With UFC 238 only two days away, it would seem that Pedro Munhoz is out for blood.
Certainly, his promise to “f***ing scumbag” Aljamain Sterling to “make him pay” for bringing to light old PED infractions has the inner (and in many cases, outer) pugilist among us smiling in gleeful anticipation – and with good reason.
“The Young Punisher’s” sensational first-round victory over Cody Garbrandt in March of this year showcased something to be feared. Garbrandt, a sensational boxer himself, implemented his gameplan to good effect for the first half of the round; stay patient, strike from range.
That is until an overhand left from Munhoz dropped him to the canvas. Upon regaining his feet, the former champ’s gameplan dissolved and bloodlust took over. Garbrandt began swinging wildly for the fight-ending shot, ultimately leaving an opening for Munhoz to land one of his own.
He has displayed powerful striking before, such as his first round finish of Bryan Caraway, but this was different. Munhoz wasn’t simply returning fire, he wanted the firefight.
The Funkmaster’s Flex
This sets up an intriguing contest with Sterling, whose grappling-heavy style has served him very well to date, despite being cited as a possible limiting factor to higher profile card slots. He knows his style isn’t to everyone’s taste but doesn’t care if it gets the desired results.
“I guess what they want to see is me get my face busted up and get all battered and bleeding – give the ‘just bleed’ fans what they want,” he recently told MMA Junkie.
“I’m not really willing to oblige to that, so I’m going to keep doing my thing, stay pretty out there, stay smooth, stay hard to hit and just keep whooping ass.”
But statistically, Sterling is a greater threat on the feet than many give him credit for. Over his last three fights (totaling eight rounds) he has landed 53% of the 402 significant strikes attempted. If Munhoz charges, Sterling’s agility and 6.5-inch reach advantage could see him rack up the points from range.
Munhoz is typically also a high volume striker and as seen from his bout with Garbrandt, can be a tough force to get under control coming forward. But this willingness to engage comes at a cost; to date, he takes more average damage per minute (5.35 strikes) than landing himself (5.03 strikes), while Sterling on average takes only 1.45 strikes per minute.
Style vs. Substance
The ground battle, should it come into play, is where things get really interesting. Sterling’s style is born of his two-time NCAA Division III All-American pedigree. And, as a member of the Serra-Longo band of merry men, finding limbs and necks has stood him in good stead with three out of his nine UFC wins coming from the gentle art; including a 2018 ‘Submission of The Year’ winning Suloev Stretch over Cody Stamann.
Munhoz is a high-level BJJ black belt and is known for having one of the strongest guillotines in modern MMA, earning him three UFC scalps to date. But the Brazilian is without a submission win since 2017, preferring to let his fists earn the checks. Sterling is favored to hold the ground advantage by many, including UFC legend Kenny Florian and this weekend’s commentary lead, Jon Anik.
Assuming Cejudo and Moraes’ bout proceeds unencumbered, Sterling and Munhoz will duke it out Saturday night to define their careers. But as far as the victor and method of victory are concerned, it’s really anybody’s guess.
Rhodri Morgan is a combat sports writer based out of London, England. When not covering MMA, he can be found roaming the halls of a south London Wholefoods, finding a dog to befriend and rolling in the doomed pursuit of the perfect kimura.