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Fistic Dialectics: Munoz, Boetsch And The Terrible Master

“The mind is a Terrible Master, Wonderful servant”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

At UFC 140, Mark Hominick charged into the middle of the ring against Chan Sung Jung, The Korean Zombie, in a rush of madness, sloppiness and now knowing the circumstances, pure unadulterated emotion that coursed through his body after months of simultaneous training and mourning (his trainer and friend, Shawn Tompkins had recently died at 37). This mourning manifested itself into a wild, untamed left hook that Jung, calm and emotionless, stepped away from. Jung felt the wind of desperation upon his face and countered with a straight right that dropped Hominick like an unbreakable horse. Following four unanswered punches to the face, Hominick’s fury was put to rest upon the canvas before 18,000 hometown Canadian fans shocked at the -465 favorite’s brutal defeat. It took seven seconds.

The fight between Tim Boetsch and Mark Munoz at UFC 162 in Las Vegas is the battle of the “the terrible masters.” Munoz seeks redemption while the Boetsch looks to display the liminal territory of mind-body question through violence and up against the other, a game-bred opponent. Earlier this week, Munoz posted before and after photos revealing that in a fit of depression following his loss to Chris Weidman, he had swelled to a startling 260 pounds and had made a 180 degree reversal to where he stands now, lean and trim and prepared for battle at 185 pounds.

Most interesting in these photos was not the change from pudge to cut musculature but what these seem to suggest: the subconscious fight hiding in plain sight. In these photos of Munoz there is a clear determination and the physical manifestation of a loss, much like the real-time puppetry of loss in Hominick’s fight. This is the Patterson Bigfoot footage for fight fans that emote for the wins and losses of their fighters, the ones that see something amiss in the walkout, the stare down, the round-to-round unfurling of months of preparation. These photos are an analog documentation of a fans ever-present, unconscious counter to their confirmation bias. It is a revelation of what we always felt, but could not reason into words: there is another match up, like a Matryoshka doll, that, like a ghost, is turning lights on and off on the canvas or in the ring. It is similarly, a confirmation of the morphogenetic connection between fighters and voyeurs, an affirmation that the digital microfiche that is the past, that is the Internet, is still alive and at play.

Munoz’s decisive loss to now-title contender Chris Weidman has become for many fans evidence “A” in the case for Weidman’s fistic campaign against the long-reigning Anderson Silva. Noted in this fight are Weidman’s takedowns against a decorated Division I wrestler, his high-pressure ground game, and seared into our synapses, the counter elbow whose atomic timing seemed movie-like in its perfection. Munoz, bloody and beaten on the canvas, is the restore point for many analysts in both the careers of Weidman and Munoz. I contend that this match said nothing of Weidman. Extrapolation built from this foundation is inherently faulty. I contend that this match, as many matches are, was a litmus test for only one fighter, in this case Munoz, and his “terrible master.” Munoz, refusing to pull out of two fights in a row (having already pulled out of his fight with Chael Sonnen), took the Weidman fight sick and injured, counting on his mind over body. Perhaps his loss cannot be chalked up to this alone, but it was a variable of great importance and a precedent that we never see in the tale of the tape.

Boetsch’s last fight against Costa Philippou was one of pure attrition. Boetsch, half blind and with a broken hand, like Munoz, was visually outclassed by Philippou. TKO victories are hard to take away, argue against, or reinterpret. There are sometimes accounts of early stoppages, but in Boetsch’s case it is important to note that he was taking as much a beating as before, that his terrible master was still in the game. Boetsch is as tough as it gets, but the Mind-Body Problem was on full display. Much like a limping junkyard dog, he was still game-bred, but his physical potential had been short-circuited.

It’s important to note that Boetsch’s toughness had not disappeared. The Mike Russow-style performance against Yushin Okami was not a one-off moment of Rocky proportions; this toughness was there in full effect against Philippou. Contrastingly, Russow went from a war with Todd Duffy to a Sonnen-style defeat at the hands of Fabricio Werdum. There was no defeat in Boetsch’s loss, only lack of ability to serve his terrible master.

We have arrived at UFC 162’s Munoz vs. Boetsch. This is an interesting match in the skill set of the two involved and the winner will simultaneously move closer to title contention and make a Snopes debunking of the illusion that was their previous match.

The method by which Munoz can win is out in the open. He must take Boetsch down and “donkey punch” him into stoppage, but that’s too easy. If we take one step back it’s clear that the required takedown must first pass Boetsch’s takedown defense, a defense he has shown to be more than adequate against a fighter with Munoz’s offensive MMA skillset (also the likes of Okami and Hector Lombard.) If we take one step further back we are in Boetsch’s clinch game, a wheelhouse of knees and dirty boxing.

The territory that proceeds the close-quartered battle is where the match will take place and it is a matter of Munoz’s footwork vs. Boetsch’s powerful hands.

Munoz’s footwork will be his advantage so long as it does not slow down at a faster rate than Boetsch. Through footwork and angles a fighter can appear faster than they actually are (Lyoto Machida, for example). It is the high school physics teacher trick, lateral movement, and has the twofold effect of being both evasive and disarming. Munoz will have to maintain this trick, live in this character, for fifteen minutes or until a takedown occurs and they find themselves under water.

Boetsch’s cardio is counterintuitive to his body type but is likely linked to his Jeet Kune Do training and a skill set rarely discussed, that of preserving ones energy. In his battle with Okami, he was not as fresh as he was in the beginning, but was always one degree more alive than Okami. Most fighters’ likelihood for being knocked out increases hand in hand with their fatigue. The first round KO’s we see are often pure power and accuracy (or a charging in and increasing the strikes force by the victim). The later knockouts, however, are the ones that seem to have been the accumulation of all strikes in the match, are a result of fatigue and the mental acceptance of defeat.

Boetsch has an incredible ability to keep fatigue and mental defeat compartmentalized and will be his best asset against Munoz’s high pressure style. Will his takedown defense still be there in the third round? That is the question. As he is the perceived +120 underdog in the betting lines I believe it to be a gamble worth taking.

The space between fluke and skill in the Munoz vs. Weidman match and the Boetsch vs. Phillipou match is where both parties are waiting in limbo. Munoz’ record and noted health problems before the fight do not make the match a wash, but indicate that there are illusions at play in any match, and a reminder that we are meat puppets at the mercy of the terrible master. It is neglecting this that makes one confident in their fandom’s prescience. While we look for tells, twitches, breathing patterns, reactions to feints and head movement, we are locked in a behaviorist mentality, neglecting the world that operates outside of the gym or the arena. There are bombs out there, random acts of violence, untimely deaths of loved ones, and despair. We do not hear this because we cannot see the fight for the cheers of the crowd or play-by-play commentating. What we do know is what the betting lines indicate: Boetsch is a +120 underdog. I think a play here is warranted, that this is a battle of Boetsch’s terrible master vss Munoz’s redemption, and the terrible master always wins.

Prediction: Boetsch via three-round split decision.