test for the first-time 185-pound fighter.

Will his elusive style and economical striking translate well down in weight or was his quickness one of his best traits against bigger competitors in the 205-pound ranks? Tune in Saturday to find out.

Rejuvenated Wrecking Machine

Let’s just say 2012 wasn’t too kind to Mark Munoz. An injury bumped him from a title eliminator fight against Chael Sonnen on FOX, and after rushing back before he should, Chris Weidman’s elbow sent him crashing to the canvas. But that wasn’t his hardest fall of the year.

The loss and subsequent news that another injury would sideline him indefinitely sent the perpetually smiling Filipino middleweight into a depressive state. As he put it earlier this year, “(He) ate because he was unhappy, and (he) was unhappy because he ate.” He got up to 240 pounds, and bottomed out.

After transforming his body into a chiseled mass of lean muscle and power, he returned to the cage in July and rag-dolled Tim Boetsch, handing “The Barbarian” the worst beating of his UFC career while putting forth is own personal best. Happy, healthy, and in the best shape of his life in every possible meaning of the phrase, Munoz is once again on the cusp of earning a title shot.

As much as the shift in opponents to a friend and former training partner like Machida presents complications, it also gives the 35-year-old former NCAA Division I National Champion wrestler a chance to cement his standing as the top contender in the division if he’s able to spoil the Brazilian’s debut in the 185-pound weight class.

Given how impressive he looked manhandling Boetsch back at UFC 162, don’t dismiss the possibility that he does the same to “The Dragon” on Saturday night.

Melvin Guillard: Lightweight Enigma

If anyone tries to tell you that they’ve got Melvin Guillard figured out, they’re mistaken.

After 20 fights spanning eight years, the only thing we know for sure about the surprisingly only 30-year-old “Young Assassin” is that just when you think you’ve got him figured out, he throws you for another loop.

Naturally talented but not yet able to put it all together long enough to reach his full potential, Guillard followed up a five-fight winning streak training out of the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp by departing the Albuquerque institution for Del Ray Beach, Florida, a spot as a member of “The Blackzilians.” A 1-4 record followed, and again Guillard was on the move, ending up at the Grudge Training Center with Trevor Wittman.

In July, he returned to the Octagon and the win column, dropping Mac Danzig with a compact left hook before following up with a series of hammerfists that left the veteran lightweight screaming in agony in the cage. It was a vintage “Guillard at his best” moment, and that’s what makes Saturday’s meeting with Ross Pearson so intoxicating.

The skill set is still there – it always has been, and it always will be. What has been missing for large chunks of his career has been focus and guidance, but what if the man with the maniacal smile can help Guillard put it all together? Can we really write off a 30-year-old fighter with a lethal combination of power and speed that everyone at some point or another forecasted would fight for – if not win – UFC gold?

Jimi Manuwa: The Streak

There are a handful of fighters on impressive winning streaks in the UFC right now, and British light heavyweight Jimi Manuwa is one of them. The late blooming knockout artist has won all 13 of his professional bouts, and he’s earned a stoppage in each and every one of them, including his first two fights inside the Octagon.

Saturday night, “Poster Boy” returns for the first time since February to take on Canadian Ryan Jimmo in a battle of former prospects battling for positioning on the fringes of contention.

As is the case with all fighters in the midst of run of success, we’re tantalized by questions of whether or not the streak will continue. In Manuwa’s case, it’s a two-pronged question, as it is both his winning streak and finishing streak that will be on the line in Manchester.

Jimmo represents Manuwa’s stiffest test to date – an 18-2 veteran with solid wrestling and a track record of shutting down strikers with a heavy top control game. If Manuwa is going to start making a run towards the top of the light heavyweight division – or potentially become a bigger part of the UFC’s European push in 2014 – this is a fight he has to win.

Under the Radar Talent Galore

Events like this often feature up-and-coming fighters that are a couple wins away from garnering greater recognition, but are worth keeping tabs on, and this card is no different.

Flyweight John Lineker has won three straight since dropping his UFC debut, and is a heavy handed, fastball-throwing bundle of violence whenever he steps into the cage. A win here puts him in the mix in the 125-pound ranks too.

Al Iaquinta dominated Ryan Couture in his long-awaited return to the cage back in August, his first appearance since losing to Michael Chiesa in the finals of TUF 15. The 26-year-old from Wantagh, New York has the markings of a lightweight version of Chris Weidman, the UFC middleweight champion and Iaquinta’s Team Serra-Longo training partner.

He’s facing off against Poland’s Piotr Hallmann, who survived a nasty body shot to come back and submit Brazilian Francisco Trinaldo… in Brazil… in his UFC debut. With a 14-1 record that includes 13 stoppages and a 10-fight winning streak, Hallmann is definitely someone to pay attention to going forward.

Andrew Craig enters his bout with TUF 17 alum Luke Barnatt off a split decision win over Chris Leben at UFC 162, and continues to be a fighter many pundits believe is capable of developing into a contender as he continues to gain experience and round out his arsenal.

TUF 15’s Andy Ogle was going to be the second man to face “The Notorious” Conor McGregor in the Octagon, but those plans got scuttled when the Englishman came down with an injury. Now he’s back against veteran Cole Miller, looking to earn his second consecutive victory and take another step forward in the featherweight division.

Lastly, there is Jimy Hettes, the mop-topped Mark Zuckerberg lookalike who was climbing the ladder in the 145-pound ranks before laying an egg against Marcus Brimage at UFC 152 in September 2012. A year later (plus a month), he’s back to take on TUF vet Mike Wilkinson with an eye towards showing he’s still the promising fighter many believed him to be before his unbeaten streak came to a crashing halt.