Mark Muñoz sure knows how to get himself noticed.
Fighting in the main event of a UFC 138 card that was overshadowed by the latest college football game of the century, a championship boxing match of some interest and even the UFC's own hype surrounding next weekend's network TV debut, Muñoz beat up Chris Leben for two rounds Saturday in Birmingham, England, leaving "The Crippler" bloodied and half-blind, which prompted Leben's corner to call off the bout before the start of the third.
"It takes a man to know when they're beaten," said Leben (22-8). "And I was beaten tonight."
That he was. Muñoz took it to him from the start as the former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler (2001, Oklahoma State) stated his case for a shot at middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who appears to be looking around for a fight against someone not named Chael Sonnen. "I paid my dues in this weight class and I think I deserve a title shot," said Muñoz, who on occasion has trained with the champ. "Anderson Silva is by far the best, pound for pound, in the world. I give him all the respect and honor, but right now I think I deserve a title shot. I consider him a friend. Right now I would love to get a title shot."
It's probably not his time, though. Silva-Sonnen II would be a huge draw, considering how Chael took it to "The Spider" for four rounds and change before getting caught in a late submission. Sonnen continues to build interest with all of his yapping, and it's hard to imagine UFC president Dana White allowing Silva to pull a Mayweather-like dodge. Then again, maybe the fight organization will put off that rematch for a while and give Muñoz (12-2) the next go at the belt.
Beating Chris Leben is not necessarily the stuff of a champion, but the manner in which "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" got the job done was impressive. The bout, shown on tape-delay in the United States, was the first UFC nontitle fight designated as a five-rounder, but Muñoz wasted no time before seizing control. Twenty-five seconds in, he ducked under a Leben left hand to secure a double-leg takedown into half-guard, from where he landed a few shots. Leben managed to get back to his feet, and out of a scramble he actually took down Muñoz, briefly taking his back. But Mark escaped, ended up on top, and landed some more hard shots to the body and face.
Leben, best known as a standup brawler, showed some ground savvy by trying for guillotine chokes on several occasions, but Muñoz patiently got away each time and punished Chris with debilitating punches. By the time the first round ended, Leben was exhausted. He still was exhausted when he came out for Round 2 after a minute-long breather.
It was more of the same in the fight's second five minutes, with Muñoz getting takedowns and Leben trying for submissions. But Chris, his face covered with blood that was the result of some ground-and-pound, started losing steam as Mark landed bombs. After scrambling away from a Muñoz assault, Leben rose to his feet stiff-legged and staggering, and within seconds he was taken down again, this time landing in half-guard. Blood was streaked all over the bodies of both fighters, and eventually referee Marc Goddard halted the action with 1:17 left in the round to have the cageside doctor check the wound above his left eye.
Leben talked himself into remaining in the fight during this exchange:
Goddard, as the doctor checks Leben's eye: "Chris, if you tell me you can't see, I'm going to stop this fight."
Leben, after taking a deep breath: "I can see."
Goddard, pointing toward the cage door: "OK, doctor, out we go."
When the second round ended, however, Leben could not fool his corner into allowing him to continue. Not that he tried. A guy with his never-say-die reputation never will be doubted, so his vision must have been very much impaired for him to not put up a fight when his corner told the ref to wave off the bout. And afterward Leben said, "My hat's off to Mark Muñoz."
But Mark Muñoz doesn't want a hat. He wants a belt.
It was a Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots battle as the Brazilian and Englishman went toe to toe, with the crowd gleefully singing. Barão got the better of the exchanges, in part because his punches were straighter, in part because he also mixed in kicks. And one big knee. A flying knee with a little over a minute left staggered Pickett, and a barrage of rights and lefts put the East London fighter on his back. Barão swarmed, and as Pickett tried to roll away, the teammate of bantamweight champ Jose Aldo jumped on him, took his back, and clamped on a choke. There's no "Squeeze 'Em, Choke 'Em" kid's toy that could possibly approximate what he did.
"When I hit the knee," Barão said through a translator afterward, "I knew I could put the combinations on, and I jumped to his back the way I love to do. And I submitted him."
Alves, who came in having lost three of four after soaring up the welterweight ranks, set up the submission with his striking game, staggering the Swede with a couple of right hands and a left, dropping him with a glancing 1-2, and pounding away with fists and elbows from mount position, with referee Dan Miragliotta hovering. Eventually a bloodied Abedi gave up his back and Alves went for the finish.
"I love England, man!" he said afterward, drawing the expected roar from the crowd. "Last time I was here, I got a flying knee [to beat Matt Hughes at UFC 85 in London in 2008] and now I got my first submission."
After getting Diabate in trouble on the ground but running out of time in the first round, Perrosh unwearyingly awaited his chance to again hit the mat before choking out Diabate at 3:09 of the second. "My philosophy is position before submission," said Perrosh, who has bounced between heavyweight and light heavy. "He was very slippery, he tried to get out and I didn't rush. Eventually, I hurt him with some good, hard shots, he went flat, I heard him go 'Ohhh,' so I sunk in the choke." Oh.
Not a bad UFC debut for the Brit, who earned the Knockout of the Night bonus -- just one, though, even after nearly scoring the KO twice.