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Munhoz legit favorite on Vegas UFC card

By Lou Finocchiaro  () 

Stipe Miocic’s victory over Daniel Cormier in last week’s UFC 252 was an epic five-round battle.

My request would be for Miocic to take a couple of months off, then retire. Doing so would put him in ultra-elite company. Few fighters in history have been able to walk away at the pinnacle of their profession. Miocic has the opportunity to time-stamp his legacy with a “forever” moniker, and I hope he considers it. After all, look at the two fighters salivating to take him on in his next bout should there be one — Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones!

Cormier must be regarded as an all-time great UFC combatant in his own right. His sole error was thinking he controlled time instead of the other way around, and it cost him the legacy he so yearned to achieve.

Historians will recall Cormier as a two-division champion and surely one of MMA’s finest, yet he’ll be remembered as the chubby little guy Miocic beat twice to claim his own greatness. It’s tragic that fighters never study their own history, and Cormier must now live with that.

This week we remain at the Apex in Las Vegas for a card that I handicap as having five bouts worthy of handicapping and five others with debuting athletes or with a developmental level of competition. Here’s a breakdown of three of this week’s bouts in the confines of the 25-foot cage.

Pedro Munhoz -230 vs. Frankie Edgar + 200, bantamweight (135 pounds), main event

Munhoz, the fifth-ranked bantamweight, has won three of his last four fights. A close decision loss to No. 1 contender Aljamain Sterling in his last bout provided Munhoz with a dose of the championship environment so important for fighters aspiring to the heights of their division.

Munhoz is a black belt in BJJ and a polished kickboxer who employs forward pressure and constant leg and arm strikes to back up opponents. He wants to press forward and hit opponents with a barrage of power and volume. He’s active on his feet, landing 5.9 strikes per minute, but also is willing to engage, as evidenced by the fact that he absorbs 6.1 strikes per minute. Munhoz wants to press and brawl.

Edgar is the eighth-ranked featherweight dropping a division to take on Munhoz. Edgar spent much of his career at lightweight (155 pounds) before dropping 10 pounds to featherweight. Now he drops 10 more pounds, which I regard as aggressive and to an extent desperate.

Edgar is a wrestling-based warrior with as many wins as Munhoz has fights. Edgar’s depth of experience coupled with the level of championship-caliber opponent he has faced in his 15-year career have earned the respect and admiration of the mixed martial arts world.

But Edgar, whose epic trilogy with Gray Maynard is now nine years old, is 38. After Saturday night, he’ll have battled elite fighters in three weight divisions.

Fighters older than 38 in weight divisions at 145 or lower are 136-172, or 44.2%. Age is tough on heavyweights, but it’s devastating for those who need to use movement to be effective.

One would think Edgar has little else to prove, yet for this battle he must endure the stress of an intrusive weight cut. Aggressive weight cuts not only affect the fighter’s cardio and energy, they also greatly compromise one’s ability to take a flush strike on the chin.

Edgar’s fighting style once employed deft movement and constant pressure wrestling. He strives to force, crowd, bully and maul opponents into the close confines of the corner of the cage before dragging them to the floor when he has it going his way. The issue is that Edgar’s age has compromised his movement, yielding more stand-up confrontations.

One unusual advantage for Edgar is that he’ll hold size and length advantages over Munhoz, a natural bantamweight. Edgar will plan to negate Munhoz’s space early and fight the Brazilian up close and personal, then against the cage and on the floor.

Munhoz, five years younger, must utilize his 81% takedown defense to keep Edgar at distance and in a striking battle, where Munhoz’s speed advantage will be noticeable. Edgar has lost three of his last four, two via finishes, so Munhoz will look to meet him in the middle and touch him up from the opening bell.

Munhoz would solidify himself as a top-five talent in the division with a pelt on his mantel that says “Edgar.” He opened -225 and has been bet up to -240. Munhoz is a legitimate favorite, in my judgment.

The total is 3.5 Under -130.

Alonzo Menifield -130 vs. Ovince Saint Preux + 110, light-heavyweight (205 pounds)

Both were brought in on short notice for this co-main event.

Saint Preux, a brown belt in BJJ, is 37 and an exemplary athlete. He wrestled in high school, played football at Tennessee in college and then turned his attention to MMA. He is 24-14 professionally but 2-4 since 2018. His losses have come only to top-end light-heavyweight talent as he does experience success against the division’s middle and lower tier.

Menifield, 33, is 10-1 and a pure power striker who enters this fight off a shellacking at the hands of Devin Clark. The sculpted Menifield learned much in that loss and now gets a chance to compete with a fighter who has an advantage in experience and a more complete, refined fighting arsenal but who will not be nearly as explosive or powerful. 

Menifield will need to be guarded early in his striking engagements. Rushing in to initiate his striking might leave him susceptible to takedowns, which Menifield must avoid at all costs. His plan will be to work his way inside and wage war with Saint Preux standing and from inside the pocket.

Meanwhile, Saint Preux will want to use movement and striking only long enough to get the larger, younger striker to the floor, where Menifield’s power and explosion are limited and where Saint Preux can do damage from the top position.

I sense Menifield may earn a PhD in MMA, for I regard Saint Preux as the slight favorite.

Menifield opened -140 to Saint Preux + 120. The total is 1.5 rounds Over -130.

Saint Preux + 110

Joe Solecki -150 vs. Austin Hubbard + 130, lightweight (155 pounds)

This fight was postponed earlier this year, so these two have had their eyes on one another.

Solecki has one win in the UFC against an aged Matt Wiman, while Hubbard is 2-2 and has been in with capable fighters. Solecki, 27, is a wrestling-based fighter who trains in North Carolina. He’ll be taking a substantial step up in competition.

Hubbard is a power striker who struggled mightily a couple of fights back against Mark Madsen, a wrestling buzzsaw. That fight is important because Hubbard, who was tossed around handily that night, has improved his wrestling game exponentially.

Solecki’s plan will be to work his way inside to engage in wrestling, while Hubbard’s plan will be to maintain distance and damage the pressing wrestler on his way inward to engage.

Hubbard trains at Team Elevation in Denver, one of the premier MMA facilities in the country. His UFC experience and that fight against Madsen, I believe, have prepared him to thwart Solecki’s advances and keep this fight on the feet, where his power striking will be too much for Solecki to endure.

Hubbard + 110.

 

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