UFC 138: Preview & Predictions

Historic five-round main event highlights UFC’s United Kingdom return

Yes, there is a UFC card this weekend. You’re forgiven if you didn’t realize it, what with next weekend’s big debut on Fox overshadowing just about everything else in the company at the moment.

Smack-dab near the front of what will no doubt be a grueling run of events – with the sole non-fight weekends coming on Thanksgiving and Christmas – comes the UFC’s first return to England in over a year. You can’t really measure it against past United Kingdom events, at least in terms of name value, because it doesn’t add up. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from covering this sport over the years, it’s that the cards that look the weakest on paper often end up delivering a night chock-full of exciting fights, even if you don’t know a ton about the guys in the middle of the action.

Historically, this card will remembered for at least one item: the first five-round non-title fight in UFC history. That honor goes to main-event fighters Mark Munoz and Chris Leben, who should put on a brutal fight that probably won’t even utilize the two extra rounds before it’s over.

Let’s run down the main card.

Mark Munoz vs. Chris Leben

The Preview: It’s the first five-round non-title fight in UFC history, but let’s be honest with ourselves: there’s very little chance this fight reaches the championship rounds.

There’s no mystery, no intrigue about what Chris Leben will try to do when he gets in the cage. His idea, in a general sense, is that he’s going to try and walk you down to punch you in the face, and if he takes unbelievable amounts of punishment in the process, well, that’s fine.

Leben has an unfailing belief in his chin, and for good reason, because it rarely fails him. Nowhere was this more clearly illustrated than his bout with Yoshihiro Akiyama, a seminal moment in Leben’s career where he proved that yes, a human being can actually continue to throw punches while being utterly unconscious on his feet.

He’ll try to execute the same game plan against Munoz, but here’s why it won’t be successful: unlike Akiyama or Wanderlei Silva, Munoz is a guy who won’t be suckered into standing and trading punches with a walking zombie like Leben. Munoz’ greatest strength is on the ground, delivering a brutal brand of ground and pound unmatched by anyone else in the middleweight division. Munoz is also intelligent enough to know that getting in a firefight with Leben might be exciting for the fans, but it’s also a recipe for potential disaster.

At some point in this fight – and it will be sometime in the first two rounds – Munoz will get a takedown. When he does, he’ll quickly pass Leben’s guard and smash him to pieces, earning a stoppage. At some point in the future we’re going to see an exciting non-title fight go the distance, but this won’t be it.

The Pick: Mark Munoz

Brad Pickett vs. Renan Barao

The Preview: Renan Barao is a stellar Brazilian prospect, running up a 26-1 record over the years coupled with a 3-0 record since joining Zuffa. A training partner of featherweight champion Jose Aldo, Barao has long been considered a guy who could rule the bantamweight division – especially given that champion Dominick Cruz has already defeated most of the top challengers once, if not twice. He’s an excellent jiujitsu artist who has displayed enough fortitude to beat tough dudes like Cole Escovedo, which he did at UFC 130.

As with other Brazilian prospects, though, Barao’s defensive wrestling is suspect. Brad Pickett, a tough and durable striker with the kind of wrestling ability to really make things tough over the long haul for Barao, is the type of opponent that could (and will) serve as the kryptonite to Barao’s suspect striking game. His ability to eat punches while setting up level changes is one of his strongest suits, and I fully expect him to use that aspect of his game heartily here.

Expect Pickett to do what he does, which is to say that he’ll take a ton of punishment in order to get the fight to the ground, where he’ll control Barao on the way to a decision win.

The Pick: Brad Pickett

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