Print and Go Back ESPN.com: MMA [Print without images]

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Ignoring Munoz blurs 185-pound title scene

By Chad Dundas

Munoz
Stopping Chris Leben was supposed to launch Mark Munoz into the title mix.
Mark Munoz told ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto this week he was surprised when UFC matchmakers chose to pit Michael Bisping against Tim Boetsch at UFC 148, rather than give Munoz a crack at either one of them.

Come to think of it, that makes two of us.

Whatever the UFC's reasoning for temporarily sidestepping the former NCAA national wrestling champion to book Boetsch versus Bisping, the middleweight division suddenly seems trapped in an odd state of limbo because of it.

Even though he's been inactive since withdrawing from a scheduled title eliminator against Chael Sonnen two months ago to have painful, but fairly minor elbow surgery, the road to the next shot at the middleweight crown still runs through Munoz.

In other words, if he doesn't have a No. 1 contender fight, nobody has a No. 1 contender fight.

Bisping-Boetsch is an odd little scrap because, while it's certainly a compelling bout, it's not a particularly instructive one. The simple fact is, no matter which guy emerges victorious at UFC 148, he won't be ready for a title shot and that threatens to leave the winner of Sonnen's summertime clash with Anderson Silva without an immediate challenger.

In a world where the welterweight division is waiting for the return of Georges St. Pierre, the lightweight division is trapped in a seemingly endless string of rematches and the newly devised flyweight division is already on hold for a do-over, that can't be good.
Mark Munoz
At this point, all roads to Anderson Silva should go through Mark Munoz.

Meanwhile, the rest of the middleweight top 10 is rapidly filling out its dance card. Vitor Belfort is already committed to a backtracking fight against Wanderlei Silva once filming on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” wraps and rushing Chris Weidman into a fight with Munoz would feel like a fairly clumsy upward leap for the undefeated prospect.

So, either Munoz is already the No.1 contender for the winner of Sonnen-Silva and he just doesn’t know it yet, or it’s easy to get the impression the entire division is headed nowhere fast.

Munoz contends he’ll be ready to get back in the cage around roughly the same time Bisping and Boetsch will square off in July, but the UFC reportedly hasn’t budged on getting him a fight. Perhaps company brass want to make doubly sure he’s healthy before booking him a date. Perhaps -- as conspiracy theorists are already whispering -- matchmakers are looking to rehabilitate Bisping as one of its most popular international attractions following his loss to Sonnen. Perhaps they feel Boetsch needs one more fight before they start to view him as a legitimate threat at middleweight.

Or perhaps, we’re just over intellectualizing. Maybe the UFC needed to make a fight, so it made one. In any case, it's a decision that effectively leaves Munoz (and the 185-pound title picture) in the lurch.

Prior to surgery, he’d ripped off four straight wins in 12 months during 2010-11. It appeared his two-round victory (via corner stoppage) over the notoriously tough to finish Chris Leben at UFC 138 had set him up for big things in 2012.

Now, it seems like nobody -- Munoz included -- knows exactly what to think.