Mark Munoz teed off on Chris Leben at UFC 138. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Mark Munoz always had the pedigree. Now, he has the results to go along with it.
An NCAA wrestling champion and two-time All-American at Oklahoma State University, the 33-year-old father of four plowed through Chris Leben in the UFC 138 main event on Saturday at the LG Arena in Birmingham, England. Spurred by a four-fight winning streak and some of the nastiest ground-and-pound in the business, Munoz finds himself on the cusp of title contention at 185 pounds. He was a force with which the durable and dependable Leban could not contend across the pond.
However, Munoz was not the only fighter to make a play for promotional gold at UFC 138. Renan Barao, a 24-year-old Nova Uniao standout, emerged as a legitimate threat at 135 pounds, as he submitted Brad Pickett with a first-round rear-naked choke in the co-headliner. Barao has won 17 consecutive fights.
In wake of UFC 138 “Leben vs. Munoz,” here are seven matchups we want to see made:
Mark Munoz vs. Michael Bisping-Jason Miller winner: Munoz has moved into the upper tier at 185 pounds. Has he done enough to warrant a shot at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva? Not yet. With a Silva-Chael Sonnen rematch a virtual certainty, Munoz likely remains at least one win shy of moving into position as the top contender. Still, his potent combination of takedowns and wicked ground-and-pound has made him a dangerous proposition for almost any peer. Bisping and “Mayhem,” currently coaching opposite one another on Season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” will collide on Dec. 3 in Las Vegas. Whichever man emerges from their confrontation would serve as a worthy challenger for Munoz, perhaps in a title eliminator.
Chris Leben vs. Dan Miller: After 30 professional fights, many of them blood-and-guts wars, one has to wonder how much steam Leben’s entertaining but taxing style has taken out of him. There are limits to the amount of cumulative punishment the human body can withstand, and, at 31, the man they call “The Crippler” is not getting any younger. Leben certainly had no answer for the Munoz onslaught and figures to fall a few rungs on the middleweight ladder. Miller, a rugged former International Fight League champion who has never been finished, finds himself on the rebound following a unanimous decision defeat to Rousimar Palhares at UFC 134 in August. A hypothetical matchup with Leben makes a lot of sense.
Despite losses to Brian Bowles, Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson, the former WEC bantamweight champion remains a significant hurdle at 135 pounds.
Brad Pickett vs. Eddie Wineland: Pickett took a step back in his first-round submission loss to Barao, as he succumbed to a choke for the first time in more than five years. Even so, with the lack of quality depth present at 135 pounds, he figures to stay in play at a high level. Wineland, a former WEC champion who trouble Benavidez and Urijah Faber in recent outings, finds himself without an opponent. Pickett seems a logical choice to fill the void.
Thiago Alves vs. Paulo Thiago: Alves has been around so long that some forget he is still only 28 years old and right in the middle of his prime. The American Top Team ace returned to the cage with a vengeance in England, as he submitted previously unbeaten judoka Papy Abedi in the first round. Alves put away the overmatched 33-year-old with a rear-naked choke, securing the first traditional submission of his standout career. Losses to champion Georges St. Pierre, Jon Fitch and Rick Story notwithstanding, he remains a real factor in the welterweight division. The often-overlooked Thiago put the brakes on a two-fight losing streak with his victory over David Mitchell at UFC 134 in August and would serve as a formidable obstacle for the resurgent Alves at 170 pounds.
Terry Etim vs. Paul Sass: Etim returned from a 19-month absence and spent all of 17 seconds in the cage at UFC 138. The former Cage Gladiators champion snatched a guillotine choke and submitted Edward Faaloloto with frightening speed and precision, barely breaking a sweat in the process. Etim, 26, has won five of his past six bouts dating back to his October 2008 encounter with Sam Stout and will undoubtedly seek a sterner test his next time out. The unbeaten Sass, known for his ridiculous run of his triangle choke submissions, went the heel hook route in his victory over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 12 finalist Michael Johnson at UFC Live 6 in October. Etim-Sass, even though it represents a clash of Team Kaobon training partners, sounds like a plan.
Michihiro Omigawa vs. Nam Phan: It was almost as if one could hear a massive sigh of relief leaving Omigawa’s lungs following his unanimous decision over Jason Young. The 2009 Sengoku Raiden Championship finalist had fallen short in four previous UFC appearances, losing on points to Matt Wiman, Thiago Tavares, Chad Mendes and Darren Elkins. Omigawa’s triumphant outing against Young secures his spot in the UFC, at least for now. Phan -- who avenged his controversial December 2010 decision defeat to Leonard Garcia with an emotional win at UFC 136 in October -- makes for a fascinating dance partner, with his rock-solid chin and quick, accurate hands. Omigawa defeated Phan by first-round technical knockout under the Sengoku banner in May 2009. Rematch anyone?
This item was updated at 1:47 a.m. ET on Nov. 6.