MMA: Mark Munoz

Munoz signs multifight deal to stay in UFC

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
7:04
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
Veteran middleweight Mark Munoz will continue to fight in the UFC.

Munoz (13-5) announced Thursday he has signed a four-fight deal with the UFC. He posted a photo of him signing the contract via Instagram.

The UFC removed Munoz from its promotional rankings earlier this week, stating he was no longer under contract. Munoz later confirmed to ESPN.com that his previous contract had expired following a loss to Gegard Mousasi in May.

The California-based fighter said he hoped to come to an agreement to stay within the UFC, where he has fought 13 times since 2009. Dubbed "The Filipino Wrecking Machine," Munoz is currently on a 1-3 skid in his past four fights.

Munoz, 36, is still not expected to compete any time soon. He suffered a torn MCL and strained ACL in his left knee during the first-round submission loss to Mousasi. He expects to avoid surgery, but will be sidelined two to three months.

Munoz remains hopeful after holdout

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
1:15
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
Veteran middleweight Mark Munoz is, at least for now, a free agent.

The UFC dropped Munoz (13-5) from its promotional rankings on Monday, as he is not currently under a UFC contract. Officials said the two sides are negotiating a new deal that would keep Munoz in the UFC.

[+] EnlargeTim Boetsch and Mark Munoz
Ed Mulholland for ESPNDespite a recent rut, Mark Munoz has won his fair share of fights while campaigning with the UFC.

Munoz, 36, told ESPN.com that he elected to exhaust his old contract in hopes of building leverage at the negotiating table. Things didn’t go according to plan, as Munoz lost the final bout on his old deal in May via first-round submission to Gegard Mousasi.

“For me, I wanted to get the most favorable contract I could get,” Munoz said. “I was holding out until my last fight and if I had beat Mousasi, which didn’t work out for me, it probably would have boosted my likelihood of getting that contract.

“I had all the confidence that I was going to beat Mousasi. It kind of backfired. I don’t know what the future holds for me and the UFC, but hopefully they accept me back.”

When asked if Munoz would pursue offers outside the UFC, where he has fought since 2009, he basically said he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

“Obviously, the UFC is the organization to be in,” Munoz said. “It’s the top dog. I am the type of guy who wants to stay with the top organization.

“Having said that, I do have a wife and kids, you know? I want something that’s good for my family. I do want to stay in the UFC, though. There is no other organization I want to fight for.”

Munoz is 8-5 all time in the UFC, but has gone 1-3 in his past four fights.

According to numbers released by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Munoz made $42,000 to show and a $42,000 win bonus for a unanimous decision over Tim Boetsch at UFC 162 in July 2013.

Regardless of whether Munoz re-signs with the UFC, he is currently facing an injury layoff. Munoz said he suffered a torn MCL and strained ACL in his left knee during the loss to Mousasi, which took place in Berlin.

The injury will not require surgery, but Munoz is expected to be on the shelf for at least two to three months with little activity.

“It happened in the first takedown, when I had him up in the air,” Munoz said. “For some reason, I landed on my side and he was able to scramble out. As I got back to my feet, I noticed a lot of instability in my leg.

“I ended up getting desperate after that. I couldn’t push off the knee. I couldn’t fake and follow up with strikes. He knew I wanted to shoot and wanted to take it to the ground. I wanted to mask that with feints, but wasn’t able to do it because of the front leg. I don’t want to make excuses, though. It’s just what happened.”

Machida to be aggressive against Munoz

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
8:00
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive

When it comes to former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, the elephant in the room also happens to be the best thing about him: his style.

On one hand, that ultra-conservative, point-based style is what carried him to UFC royalty in 2009. Machida has won 83 percent of his professional bouts because of it.

On the other, however, that same style is to blame for half of the total losses in his career.

Machida (19-4), who makes his middleweight debut against Mark Munoz this weekend at UFC Fight Night 30, believes he has really only lost twice -- to Mauricio Rua in 2010 and Jon Jones in 2011.

The other two, decision losses to Quinton Jackson and Phil Davis, Machida will very matter-of-factly tell you he won.

"To be honest, I just think I lost twice in my career," Machida told ESPN.com. "I didn’t lose to Quinton Jackson and I didn’t lose to Phil Davis."

Here's where the elephant in the room comes in. Anyone who watched those fights against Jackson and Davis will tell you that, at the very least, Machida had his opportunity to win but absolutely refused to pull the trigger.

As UFC president Dana White summed it up last week in Houston, "[Machida] is too conservative. You go out against these guys and that elusive, run-away style is never going to win."

So, what is Machida's reaction to that? The idea that this style, which he has utilized his entire life and won him a UFC title, is actually the reason he lost both those fights? Somewhat surprisingly, he agrees.

"Yeah, for sure," said Machida, when asked if he thought a lack of aggression cost him.

"I have to listen to my fans and to the critics. The fans, the media, everybody talks about it. I have to improve. I have to be more aggressive. I will try, for sure. On Saturday, we will see."

About midway through his UFC career, which began when he signed with the promotion in 2007, Machida's offensive output plummeted.

In his first seven fights in the Octagon, culminating in a 205-pound title fight in 2009, Machida produced a 7-0 record and landed 313 strikes in 83 total minutes. In the eight fights since, he has gone 4-4 and landed 180 strikes in 95 minutes.

His strikes landed per minute have dropped from 3.76 in those first seven fights to 1.88 in the eight most recent. You can blame that, to an extent, on facing better competition -- but Machida actually blames it on repetition.

There's a lot of video out there to break down Machida's style at this point. He says there is a chance opponents have picked up his tendencies.

"Maybe everybody studied my game," Machida said. "Maybe I was predictable after I won the belt. I've stayed less aggressive and the guys I'm fighting have studied and improved their game more than me."

Well, one way for Machida to be unpredictable in this new weight class is to be aggressive. It appeared he wanted to be more active in his most recent fight against Davis, but old habits die hard and he landed only 27 total strikes in 15 minutes.

Towering expectations still rest on Machida's shoulders. He's still the No. 5-ranked light heavyweight, according to ESPN.com. He's approximately a 3.5-1 favorite over Munoz (13-3), despite never having fought at 185 pounds before.

He is still, undoubtedly, a world-class martial artist -- but we can’t ignore, forever, the fact Machida is batting just .500 in the Octagon since winning the belt. He says his style has finally altered. We’ll see Saturday if he's telling the truth.

"I trained like that for this camp," Machida said. "I have tried to be more aggressive. I have tried to throw a lot punches and kicks -- move forward. Let’s see."

Georges St-Pierre: Past, present and future

April, 30, 2013
4/30/13
4:41
PM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
George St. PierreJon Kopaloff/Getty ImagesWhat are the reasons for George St-Pierre's enduring success? A panel of experts take a closer look.
At the age of 31, UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has accomplished so much that rumors of a two-fight retirement plan shouldn't come as a shock.

St-Pierre (24-2) holds the record for total UFC wins (along with Matt Hughes) at 18 and is second in title defenses with eight. He ranks No. 1 in the UFC in career takedowns, takedown accuracy and total strikes.

From August 2007 to April 2011, St-Pierre won a record 33 consecutive rounds.

Prior to his recent title defense over Nick Diaz at UFC 158, St-Pierre's former manager Stephane Patry penned a column for a Canadian website that outlined St-Pierre's plan of two more fights -- a title defense against Johny Hendricks and a "super fight" against Anderson Silva -- and then retirement.

Whether or not that comes to fruition, ESPN.com decided to speak with some of the brightest minds in the sport on what has fueled St-Pierre's historic career, what it will take to disrupt his success and whether or not he's still at his peak.

"We kind of always knew he would eventually become a champion ... "


Pat Miletich, former UFC champion, longtime trainer, analyst: I used to go up to Tristar Gym years and years ago because my wife is from Montreal. I would teach a bit here and there when those guys were younger. Georges was always very respectful. He actually came into one of my seminars and sat in and watched when I was teaching up there at different spots in Montreal. We kind of always knew he would eventually become a champion. It was just something you could tell. Before Matt [Hughes] even fought him the first time, Matt and I both publicly said in interviews, "Georges is going to be the world champ. Just not yet."

Matt Hume, trainer, matchmaker, ambassador: The moment I recognized he was a very special martial artist was when he did Abu Dhabi (Submission Wrestling championships). He went against a guy named Otto Olsen. Otto Olsen, the first time he did Abu Dhabi, he went all the way to the finals against Marcelo Garcia with only six months training. Otto was great. He got really good at head control and started destroying people. The next Abu Dhabi, his first match was against Georges St-Pierre, who wasn't known as a great grappler, and he beat Otto that day. He shot a double on him, which is something he's very well known for now and escaped what a lot of people call the D'Arce now. Georges' posture on his shots was perfect and his explosiveness and awareness of where his head was when he got to the ground. That was the moment that told me this guy really gets out of his element. He really learns.

Matt Hughes, former UFC champion, went 1-2 in three fights against St-Pierre: Usually when I tie up with somebody, I feel I'm stronger than the other person and with Georges, I can't say I was stronger than him. I'm a big welterweight. I probably cut more weight than Georges does, which you think would give me a strength advantage but I didn't feel I had that advantage against Georges.

Miletich: After the first time Matt fought him and beat him, I asked Matt, "He's pretty strong isn't he?" We were walking through the tunnel back to the locker room and he looked at me and said, "You're damn right he's strong."

Hughes: I don't think he's a great wrestler. I think if you put him on a wrestling mat against Josh Koscheck, Josh would beat him up. What Georges does so well is mixes everything up and camouflages his takedowns with his striking. When you're out there against Georges, you don't know if he's going to kick, punch, close the distance and gets his hands on you or take a shot. He's pretty one-dimensional on the ground. You don't see him going for many submissions. He is really there to keep people down. But he's effective at his striking. He likes to stand up in people's guard and that gives him power in his punches. But his No. 1 thing is to keep people down.

Marc Laimon, grappling coach, trains Hendricks: One of my black belts and I were talking about this and he was saying St-Pierre kind of reminds him of a guy who pushes to half-guard, does enough to get the advantage to win and stalls the rest of the match. Against Nick Diaz, for somebody to talk so much trash, I didn't see that killer instinct. I saw a guy win and stay busy and active and do enough to win, but not a scary, killer, bloodthirsty guy wanting to kill you. I see a pro athlete doing his job very well.

Mark Munoz, UFC middleweight, NCAA wrestling champion: Pure wrestling is a totally different sport than MMA wrestling. In MMA wrestling, you can't shoot to your knees anymore. If you shoot to your knees, you're being stopped because there's too much distance to cover when you change levels. You've just got to explode and run through them in a power double and that's what Georges St-Pierre does. He is such a gifted athlete at first-step explosion and he's got long arms.

Hughes: He does everything pretty well. His lead strike, I believe, is his left leg. Usually, it's people's rear leg but I figured out real quick his left leg in the front of his stance is what he has all his power with.

Hume (on St-Pierre's intimidation factor): It's not the same extent as [an Anderson Silva.] Anderson put Rich Franklin's nose on the other side of his face and what he did to Forrest Griffin, making him miss the punches and dropping him with the jab -- it's the striking aspects, getting the bones broke in your face from an unprotected knee bone, those things scare people. I think with Georges, people don't look at him the same way as Anderson. They see it more as, "I don't know how to beat this guy." Not so much, "This guy is really going to hurt me bad."

Laimon: He still does things very well. The timing on his double leg is impeccable. He's still very fun to watch but when he was going for the title and he murdered [Frank] Trigg and murdered Hughes -- oh man. That guy is a killer and I don't see that guy anymore.

"What's going to beat Georges, is a hit ... "

Georges St. Pierre Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comHas Georges St-Pierre become vulnerable to taking a big shot over the second half of his career?
Hume: You don't make a game plan for Georges St-Pierre. You make a game plan to be the best you can be. You have to try to be better than him at every aspect of the game, which includes the mental aspect, conditioning and technical aspects. If you're better than him at every aspect, then you can beat him.

Munoz: The guy that beats St-Pierre is the guy that is able to counter the jab. Able to circle, have good footwork, and counter while moving his feet. Not countering in front of him, because that's where GSP is able to capitalize -- when he jabs or throws punches, the other guy counter punches and then he drops down and shoots.

Miletich: You have to take him out of his comfort zone. It's not like there are a lot of guys out there who are going to take him down and submit him, but a guy who can actually take Georges down and make him nervous on his back a little bit is certainly going to help. In terms of striking, guys that use feints and fakes very well and they've got to be able to do that better than him. When somebody is throwing feints and fakes at you, they're trying to make you guess on what's real and what's not. When you're not able to do that (as good as St-Pierre), he is sticking you with the jab. Then he's able to progressively chips away at you because he feints the jab and throws the cross. Then feints the cross and throws the hook. It goes a lot deeper than that, but a guy who can do that better than Georges and throw it back in his face and has the power to hurt him standing, plus the technique to take him down, is pretty much what it's going to take.

Hughes: That's a very easy question for me to answer. What's going to beat Georges is a hit. You can tell it in the way he fights. He does not want to get hit. You see what happens when he gets hit. Any big hit is going to hurt Georges. My speculation would be that Georges has been hit in practice and he don't like it. This is all my speculation -- that he's been hit, knows his body doesn't like it and he's not going to get hit anymore.

"Johny is a different breed of cat ..."

HendricksDave Mandel/Sherdog.comHis wrestling pedigree and punching power make Johny Hendricks a dangerous out at 170 pounds.
Miletich: Hendricks is just a mean guy. His mentality is he's just a rough cat. Very good wrestling, very powerful and his left hand can kill a bull. After I saw him slide Martin Kampmann across the canvas like a sheet of ice, you realize how hard he hits. That's a guy I think to a certain extent just says, "I don't give a s--- what you're doing. I'm just going to hit you." Those guys can be tough to fight because they don't bite a lot on your feints and fakes. They don't necessarily move the way they're supposed to. What we're going to see is when Georges starts putting feints and fakes on him, we may see a totally different Johny Hendricks who gets confused. That's very possible.

Munoz: St-Pierre is not going to want it to be a brawl. He's going to want to execute that jab, circle around him, stop shots, drag behind him and take his back. I don't think he's going to be able to hold Johny down. Everybody who wrestled him [in college] had trouble holding him down. What you're going to see Johny do is knee slide -- which is, shoot his knee forward and stand up to his feet. He's not going to stay turtled up. He's going to hand fight, look for wrist control and get up.

Hughes: Being the best wrestler doesn't mean that Georges can't take him down. He disguises things so well that he can get in on somebody by throwing punches, but Georges is going to have to work for it. He's going to have to spend more energy and that's a good thing in a fight -- to make somebody spend energy and take punishment along the way. I think if you look at who Georges has fought, Johny is a bad matchup compared to everybody else.

Laimon: I really think I've got a guy who matches up very well with him and is going to present problems. Johny is a different breed of cat. He operates on a different frequency. He's hungry and I think Georges is ripe for the picking. I think Johny Hendricks is coming into his prime and I see St-Pierre as an unbelievable LaDainian Tomlinson-type guy who is kind of at the [New York] Jets now. He was so dominant, the premiere guy, but if you look recently ... how many guys defend his takedowns? How many guys have been able to get back to his feet? Every time I see Georges, his face is busted up. These guys are putting their hands on him. Georges is hittable and being hittable against a guy like Johny Hendricks isn't good.

"I actually think the [Silva] fight will be pretty close ..."

Anderson Silva, George St. PierreAP PhotosAnderson Silva's striking versus the wrestling of Georges St-Pierre could prove to be an epic match.
Hughes: I actually think the fight will be pretty close because of Georges' takedowns. He's going to take him down and control him on the ground. It might not be the most exciting fight because it's going to be a lot of ground game. I don't think Anderson can beat him on the ground, especially with Georges on top. If I had to pick a winner, I might say Georges gets his hand raised.

Hume: Anybody who stands with Anderson is risking what he does to everybody. Anderson has been taken down. He's been mounted. He has been armbarred, but he has survived those things. He has a great ground game, too. Georges has great takedowns. He knows how to put people at their weakness. If you're going to try and fight Anderson at his weakness, it's going to have to be on his back.

Munoz: I think it's a bad matchup for Georges. Anderson is a big 185-pounder. I wouldn't say St-Pierre is a big welterweight. I've seen Anderson upwards of 215 pounds. At the same time, St-Pierre has double leg takedowns, which Anderson has trouble defending at times. I would give Anderson the nod because of his movement on his feet, elusiveness and precise punching.

Miletich: Georges is not going to win that standup fight at all. Anderson will shut down his feints. The victory is going to lie in Georges' ability to take down Anderson, which I think he certainly can. He could take him down and control him all five rounds because he's strong enough to do it. Anderson's takedown defense has gotten better over the years, but I still think Georges could take him down.

Weidman having a pretty good week

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
8:00
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
Chris WeidmanJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesDerailed by injuries and timing, Chris Weidman will finally get his shot at Anderson Silva's UFC title.
A funny thing happened while Chris Weidman was in Albany, N.Y., lobbying for the legalization of MMA in his home Empire State -- he landed that long-coveted title fight against UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 161 on July 6 in Las Vegas.

Now he can exhale. At least for a few minutes.

“Everybody’s excited for me, and I’m getting blown up like crazy,” the Long Island native told ESPN.com. “But it’s time to get organized and time to get working. I didn’t get this title shot just to be happy with that. I got this title shot to win and win in spectacular fashion, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Good news converged all over Weidman this week. For one, he was told his shoulder, which he’d injured while training in Arizona a few months back in preparation for a fight with Tim Boetsch, was coming along ahead of schedule. Now he’s got the green light to train.

“I just spoke to my doctor on Tuesday, and he just said he was very happy at where my shoulder was at, and that he was surprised at how fast it healed,” he says. “So I’m back into the thick of things, and honestly, my shoulder feels 100 percent right now. It feels great.”

Better yet, Weidman’s path to Silva -- which has had nearly as many obstacles as the UFC’s ongoing efforts to get MMA sanctioned in New York -- finally opened up. And what an ordeal that’s been.

Back in July, after both Silva and Weidman had come off of impressive victories over Chael Sonnen and Mark Munoz, respectively, Silva was reluctant to take the fight at that time. Sensing this, Weidman agreed to fight Boetsch at UFC 155. Silva then took a makeshift fight against Stephan Bonnar to rescue UFC 153, and shortly thereafter Weidman got injured and was scrapped from his card. Meanwhile, as Weidman healed, fresh contenders like Michael Bisping lost.

Which brings everything right back to the undefeated Weidman (9-0, 5-0 in the UFC), who took a scenic detour only to end up essentially back where to he started. The difference is he's coming off a prolonged layoff after surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff -- not to mention fix a separated AC joint in his right shoulder.

It will be a year between fights, but Weidman is finally in the challenger’s seat.

Now it’s a question of whether the layoff and recovery will leave him that much more susceptible heading into a fight with the greatest mixed martial artist ever. Las Vegas oddsmakers are already lengthening his odds. And given the circumstances, a lot of people in the media and on Twitter think that Silva’s catching Weidman at the exact right time. Weidman has heard it.

“Listen, you come off a layoff people are going to think you’re rusty and all that, but I’ve been in the gym every single day,” he says. “I haven’t taken time off. I’ve had more than a year off before, coming off of hand surgery, and my first fight back I fought Urijah Hall. He’s doing good on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ show right now, and I ended up getting a first round knockout over him.

[+] EnlargeChris Weidman
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesThe possibility of MMA becoming legalized in New York makes Long Island native Chris Weidman a very happy man.
“So I’ve had that scenario before, and I won’t let ring rust or coming off an injury like that stop me. I think that’s more of a mental thing, anyway. I’m pretty good mentally. I have a psychology degree, and I think that helps me just keep my mentally strong -- and making sure I don’t beat myself.

"That’s ultimately who you’re really fighting against, is yourself. I feel like if I don’t beat myself, I’m winning the fight.”

It doesn’t hurt that he was an All-American wrestler at Hofstra while earning his psychology degree, or that Silva’s known vulnerability is in the wrestling department. Weidman knows these things, and he’ll undoubtedly use whatever edges he can (psychological and otherwise) leading up to UFC 161.

But right now, Weidman talks like a man who is thrilled with so many happy convergences. He’s healthy, he’s in a title fight, and MMA in his home state of New York is close to becoming a reality. Not a bad week.

“I feel like this is just the beginning of my career, and it’s a great opportunity to fight who I think is the greatest of all time,” he says. “My main goal right now is to be UFC champion -- but my ultimate goal is to be considered one of the greatest of all time.”

The old cliché “to be the best, you must beat the best” only works if you get the chance to beat the best. This July, there's a very happy New Yorker who's getting his chance.

Weidman getting title shot is the right call

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
6:54
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive

On July 11, 2012, Chris Weidman defeated top middleweight contender Mark Munoz without so much as absorbing a single significant strike in six and a half minutes of fight time. It was a headlining spot, and he made the most of it. The “Strong Island” native slipped a punch and landed a ridiculous elbow in the second round, and won via TKO seconds later.

And that’s how you make a statement.

That same night, with a perfect 5-0 record in the UFC (9-0 overall), he called out the champion, Anderson Silva, who four days earlier defeated Chael Sonnen with a TKO of his own.

“I want Anderson Silva,” Weidman said, in the most polite callout in the history of callouts. “Every time I’ve had a full training camp, I’ve gotten a finish. Give me a full training camp, and I’d love a shot at the man, Anderson Silva. I really think I could do pretty good. So give me a shot, please.”

Just 239 days later, Silva-Weidman has finally been made. Weidman will get a full training camp, and so will Silva. The clash of styles and experience is on. And after all that time, and through all that haze and speculation, the question becomes: What took so long to make this fight?

It’s complicated. Depending on whom you listen to, it was either because Weidman was too green, too threatening, too unknown, too audacious, or too ... eh. It was because of Weidman’s shoulder injury, and that little Stephan Bonnar thing that Silva handled in October. It was Silva’s contract being up. It was because Silva wanted Georges St-Pierre (unrequited), and then wanted Cung Le (fun fantasy), and then wanted Luke Rockhold (posturing?).

Officially, Silva’s camp said Weidman was too low profile. They wanted big fights, with big-name opponents and equal-sized pay-per-view dollars. Unofficially, Weidman’s camp thought that excuse looked like timidity. Weidman, with his All-American wrestling pedigree from his days at Hofstra University, looked like a nightmare matchup for Silva. In seven rounds of Sonnen-Silva, Sonnen won five by wrestling before making critical errors.

Weidman, at 28 years old, is a fluid submission grappler with better stand-up skills than Sonnen. He’s not likely to try a spinning backfist against Silva. There’s been a lot of optimism at the Ray Longo-Matt Serra Fight Team that a title could soon return to Long Island, if the fight would only be made.

Two-thirds of a year later, the UFC made the right call by booking it. In that time, Weidman’s intrigue has become a lot of fans' intrigue. And given his skill set, he does present interesting challenges to Silva. He beat Munoz, who at the time was a top contender. He beat Demian Maia before that, who’d had a title shot in 2010. Those are fine credentials.

But really, it's all about simple deduction -- there’s nobody else at 185 pounds who deserves it more.

Le was a Silva pipe dream. Hector Lombard hasn’t panned out. Tim Boetsch got done in by Costas Philippou (Weidman's teammate who replaced him on the UFC 155 card after a shoulder injury forced Weidman out of the event). It’s too soon for a Silva-Vitor Belfort rematch. Rockhold was willing, but his merit (and star power) didn’t trump Weidman's. Yushin Okami? No way -- not again. Michael Bisping, who was supposed to get the shot, lost in the penultimate spot against Belfort. St-Pierre didn’t want to mess around with his weight, among other concerns. Jon Jones is booked with Sonnen in April, and he has his own contenders at 205 pounds to deal with after that.

That leaves Weidman, who realistically felt like the guy all along. If a superfight wasn’t going to materialize for Silva, the UFC needed to take the next legitimate contender within the weight class. That was, and remains, Chris Weidman.

He’s healthy, and he’s ready. Silva needs an opponent. Boom. The pecking order wins out. Rev up the hype machine.

It might have taken a long time for everyone to get on the same page, but the bottom line is everybody finally did. Come July 6 in Las Vegas, almost a year to the day since Silva’s record 10th title defense at UFC 148, it’s on.

The whole thing feels so old-fashioned. Weidman gets his wish. And it’s for all of us to see what he’s able to do with it.

Solutions for the 'muddleweight' division

January, 21, 2013
1/21/13
6:47
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
SilvaJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesSix months since defending his middleweight title, Anderson Silva is still waiting for a challenger to emerge.
Anderson Silva has surveyed two potential foes up close, only to have things go haywire.

First he traveled to Montreal for UFC 154 as a prelude to a “superfight” against Georges St-Pierre. Then, two months later, he hit Sao Paulo, Brazil, to check out the latest hubbub, Michael Bisping.

St-Pierre won, but wasn’t interested in a bout with Silva. Bisping lost spectacularly, and now we’re right back to where we were long before Silva’s thrown-together gimmick bout with Stephan Bonnar: Who’s next for Anderson Silva?

These are always murky waters.

Silva, whether he admits it or not, wants a rare blend of marketability, worthiness, nonrepetitiveness and beatability in his opponents. He will settle, of course, but Silva’s camp is not afraid to air its druthers. And now that the St-Pierre reverie has past, and Bisping -- our modern-day Sisyphus -- has tumbled back down the hill, who’s out there?

Vitor Belfort beat Bisping on Saturday night, and had a long-shot case. Yet (somewhat inexplicably) he chose to call out light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, in hopes of a rematch of their UFC 152 bout. Dana White reiterated that Belfort would not get the crack at Jones, anyway, given the dramatic finish of their first fight at UFC 126. So no Belfort.

Alan Belcher lost to Yushin Okami very unspectacularly, so he’s out -- and so is Okami, who had his shot at UFC 134 and doesn’t do himself any favors with his grinding, unspectacular style. Feel free to exhale, because it won’t be Okami.

Hector Lombard, whom Bisping referred to as a “little poison dwarf” not so long ago, slipped against Tim Boetsch in his UFC debut, even if he redeemed himself a little against Rousimar Palhares a few months later. He’s an option, but he’s motivated in strange ways. Besides, he's fighting Okami next, and here's guessing he wouldn't mind Bisping after that.
[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comFight fans aren't exactly clamoring for a rematch between Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami.
Mark Munoz slipped against Chris Weidman (badly), and Weidman lacks billboard appeal and experience (according to Silva, and Silva’s opinion has echoed down the media chambers). Tim Boetsch lost to Costas Philippou, and Philippou is too green, too new and too unproven.

There are out-of-division intrigues. Dan Henderson would do it, but Silva hates repeat customers, and besides, Hendo’s got a date with Lyoto Machida at UFC 157. Rashad Evans is a possibility, but he has business first with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. If Rory MacDonald wasn’t already locked up with a fight against Carlos Condit, maybe he’d use this opportunity to move up a weight class. But that fight is made, and don’t even try to talk to MacDonald about foregoing his chance to avenge that Condit loss.

Ronaldo Souza is interesting, but he’s not the reigning Strikeforce champion. That leaves Luke Rockhold, who was just a few days ago calling out a cusp top-10 fighter in Philippou. He is the reigning Strikeforce champion, but since dethroning “Jacare” he’s fought Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy. Should he be asked to fight Silva in his UFC debut, it would feel like he was being jumped into a gang.

The most logical name is Jones. Jones fights Chael Sonnen in April and, realistically, isn’t expected to encounter much turbulence there. Silva could wait it out. But that would be a long time between bouts.

So what is the UFC to do? It would be nice if things were simple, but they’re not. It’s either pick between Lombard, Rockhold or Weidman, or dredge up another Bonnar-type as a potboiler.

Or, the UFC could think bigger. Have Silva travel one more time to check out a potential foe. This time to New Jersey. Put him cageside for Sonnen/Jones, as a looming presence for Jones should he win. With no true No. 1 contender within the division for matchmaker Joe Silva, set the table for the fight people are most curious about.

Convincing Silva might be difficult, but if there’s going to be a superfight, then make a superfight already. The timing isn’t perfect, but given how complex superfights are to put together, it might be as good as it gets.

It's destiny calling for Chris Weidman

August, 17, 2012
8/17/12
11:21
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive
Chris WeidmanJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesHold tight: Chris Weidman feels his name is at or near the top of the list for next on Anderson Silva.
As far as UFC middleweight contender Chris Weidman is concerned it’s a matter of when, not if, he will be in the Octagon opposite champion Anderson Silva. And when that moment arrives, Weidman believes his destiny will be realized. Weidman is so confident he’ll unseat Silva that he is willing to wait for the champ to end his hiatus.

Silva decided recently to sit out the remainder of 2012. A date hasn’t been scheduled for his 2013 debut, nor has a challenger been revealed.

There are a few fighters who are clearly on the short list of potential challengers -- welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, middleweight contender Michael Bisping (if he gets past Brian Stann next month in Toronto) and, of course, Weidman.

Weidman won’t do anything silly, like staying inactive for too long a period. He knows his turn is coming and he intends to seize the moment.

“I’m waiting to talk to [UFC president] Dana White and learn what they want me to do,” the 28-year-old Weidman told ESPN.com. “I’m down to do whatever they want.

“The second they tell me to worry about someone else I will. But as far as I’m concerned it’s all about Anderson Silva right now. I’m young. I’m not going to sit out and waste my youth.”

Every one of Weidman's accomplishments inside the Octagon -- including a 9-0 record and defeating each man the UFC has put in front of him -- has been a dress rehearsal for his eventual 185-pound title bout.

The only thing Silva can do to prevent this young lion from possibly dethroning him is avoid a fight -- and ducking isn't in Silva’s DNA.

They will fight eventually and Weidman pictures his hand being raised when it is over. And to all the naysayers, Weidman’s already heard from those who have dismissed his chances.

“I’ve been thinking about this fight for three years,” Weidman said. “When anyone would ask me which weight class I plan to compete in, I’d say 185. They’d say, ‘my god, isn’t that Anderson Silva’s weight class? You’re going to get killed. You better switch weight classes now.’ That's what motivated me.”

I've been thinking about this fight for three years. When anyone would ask me which weight class I plan to compete in, I'd say 185. They'd say, 'my god, isn't that Anderson Silva's weight class? You're going to get killed. You better switch weight classes now.' That's what motivated me.

-- Chris Weidman, on finding motivation from his naysayers

Based on what Weidman has shown inside the Octagon nobody can reasonably question his physical ability or that he poses a threat to Silva. What some might attempt to bring up instead is the limited number of fights he’s had under the Zuffa banner.

But Weidman has this strong response: “Anderson had one fight [in the UFC] when he got his title shot. He beat Chris Leben.

“Mark Munoz knocked out the last guy he beat [Leben] before I knocked him out. I’ve beaten more top-10 guys than [Silva] beat when he fought for the title. I know where I’m at, there’s no reason to wait.

“I have five [UFC] wins in a row. I know I only have nine fights but they’ve all been against tough guys. I’m definitely ready. I got up here pretty fast, and I’m ready to finally get him. Obviously I want to defeat him and take the belt.”

And unlike previous challengers to Silva’s crown, Weidman won’t be at a disadvantage anywhere in the cage.

“I’m definitely confident in myself,” Weidman said. “I’m a bigger guy. I pose a lot of threats to Anderson Silva.

“He hasn’t seen a guy like me before -- my athletic ability, my wrestling, my jiu-jitsu, my size and my length. In all categories he hasn’t seen an athlete like me.”

Now don’t get it twisted, Weidman respects Silva and what he’s amassed in his brilliant career. Weidman just knows that it’s his time to rule the middleweight division. It’s his destiny.

Weidman stuck in holding pattern for now

August, 11, 2012
8/11/12
9:12
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
Chris WeidmanAP Photo/Jeff ChiuChris Weidman is getting a crack at the middleweight title against Anderson Silva.
DENVER -- It was one month ago today that Chris Weidman plowed through Mark Munoz in what was one of the most dominant main event showings of 2012. Part of the prize package for that July 11 performance in San Jose is ending up in Denver, answering questions to an arena full of fans ahead of UFC 150.

Suddenly Weidman is a promotional show pony, and the Long Island native is happy to do the “different chores” that come with the ascension. Yet a month after establishing himself as the No. 1 contender by beating the No. 1 contender, he’s still waiting for the champion to acknowledge it.

The No. 1 reason for the hold up? He suspects it’s because he knows his way around a wrestling mat.

“I’m going to say that’s probably the biggest reason,” he told ESPN.com after his Q&A session. “[Silva’s] management has kind of tried to downplay me, because honestly I am a stylistic nightmare for that guy. No question about it. On paper, Mark Munoz is a lot harder fight for me. He’s got good wrestling, so I could have been stuck on my feet, and he has good hands, so I could have got knocked out. So I took that fight knowing it was a tough challenge.

“Anderson Silva? I’ve got better wrestling, better jiiu-jitsu, so I have a lot more on my side.”

Not only did Weidman beat Munoz, but he escaped with nary a scratch. Munoz wasn’t able to connect with even one significant strike on the one-time All-American wrestler at Hofstra. It was a whitewash, and it served as notice that he had arrived.

The Munoz victory, after winning a big fight over Demian Maia on short notice earlier in the year (when he put himself through the extremes of cutting over 30 pounds in 10 days) was pedestal enough for Weidman to call Silva out. How threatening is his style to Silva’s? Chael Sonnen said that Weidman is a harder match-up for the 185-pound champion than he was -- and Sonnen was Silva’s toughest challenge hitherto.
[+] EnlargeWeidman2
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesChris Weidman, top, is confident his wrestling skills would present all sorts of problems for Anderson Silva.

None of this will look to tempting to pass up to Silva, whose camp has said that a catchweight fight with Georges St. Pierre is the only one “that makes sense right now.”

Meanwhile Weidman has been called out by guys like Vitor Belfort, whom he politely turned down via Twitter while waiting on Silva. And a month removed, that’s where he still finds himself.

“Until the UFC tells me that’s not the fight they want me to have, Silva’s the fight I want,” he says.

But at this point Weidman is realistic, too. If the UFC decides it has different plans for Silva, Weidman is ready to take on the next big guy. Though he didn’t name names, he said he’s resolved to do whatever UFC matchmaker Joe Silva has in mind.

“Yeah, if the UFC comes back and says 'listen, we’re not going to do the Anderson fight right now, we’re going to do something else,' that’s OK,” he said. “I’m going to move on. At this point I’m just thinking about Anderson Silva, until they tell me not to. I’m sure there will be other guys at the time, and I’ll be ready. I just feel like I deserve a title shot, and that I’m the No. 1 contender and I want to get that opportunity.”

Unlike many who have faced Silva, the unique thing is that Weidman feels like the predator in a potential match-up, rather than the opposite.

“A lot of guys went against him to see how they’d do, and I won’t make that mistake,” he said. “I’ve made that mistake before in a wrestling match. You don’t realize until the third period that you belong in there, and by then it’s too late -- you’re losing too bad.

“So I made a pact to myself that I would never let that happen again. I’m confident in myself, so I will just go in there and do the best I can, and if I lose it’s because this guy’s better than me, not because I beat myself before we got in there.”

The question remains, will he get in there with Silva? He’s holding out hope he will. If not now, then eventually.

Weidman busted Munoz, title hunt wide open

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
5:24
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
Archive
Mark MunozAP Photo/Jeff ChiuDon't sleep on Chris Weidman. Mark Munoz can tell you what happens when you do.

There was a considerable gnashing of analytical teeth leading up to Chris Weidman’s midweek main event against Mark Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV.

The general consensus among the experts was that this bout between two accomplished amateur wrestlers, keen to stake a claim in the UFC middleweight division, was nearly too close to call.

Munoz had been the veritable wrecking machine suggested by his nickname -- the Filipino Wrecking Machine -- since dropping to 185 pounds almost three years ago, putting together a 6-1 mark that had him within striking distance of a title shot. His opponent had been no less impressive, rolling in with an overall record of 8-0, despite taking thee of his previous four UFC bouts on short notice. Weidman was a slight betting favorite leading up to the fight, but the general feeling was that he and Munoz were almost ridiculously evenly matched on paper.

Yeah, paper stinks.

Surely even the people who picked Weidman to edge Munoz were shocked by what they saw on Wednesday night, as the 28-year-old from Long Island dominated all facets of the bout over 6 ½ minutes en route to one of the year’s more unsettling TKOs.

In doing so, Weidman not only gashed Munoz open with a sickeningly sweet standing elbow before finishing him with a barrage of ground strikes that turned just plain sickening, he may as well also have taken a hammer to the title picture in the 185-pound division.

It was just five days ago, after all, that we were lamenting the sudden lack of compelling middleweight matchups for Anderson Silva. Having dealt with Chael Sonnen in karmically fitting fashion at UFC 148, the aging champion’s prospects for finding another opponent befitting both his skills and his place in the history of the sport appeared bleak. All at once Silva’s best options for cementing his legacy felt like retirement or fighting Jon Jones, both of which apparently sounded unappetizing to the champion himself.

Then Weidman smashed Munoz on a night when the UFC was perhaps the only live professional sporting event on national television. And while it would be disingenuous to pretend the performance raised him to Silva’s legendary level in one fell swoop, it did make the middleweight division look suddenly vibrant again.

Indeed, the most surprising and impressive part of Weidman’s win over Munoz was simply his comprehensive dominance. Not only did he take the former NCAA Division I national wrestling champion down at will, but he controlled the scrambles, appeared continually on the verge of finishing things with a number of submissions, and physically overmatched a guy previously regarded as powerhouse at this weight with ease. When Munoz finally did free himself of Weidman’s clutches and looked to unleash his vaunted heavy hands on the feet, Weidman knocked him out less than two minutes into the second round.

It’s tough to imagine anyone putting together a more compelling case for a title shot during the course of a single fight. Where few people were excited about the prospect of seeing Munoz take on Silva, Weidman now seems like the kind of talent that might just pique the public’s interest.

UFC President Dana White has been initially noncommittal about where the victory leaves Weidman. Depending on how things go during a few upcoming bouts, Hector Lombard, Michael Bisping or Alan Belcher could all probably make credible arguments to be Silva’s next opponent. If nothing else, that means there should be some lively debate in the coming weeks about where the middleweight division and its great champion are headed next.

It also means that UFC matchmakers suddenly find themselves a far cry from where we thought they were less than a week ago.

Suddenly, the company has at least one good option. That's an improvement.

The middleweight division sans Silva

July, 12, 2012
7/12/12
7:14
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
Archive
Chael Sonnen, Demian Maia and Rashad EvansJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesIt's possible Chael Sonnen wouldn't have to parade around with a fake belt if Anderson Silva retired.
Anderson Silva hung up his gloves after stopping Chael Sonnen on Saturday. The best middleweight in MMA history, arguably the top fighter over the first two decades of the sport's modern era, had nothing left to accomplish. So he did the sensible thing. He walked away healthy. Left with his legacy intact.

OK ... on the unlikely chance you're freaked out right now, relax. My lede is as real as Sonnen's UFC championship belt. Someday, though, Silva, 37, having established and maintained unparalleled records of longevity in the UFC, will leave the sport.

What happens then? A free-for-all at 185 pounds? Will a fighter emerge and establish his own dominant track?

Based on Wednesday's clash in San Jose, Calif., between Mark Munoz and Chris Weidman, the division won’t lack for talent. The unbeaten Weidman was to-a-T perfect, landing a beautiful standing counter elbow that sliced open the Filipino Wrecking Machine en route to a bloody second round stoppage. Perhaps the 28-year-old wrestler from Long Island is the next big thing and the man to end Silva’s reign. He sure looked like a force against Munoz, and whether or not Silva is around to test him, Weidman will surely have a say about the future of the middleweight division.
[+] EnlargeChris Weidman
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuChris Weidman would be one to watch in an Anderson Silva-free middleweight division.

While the perceived gulf between Silva and his 185-compatriots befits the Grand Canyon, perhaps emerging contenders like Weidman suggests it’s not as wide as we think.

At the very least, a cadre of contenders ensures a merry-go-round at the top of the class, a hint that winning the belt does not come with an implicit guarantee of retaining it.

Who are the best candidates to replace Silva when he finally walks (or maybe before he does)?

Chris Weidman



With less than 10 pro fights you’d think he doesn’t have the experience to challenge Silva. But history suggests this isn’t any kind of deterrent to championship aspirations in the UFC. Thus far, Weidman did everything that promotion has asked of him, and looked great in the process.

Over the long haul, among the contenders that exist today, Weidman has established himself (in my mind at least) as the front-running prospective champion. That could be the afterglow of Wednesday’s one-sided beatdown talking, but this is a guy with all the makings of a serious fighter.

He’s more than a wrestler. He’s a long wrestler. And if there was any doubt about his striking acumen I’ll refer you to the elbow that sealed the deal against Munoz.

Billed by his coach Ray Longo as a natural, Weidman plays the part well.

Chael Sonnen



Yes, Sonnen. He didn’t beat Silva, but who has? It’s a whole different (i.e. less difficult) scenario taking on the smorgasbord that would exist in the Brazilian’s absence. Sonnen’s most trying opponent is often himself. Negotiating mental hurdles to claim a belt, even if it’s not from Silva, remains his biggest challenge.

Michael Bisping



Collective groans from the peanut gallery on this one. But the man deserves more respect than he gets. No matter how vigorously some fans hate on Bisping, it’s clear he’s a threat and continues to improve, especially in the area of takedown defense. When he fights with composure there are few better at overwhelming opponents with angst and volume punching than the veteran Brit.

Hector Lombard



Here’s the thing with Lombard: no one knows how good he is.

You can surmise and infer all you want. The fact is Lombard, formerly the Bellator middleweight champion, hasn’t fought anyone at or near their prime in years. If he gets past Tim Boetsch (big if) then he’ll earn credibility. Without needing to fight Silva, whose length and accuracy are massive factors against the short yet powerful Cuban, Lombard could have a shot at making this happen.

Alan Belcher



Another big middleweight who can do more than a little bit of everything. Belcher’s win against Rousimar Palhares in May indicated the 28-year-old, fighting out of Biloxi, Miss., is nearing the top of his game. With his confidence soaring, Belcher is a test for anyone at 185 pounds.

Luke Rockhold



First things first, he has to matriculate to the UFC. For now let’s pretend that instead of fighting for Zuffa’s unfortunately low-rent Strikeforce, Rockhold has already made his way to the Octagon. The athletic, lanky, aggressive Californian should not be underestimated. He’s learning on the job, which is a strike against him, but so far so good. If he handles Tim Kennedy with ease this Saturday, there’s no reason Rockhold shouldn’t be mentioned in the same class as the cream of UFC’s 185-pound crop.

Munoz believes he has tools to unseat Silva

July, 11, 2012
7/11/12
5:22
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive
Mark MunozJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty ImagesMark Munoz has vowed to speak up about what he believes in -- that he deserves a title shot.
Throughout his four years competing under the Zuffa LLC banner, Mark Munoz has been nothing short of a model employee. He doesn’t turn down fights, never complains and does whatever is asked of him with a big smile on his face. He's the consummate company man, always willing to do what’s best for the organization.

Munoz will continue to do his part for Zuffa, but with a twist: He wants to be properly rewarded for his loyalty. He isn’t seeking a handout -- just fairness. It’s time that Zuffa does right by Munoz and give him his long-awaited middleweight title shot.

For the first time in his mixed martial arts career Munoz intends to put his employer on the spot Wednesday night with a win over fast-rising Chris Weidman. The two are set to meet in the UFC on Fuel TV main event at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.

And while there are rumblings that a victory will land Munoz a title shot, he realizes that isn’t a guarantee. Others have been making a push to be the next opponent for 185-pound champion Anderson Silva as well; Michael Bisping has campaigned heavily in recent weeks and former light heavyweight titleholder Rashad Evans tossed his hat into the mix this past weekend.

Munoz is aware of their presence and has decided it’s time to up the ante. He'll no longer sit quietly and allow another title shot to pass him by.

I've been in the [UFC] for more than three years; I've paid my dues. I've been that guy who's always let his fighting do the talking; now I've got to do some actual talking.

-- Mark Munoz

“I’ve been in the [UFC] for more than three years; I’ve paid my dues,” Munoz told ESPN.com. “I’ve been that guy who’s always let his fighting do the talking; now I’ve got to do some actual talking. I have to be more vocal on where I should be in the weight class. I’m definitely going to say things now. I’m going to be more vocal about it because I can’t pass up opportunities by saying, ‘I’ll take whatever the UFC gives me.’

“I have to be vocal and let them know I’m here to be champion. I want to become a champion, I’m doing what it takes to become a champion and I should be the No. 1 contender after this fight.”

Munoz’s vocal campaign will fall on deaf ears, however, unless he raises eyebrows against Weidman. It’s not enough to say you want a title shot; a fighter must prove it inside the Octagon. And that’s what Munoz is determined to do Wednesday night.

“It’s very important for me to be impressive in this fight,” Munoz said. “I have to make a statement to prove that I’m the guy to be the No. 1 contender.

“Chris Weidman is undefeated for a reason; he’s a great competitor. But I’ve shown that it’s my time. A win over him -- a fantastic win -- shuts up the critics. And it will actually solidify me as the No. 1 contender.”

Though Munoz is hell-bent on making his voice heard, he won’t employ the tactic used by Chael Sonnen to garner additional attention. Sonnen landed two title shots within a two-year span in part due to his open hostility toward the champion.

Munoz doesn’t hold any animosity toward Silva. There won’t be derogatory statements coming out of Munoz’s mouth directed at Silva’s homeland of Brazil or Silva's family, friends or training partners.

What Munoz will reveal is his deep belief that he can and will dethrone the champion if given the chance.

“I’m capable of beating anybody inside the Octagon, even if it’s Anderson Silva,” said Munoz, who is a high-level wrestler. “I have the tools to do that.

“When I get on top of somebody, I don’t just try to score points. I try to finish the fight. But at the same time that I’m saying this, I respect Anderson Silva as a champion, as a fighter and as a friend. I’m not discrediting what he’s done for the sport. What I’m saying is that I want to be champion, too. I’ve trained my butt off to be able to do so and accomplish my goals.”

Munoz has quietly waited for UFC officials to offer him a title shot. Starting Wednesday, expect him to get in their faces and loudly proclaim that it’s his turn.

He'll do so respectfully, of course, and most likely with a smile.

Bisping/Boetsch to Calgary is the right play

May, 1, 2012
5/01/12
4:23
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
Michael Bisping and Yoshihiro AkiyamaMartin McNeil for ESPN.comA dose of Michael Bisping will surely add some spice to UFC 149.
With Chael Sonnen’s rematch against Anderson Silva now migrating from Brazil to Las Vegas, UFC 148 becomes the Miami Heat of fight cards. It is stacked, stuffed, loaded and insane.

And let’s face it, this annually huge Vegas card had a pot of gold drop in its lap: Sonnen/Silva II is already a big enough fight to tune in. The UFC could have booked Yoislandy Izquierdo against T.J. Grant as the co-main and things would still have been fine on July 7.

But the UFC’s July 4 weekend is all Roman candles and Saturn missiles, and it’s quickly become a countdown of matchmaking franchises. Aside from Sonnen/Silva II, there’s Urijah Faber versus Dominick Cruz III, Forrest Griffin versus Tito Ortiz II, Cung Le versus Rich Franklin I. All told, there are two belts in play, a swan song or a UFC pioneer, and a return to middleweight for the former champion Franklin, who is 100 percent guaranteed to put on a features-contorting brawl.

If that weren’t enough, Demian Maia will see how he holds up against human Velcro, Dong Hyun Kim, in his welterweight debut.

To Vegas go all the spoils.

To far off Calgary in the north, just two weeks later on July 21? Smartly, Tim Boetsch and Michael Bisping.

What was meant to happen in Vegas isn’t staying there -- Boetsch and Bisping, a big intrigue pairing of middleweights that was originally slated for UFC 148, is now headed for UFC 149 in Alberta. And this is ultimately a good move by the UFC. Why lose a contender’s type bout to a thousand bunched-up storylines at UFC 148 while peripheral PPV cards -- UFC 147 and UFC 149 -- could use the additional heft?

When the first question out of people’s mouths is nearly always “what’s next,” the guys chasing Sonnen/Silva are pretty important to the scheme of things. In the fight game we’re dealing in tapestries. The newly resurrected Tim Boetsch and the MMA’s “forever contender” Michael Bisping will get a better shake at the Saddledome behind headliners Jose Aldo and Erik Koch. Let Sonnen/Silva play out, and this fight takes on more significance. It’s our duty to talk, after all, and to invent the stakes while playing at what’s in Joe Silva’s head.

And right now, a lot of people more readily recall Boetsch losing by “Philmura” against Phil Davis instead of him storming back against Yushin Okami at UFC 144. If he’s really closing on a title shot at 185 pounds, Boetsch could use the boost of a co-main event type spotlight. Right now he’s more journeyman than contender. He’s never been the recipient of Zuffa’s marketing machine. It’s time to gussy him up.

As for Bisping? He believes the same thing he’s been believed for years -- that he’s the hands down No. 1 contender. Obviously there’s still the matter of Mark Munoz and Chris Weidman out there, but Bisping might actually be on to something this time through. With unpredictable circumstances and injuries and schedule syncing and suspensions and all the things that get in the way in obvious matchmaking, the Briton really might be next in line.

Or he might not. But that we can care sufficiently enough to find out is lucky for him and Tim Boetsch. In this rare case it’s better to jump cards than end up lost in the shuffle.

Five potential foes for Hector Lombard

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
1:08
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
Hector LombardDave Mandel/Sherdog.comWelcome to the big leagues: Hector Lombard won't get any soft touches in the UFC.
The one thing that any successful fighter heading into the UFC will hear is this: He’s overrated. He hasn’t faced any real competition. Somebody’s about to come crashing down to earth. Somebody is about to get exposed.

That "somebody" this time happens to be Hector Lombard, the popular Bellator middleweight champion who has rattled off 20 victories in a row, including eight as the company’s flagship. Lombard is a menace at 185 pounds and is sculpted like a Frank Frazetta overlord, but the big gripe against him is he’s beating guys named Falaniko Vitale and Herbert Goodman instead of cats like Mark Munoz and Rousimar Palhares.

All that changes, now that Lombard makes his way to the UFC. Instead of facing UFC castoffs like Jay Silva and Joe Doerksen, the 34-year old American Top Team fighter will face UFC regulars. It’s a completely different vantage point. Lombard’s new assignment is to covert guys into UFC castoffs rather than feast on what’s left of their good names.

Here’s a quick look at five guys who would make for mean welcoming parties for “Shango.”

Brian Stann
Back when Jorge Santiago had built up a new head of stream in Sengoku, he became a popular dark horse pick against Brian Stann at UFC 130. What did Stann do? He punched the daylights out of him. And wouldn’t you know that just as Lombard brings his 25-fight unbeaten streak into the UFC, Stann is coming off a big victory over Alessio Sakara and needs an upgrade in opponent, just as all the bigger names are occupied?

Enter Hector Lombard. The great thing about this fight is both guys like to bang on the feet. Lombard is a precision striker who carries a lot of power. He likes to fight guys that get right up in his wheelhouse and tempt him into uncoiling. That’s Stann, who makes it his duty to oblige brawlers. (And just as often, shut them down).

Jake Shields
Shields has bounced back and forth between 170 and 185 pounds, and after a fairly subpar run in the UFC’s welterweight division, it looks like he’ll bulk back up. Bottom line is, he wasn't losing to slouches, either -- Georges St. Pierre and Jake Ellenberger (under trying circumstances, dealing with the passing of his father) never looked like easy outs.

But the last time we saw Shields as a middleweight he looked ... if not great, then totally resilient. He beat up Jason Miller for five rounds, and then improbably defended the Strikeforce belt against Dan Henderson in a fight he had his wits scrambled in the first round. Not to name drop, but Shields was the last guy to defeat Henderson, who is now set to fight Jon Jones for the 205-pound title. Think he wouldn’t like to punch some holes in Lombard’s lore? And for those desperate for storylines or loose patriotism, it’d be the battle of the Americas -- American Jiu-Jitsu versus American Top Team.

Luke Rockhold
Hey, while we’re restocking the UFC’s middleweight division with valuable intrigues, why not bring Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold into the UFC fold to face Lombard? It’s not the likeliest scenario, but Rockhold has just come into his own at a time when Strikeforce has become a weekend skeleton crew. Think he likes the idea of challenges named Keith Jardine or, maybe at some point, Bristol Marunde?

It’s fun to imagine a Rockhold/Lombard scrap. You’ve got two guys who aren’t afraid to fight in the pocket, each with a durable chin and sadistic intentions. It has “back-and-forth war” written all over it, a great UFC debut for both ... but it looks like Rockhold will get that long-awaited battle with Stikeforce contender Tim Kennedy, thus rendering this flight of fancy moot. Truth be told, we’re merely throwing Rockhold’s name out there in the off chance that matchmakers Sean Shelby and Joe Silva are combing the Internet for suggestions.

Ronaldo Souza
Again, we’re dealing in Strikeforce property (read: ultimately Zuffa’s), but Souza hates the pace of fighting once every six to eight months. And if the promotion does make Kennedy versus Rockhold, that means Jacare is going to be fighting some unmentionable. If the UFC brought Souza over to face Lombard, you’ve got the strutting fisticuffs that languished in Bellator for too long against the tall-grass predator with the aggressive, limb snatching jiu-jitsu. What better?

And how would that be for a red carpet rollout for both guys into the Octagon?

Ed Herman
You laugh. I can see you laughing. But let me put Herman’s name into perspective. For one thing, he has been completely rejuvenated since coming back from his knee injury and setbacks, having won three fights in a row. For another, “Short Fuse” is a finisher just like Lombard. In every one of those fights he dusted his hands of the opponent, beginning with Tim Credeur (whom he TKO’d in 48 seconds) and ending with Clifford Starks (second round rear-naked choke).

The guy he beat in-between? Why that was Kyle Noke (via first round heel hook), the same guy who took Lombard to a draw back in 2007. Herman is creeping up on the pack in the middleweight class, and Lombard is a big step up in opposition. Here’s the rub, though: So is Herman a big step up in competition for Lombard. Either Lombard could treat Herman as an appetizer to the main course, or he could, for the first time ever, find himself with a nostril full of smelling salts.

Ignoring Munoz blurs 185-pound title scene

March, 21, 2012
3/21/12
6:16
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
Archive
MunozRogan Thomson/Icon SMIStopping 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.
[+] EnlargeMark Munoz
AP Photo/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian PressAt 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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES