One of the main components of any MMA fight these days is the game plan or strategy. Long gone are the days in which fighters would just be able to train without much thought of what they would need to do inside the Octagon to get the win.

Head coaches are often given the task of devising a structure to their fighters’ training camps to ensure that by the time the fight comes around it won’t feel like they are implementing a predefined game plan, but it will feel like second nature.

In this feature, we will look to identify the underdog in an upcoming bout and examine what is required of that underdog in order to overcome the odds and predictions and get the all-important “W” in the win column. The point, then, is to step into the shoes of a head coach to break down the fight and provide a game plan for the underdog.

This week’s subject is Mark Munoz, who squares off with Lyoto Machida at UFC Fight Night 30 at the Manchester Phones4u Arena on Oct. 26, 2013.

The UFC returns to the United Kingdom with a great night of fights in prospect, packed with the usual smattering of local talent to keep my fellow Brits happy. The UFC has had a regular presence within the U.K. market over the last few years without ever really breaking through like it has in other markets, such as Brazil or Canada. However, with the UFC seemingly looking to increase its presence in the European market, this event sees the start of an expansion tour which will really kick in during the early part of 2014.

In order to fulfill its ambitions within the European market, the UFC will need to put on fight cards that don’t solely rely on local fighters, but also worldwide stars in order to attract greater interest and make MMA a real mainstream sport within the U.K. market. We saw what we thought was the beginning of this strategy back at UFC 75 when Dan Henderson and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson faced off in Dublin in a title unification bout. However, UFC 75 can be seen as an exception rather than a rule, as the fight cards since have not had the same star power that UFC 75 had. However, there is promise that this might change. A lot will depend on the continued rise of European contenders Alexander Gustafsson, Conor McGregor and Michael Bisping, who will continue their work towards a title over the next few years.

Back in the present, the card for UFC Fight Night 30 features several notable British fighters, including Ross Pearson, Luke Barnatt and Jimi Manuwa, who has the unusual honor of having made his last three opponents quit in between rounds.

Once the crowd has been whipped into a frenzy by the Brits on the undercard, we will witness the main event, which now features a middleweight bout pitting former training partners Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida and Mark “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Munoz against each other. Machida was preparing to face Tim Kennedy until Michael Bisping’s hopes of a UFC homecoming in Manchester were ended due to an eye injury. The Bisping injury meant a replacement was needed to step in on relatively short notice to fight Munoz.

Munoz’s last outing was an impressive victory against Tim Boetsch. It was a victory which showed that, despite his loss to current champion Chris Weidman, Munoz is still a force in the middleweight division. Machida, meanwhile, is making the drop to middleweight for the first time despite a very successful stint at light heavyweight that included a championship win back at UFC 98.

The Breakdown

Munoz is known as a powerful wrestler whose re-invigorated conditioning has been a major talking point in recent times. He has overcome a well-publicized bout of depression following his loss to Weidman.

Munoz will undoubtedly look to impose his wrestling game on Machida, whether that be up against the cage or utilizing takedowns with ground-and-pound. Munoz’s stand-up abilities are not to be overlooked either. Body punches are a favorite for the Filipino.

Machida, on the other hand, has well-documented elusive movement, which will be a real challenge for Munoz. Machida’s karate background makes him a master of getting in and out with minimum effort, leaving his opponents swinging at thin air.

The fact that Machida is making the drop to middleweight brings a lot to this fight. It could either be pros or cons dependent on how the Brazilian has gone about making the transition to the 185 pounds. In the light heavyweight division, Machida was never really considered to have been out-muscled by a larger opponent, and as such it would be expected of him to be physically imposing on many within the middleweight division. However, it can’t be quantified just how much the weight cut will have taken out of him and how much strength he will retain when entering the cage in Manchester.

The Strategy

Munoz will have had to come up with a strategy on relatively short notice for this fight. Although he will have been training all aspects of MMA as any true professional would and should, his preparations for Bisping would have been on the basis that Bisping is a more conventional fighter, especially when compared to Machida.

The bonus for Munoz is that he has trained with Machida previously. As such, he is not facing an unknown quantity in the Octagon, unlike many of those who have faced Machida in the past. Munoz should have a good idea from the time spent training with Machida of where he will need to put the fight in order to give him the best chance of leaving the United Kingdom with a win.

Munoz will most likely rely on his superior wrestling to allow him to maneuver the fight into an area where he feels comfortable and able to nullify the Brazilian’s vast skill set. If the fight is contested at a shorter distance, it would favor Munoz, or, at the very least, increase his chances.

To allow Machida to keep a comfortable distance and implement his elusive footwork would make for a long night for Munoz, and so he must look to step on Machida’s toes (quite literally) from the very beginning in order to stop the movement of Machida from setting in.

From there, Munoz should look to display his body punching prowess in order to slow down the Brazilian even more. If Munoz can keep to this pattern for the first few rounds, it could test the effectiveness of Machida’s weight cut. If done right, it could allow Munoz to capitalize in the later rounds.

The odds are most definitely in Machida’s favor, but the fact that Munoz enters the Octagon with a greater understanding of Machida’s style is a great help. This, coupled with the unknown quantity that is Machida’s first cut to middleweight, could make for a more competitive fight than the odds might suggest.

Photo: Mark Munoz (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer

Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.