When Mark Munoz steps into the cage to face Gegard Mousasi in the UFC Fight Night main event Saturday night, his objective will be clear - take the dangerous striker to the ground and finish him there. Both top middleweights are coming off losses to Lyoto Machida but Munoz has looked to Mousasi's prior loss - to Muhammed Lawal way back in 2010 - for inspiration.
Lawal, like Munoz, is a wrestling-based fighter and managed to control and beat Mousasi in that Strikeforce title bout with take downs. Munoz acknowledges that Mousasi is an improved fighter since losing to Lawal - specifically with his foot work and keeping his distance from grapplers - but he's also a more well-rounded fighter than "King Mo" was back then, himself, and so has to be confident that his grappling will prevail against the Dutchman.
"I would be remiss if I wasn’t confident," the soft-spoken Munoz tells Cagewriter.
"I am confident. I am a wrestler and I’ve done it pretty much all of my life. I know how to do that. I've also been in MMA for a long time. I’m confident I can get Mousasi to the ground and I am confident I can keep him there. I've been training with a lot of great guys at Reign Training Center. Guys are coming to me."
Being a superior wrestler and grappler doesn't always translate to wins in an MMA fight, however. Great wrestlers who become predictable and don't set-up their take down attempts can get picked apart and hurt.
We ask Munoz - one of the more tactical minds in MMA and also a full-time coach at his Reign Training Center - how a wrestler like himself can balance trying to get his opponent to the ground with a single mindedness with not becoming predictable. According to "The Filipino Wrecking Machine," a big part of the key there is about being viewed by your opponent as a threat everywhere, even if you're strongest in one area.
"Everyone knows I’m a wrestler. Everyone knows I have great ground and pound and that's a huge asset in MMA," Munoz admits.
"At the same time, I've been known to knock people out on my feet and to have power there. You have to be a well-rounded in MMA. Being a wrestler, you still have to be unpredictable. And you do that with feints, by faking shots, mixing that in with strikes. If you shoot and he stuffs, you go to dirty boxing. You can't just back up and do the same set up and combo again. That’s where drilling comes into play. If you are doing the same things over and over again, you become predictable. If you break your rhythm and do different combos, do different take downs, you can be successful. Your attack has to be diverse, even if you want the take down. You can't just be the same every single time. If you are, youw ill get beat consistently."
It's sage advice for anyone and surely what Munoz hopes to accomplish against Mousasi. Munoz has had a bit of a lay-off since his last fight in October but believes that he's used the time to improve and that he'll be the best version of himself he's ever been, come Saturday in Berlin.
"I've won a lot of times at middleweight and I know that I've gotten better with every fight," he says.
"I'm going to be an updated version of myself in this fight. I’ve shown that I always get better with every fight and I’m going to show that again on Saturday night."