Weidman busted Munoz, title hunt wide open

Don't sleep on Chris Weidman. Mark Munoz can tell you what happens when you do. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

There was a considerable gnashing of analytical teeth leading up to Chris Weidman’s midweek main event against Mark Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV.

The general consensus among the experts was that this bout between two accomplished amateur wrestlers, keen to stake a claim in the UFC middleweight division, was nearly too close to call.

Munoz had been the veritable wrecking machine suggested by his nickname -- the Filipino Wrecking Machine -- since dropping to 185 pounds almost three years ago, putting together a 6-1 mark that had him within striking distance of a title shot. His opponent had been no less impressive, rolling in with an overall record of 8-0, despite taking thee of his previous four UFC bouts on short notice. Weidman was a slight betting favorite leading up to the fight, but the general feeling was that he and Munoz were almost ridiculously evenly matched on paper.

Yeah, paper stinks.

Surely even the people who picked Weidman to edge Munoz were shocked by what they saw on Wednesday night, as the 28-year-old from Long Island dominated all facets of the bout over 6 ½ minutes en route to one of the year’s more unsettling TKOs.

In doing so, Weidman not only gashed Munoz open with a sickeningly sweet standing elbow before finishing him with a barrage of ground strikes that turned just plain sickening, he may as well also have taken a hammer to the title picture in the 185-pound division.

It was just five days ago, after all, that we were lamenting the sudden lack of compelling middleweight matchups for Anderson Silva. Having dealt with Chael Sonnen in karmically fitting fashion at UFC 148, the aging champion’s prospects for finding another opponent befitting both his skills and his place in the history of the sport appeared bleak. All at once Silva’s best options for cementing his legacy felt like retirement or fighting Jon Jones, both of which apparently sounded unappetizing to the champion himself.

Then Weidman smashed Munoz on a night when the UFC was perhaps the only live professional sporting event on national television. And while it would be disingenuous to pretend the performance raised him to Silva’s legendary level in one fell swoop, it did make the middleweight division look suddenly vibrant again.

Indeed, the most surprising and impressive part of Weidman’s win over Munoz was simply his comprehensive dominance. Not only did he take the former NCAA Division I national wrestling champion down at will, but he controlled the scrambles, appeared continually on the verge of finishing things with a number of submissions, and physically overmatched a guy previously regarded as powerhouse at this weight with ease. When Munoz finally did free himself of Weidman’s clutches and looked to unleash his vaunted heavy hands on the feet, Weidman knocked him out less than two minutes into the second round.

It’s tough to imagine anyone putting together a more compelling case for a title shot during the course of a single fight. Where few people were excited about the prospect of seeing Munoz take on Silva, Weidman now seems like the kind of talent that might just pique the public’s interest.

UFC President Dana White has been initially noncommittal about where the victory leaves Weidman. Depending on how things go during a few upcoming bouts, Hector Lombard, Michael Bisping or Alan Belcher could all probably make credible arguments to be Silva’s next opponent. If nothing else, that means there should be some lively debate in the coming weeks about where the middleweight division and its great champion are headed next.

It also means that UFC matchmakers suddenly find themselves a far cry from where we thought they were less than a week ago.

Suddenly, the company has at least one good option. That's an improvement.