“Winner buys dinner.”

According to top 10-ranked UFC middleweight Mark “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Munoz, that’s the theme for this Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 30 main event. Live from the Phones4u Arena in Manchester, England, Munoz is set to face off against friend, training partner and former UFC light heavyweight champ Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida.

Munoz, whose gym is the Reign Training Center in Lake Forest, Calif., also trains 20 minutes across town at Kings MMA in Huntington Beach. Machida and Munoz became friends and training partners this year, before Machida’s announcement regarding the drop to middleweight. With Munoz set to fight Michael Bisping on this weekend’s card and Machida set to fight Tim Kennedy on Nov. 6, it was the perfect combination of training talent.

Munoz and Machida are quite opposite fighters. Any aspect of fighting in which one is an expert at, the other has struggled. About a month ago, everything changed within the Reign/Kings training camp when Bisping had to pull out and Machida was named as Munoz’s replacement opponent. It was weird, it was out of left field, but nonetheless, it’s a great pairing for the fans.

Munoz is coming in off a hard-fought decision win over scrapper Tim Boetsch in July, and Machida is coming in off a second bogus decision loss in three years, after the judges gave Phil Davis the nod in August. With Munoz needing a win to get back in the middleweight title hunt and Machida needing a win to earn his spot in his newfound home in the middleweight division, dinner is the least of concerns for these guys. Friends or not, this is a very important battle for both fighters.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Machida – 10, Munoz – 9

Munoz is a hard-hitting middleweight that’s built like a brick outhouse. His striking style is hard-pressing and very powerful. With Munoz packing one-punch knockout power, Machida will be wise to steer clear of his opponent’s haymakers. Fortunately for the Brazilian, that’s exactly what he is adept at doing.

Machida is a third-degree Shotokan black belt, having been brought up by his father in a karate environment. His elusiveness is the defining feature of his fighting style, but people get confused about this. Machida doesn’t run from his opponents. Instead, he sets them up. The actual most dangerous aspects of his striking game are his angles. Whether throwing a hop-in front kick to send Randy Couture to the dentist or a sneaky rising punch to drop Ryan Bader, Machida is like a cartoon character that can hit an opponent before they even know he’s throwing a strike, and his counterpunches are some of the best ever.

Munoz is a great striker with six knockouts and a ton of power, but he will have a hard time closing distance on one of the stand-up masters of the game.

Wrestling: Machida – 9, Munoz – 10

Speaking of closing distance, Munoz has an ace up his sleeve when it comes to his wrestling skills. He is an NCAA Division I wrestling champion and All-American out of Oklahoma State University. There may be a lot of lifelong wrestlers from all levels of the sport currently fighting at the highest levels of pro MMA, but very few are actual college champions. Munoz’s wrestling ability is second-to-none. He uses his skills to grind his opponents and hold them against the cage or keep them on the ground. He has tremendous body control and a knack for getting inside. However, as is the theme here, Machida is no typical MMA fighter.

Machida may not be a decorated wrestler nor have any formal wrestling training, but once again his elusiveness has been a problem for wrestlers. What do Bader, Couture, Rashad Evans, Tito Ortiz, Dan Henderson and Phil Davis all have in common? They all have wrestling backgrounds that they have translated effectively into MMA, yet none of them were able to effectively use their wrestling to stop Machida. The biggest problem Machida poses to wrestlers is his takedown defense. He defends 79 percent of his opponents’ takedown attempts. That’s bad news for Munoz, who only completes 27 percent of his attempts.

Munoz will not be able to use his wrestling alone to get inside on Machida and neutralize his attack, but he will need to take a page out of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s playbook, which consists of striking to get inside and muscle into a ground-and-pound situation.

Despite the “Filipino Wrecking Machine’s” credentials, when comparing Machida’s wrestling defense to Munoz’s wrestling offense, this category is really a toss-up. However, Machida has no wrestling offense to speak of, so the nod goes to Munoz.

Submission Grappling: Machida – 10, Munoz – 10

Although striking and wrestling serve as the primary modalities that will be utilized in this match-up, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is always a factor in MMA and could very well show up on Saturday. Machida is a black belt in BJJ and Munoz is a purple belt, so from a credential point of view, Machida has the upper hand.

Machida has experience training with some of the best BJJ practitioners in Brazil at Black House. He earned two subs early in his career, and the only time he’s been stopped by submission was in his last title fight against Jon Jones when “The Dragon” was choked unconscious by standing guillotine. Munoz has never been stopped by submission and has only tapped out one opponent (and that was via strikes).

In terms of slickster BJJ, Machida has the upper hand. The reason he keeps the fight standing is that it gives him the best chance of winning. If it does hit the mat, Munoz may not be as technically proficient, but his wrestling should make for good defense.

The submission game could go either way, but chances are that the fight will never get to that point.


The x-factor in this fight is the unlikely friendship that has developed between these two fighters, who both, coincidentally, have ties back to Japan. Machida recently moved his family to the United States, has been in a couple different camps, dropped to middleweight, and was training with Munoz for their respective upcoming battles. While a month is somewhat short notice, it is enough time that the match-up has had time to get in their heads.

What does that mean?

Machida was raised in a very mixed environment. His Japanese karate master father has taught him a system centered around respect in regards to his fighting art. But in the competitive, Brazilian fighting culture, guys are raised fighting their friends if need be. He has a conflicted spirituality that, frankly, could be to his benefit in this battle.

Munoz was raised in a team-wrestling culture, where his training partners are like his brothers. Very rarely, outside of sparring, was Munoz ever in a situation to fight a teammate. Granted, he has been a wonderful training partner and coach to past opponents, but he is clearly not used to the idea of fighting a guy that he was preparing with the day before.

If the friendship is the x-factor in this fight, the nod has to go to Machida. Both guys have big hearts, but the spiritual side of Machida’s upbringing should allow him to temporarily transcend the friendship much more easily than Munoz.

Total: Machida – 29, Munoz – 29

Verdict: The battle between “The Dragon” and “The Wrecking Machine” is a head-scratcher, for sure. It was already a surprise that Machida was dropping to middleweight, but now the confusion thickens as he fights a training partner and top contender. Both of these guys are very different in just about every aspect of the game, but Machida gets the slight nod with more fights at the championship level. Machida also holds an advantage in the fact that he’s been fighting much larger opponents. Munoz is a big middleweight, but at light heavyweight, he would be on the smaller end of the division. Look for Machida to use his elusiveness and takedown defense to earn the judges’ nods after a hard-fought five-round war. Machida can pick the restaurant, because Munoz will be the one paying for dinner.

Photo: Lyoto Machida (L) celebrates victory (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)