The second of two rematches on this card features the number eight and nine ranked bantamweight contenders in the UFC. Pedro Munhoz and Jimmie Rivera are looking to settle score left potentially in question by their 2015 split decision, which fell in Rivera’s favor.
Following that loss, Munhoz went on a four-fight winning streak, which included wins via his patented guillotine over Rob Font, Justin Scoggins and Russell Doane. He then lost another tough split decision to John Dodson, before going on another wining streak, this time punctuated by his 2019 first-round knockout of Cody Garbrandt.
Since the Garbrandt knockout, Munhoz is 0-2, having lost a convincing decision to upcoming title challenger Aljamain Sterling, who is the most recent common opponent between Munhoz and Rivera, and yet another razor-close split decision at the hands of Frankie Edgar. The Edgar loss was Munhoz’s only action in 2020.
Rivera has also logged some impressive victories, and suffered tough losses to elite-level opponents since the first fight with Munhoz. Following the win over Munhoz, Rivera won three straight unanimous decisions, including wins over Uriah Faber and Thomas Almeida. He got caught by Marlon Moraes in round one of their June 2018 meeting before bouncing back with a win over John Dodson.
Rivera fought twice in 2019, losing unanimous decisions to each of the men who will be competing for the bantamweight title on the UFC 259 main card next weekend, Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan. He fought just once last year, earning an impressive bounce-back win over Cody Stamann.
While it’s interesting to go back and scout the first meeting between these two, it is an entirely irrelevant fight as it pertains to this one, with the exception of possibly some lingering mental predispositions. That fight took place over five years ago. As a general rule of thumb, I consider any fight that occurred more than 2.5-3 years ago to be completely useless when it comes to scouting because this game changes quickly, people lose and gain abilities quickly, and the fighters you’re looking at in 2021 are usually completely different fighters than they were in 2017-’18.
All of that being said, the first fight saw Rivera dominate the striking action early. He was both leading the dance and countering Munhoz shots, changing levels, leading with the jab and throwing three and four punch combinations, landing cleanly pretty much at will. His head movement kept him mostly unscathed and was really only caught with a knee and an elbow in the first round.
As the fight continued, Munhoz continued to land clean and had Munhoz hurt at points, but couldn’t get the finish. He also got hit with a few counters, allowing himself to throw a bit undisciplined at times. Munhoz was able to start timing hooks, and found success with his kicks to the body and midsection.
Despite the ten combined takedown attempts between these two in the first fight, neither fighter finished one. This fight went back and forth but Rivera clearly had the striking advantage when he let his hands go. He didn’t do that in the second round, but pretty convincingly won rounds one and three. I truly don’t understand how Derek Cleary (of course it was him) scored the contest for Munhoz.
Since that meeting earlier in their careers, Rivera has ranked as high as #5 in the division, and has fought some of the best bantamweights in the world. He has maintained and even improved his striking speed and vocabulary. He is still very much a great boxer with good takedown defense. He has started adding some hard low kicks to his arsenal and they have been effective.
His style is still largely the same, he can push forward or he can counter, and he sets up combinations with feints, footwork and slick head movement. He still works the body, and is generally still a patient and technical striker who likes to pick his opportunities to move in and throw in bunches.
Munhoz has adapted his style a bit as well. He has never been an overwhelming volume striker, but he is picking his shots more at this point in his career than he was in 2015. He moves forward, threatens with his right hand and looks to back his opponents into the cage and force them to throw so he can counter.
Munhoz’s gameplan is usually clear, he wants to fight in a phone booth and trade shots, knowing he his opponents won’t be able to eat many of his power punches. This can be a problem against Rivera, because Rivera is going to have a significant speed advantage, is more technically sound, and throws at a higher clip.
Munhoz just takes too much damage to stand in there with Rivera for three rounds and expect to win. I don’t see Munhoz as a threat to find a knockout, he doesn’t have one-shot knockout power and Rivera only really gives up a few clean shots in each fight. I love Rivera as a short favorite here and I think he gets in done by unanimous decision.