Photos by Boris Streubel
Let’s face it. Only some fighters, only a very select few, are destined to compete for titles and become champions, while the majority of mixed martial artists never quite reach that pinnacle, fated, at best, for a life as a career gatekeeper.
There’s nothing wrong with such a designation. Some of the UFC’s most popular athletes, men like Roy Nelson, Joe Lauzon, Michael Bisping, and Clay Guida, all fall under the gatekeeper category; guys who are consistently ranked within the top 15 of their respective weight class, but never make it to the championship rounds.
Life as a gatekeeper surely has its advantages, especially for athletes who shy away from the media spotlight. And with champions currently in short supply due to injuries, it is the gatekeepers who have been tasked with leading the charge as the UFC rapidly expands it’s schedule, now promoting upward of 50 events annually.
On May 31, two such gatekeepers square off inside the Octagon, when middleweights Mark Munoz and Gegard Mousasi do battle at UFC Fight Night Berlin. And despite the lack of any future title implications attached to the fight, the Munoz-Mousasi main event is sure to attract attention from MMA fans, because the gatekeepers compel us with their brand of reckless abandon and balls-to-the-wall styles.
Munoz, 36, is one of MMA’s premiere wrestlers. A former NCAA national champion at Oklahoma State University, “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” seamlessly adapted his grappling game for the Octagon, implementing a vicious and brutal ground-and-pound onslaught that has helped him claim impressive victories over notable fighters like Demian Maia, Chris Leben, and Tim Boetsch.
He has become one of the UFC’s most likeable and marketable athletes, headlining events around the world. But a title shot just doesn’t seem to be in the cards, having already lost to current 185-pound champion Chris Weidman via face-mangling elbow.
Sure, one loss to an undefeated titleholder shouldn’t be enough to fast track any fighter to the “also ran” category (just ask Urijah Faber). But Munoz also fell victim to a nasty Lyoto Machida head kick KO last October, forever cementing his place as a guy who’s certainly good enough to challenge any top-10 fighter, but will never quite reach the top.
For Mousasi, 28, the scenario is a bit different, especially since he was, at one point, the Strikeforce light heavyweight titlist. But as it stands today, he’s a tough and talented striker with an exciting style, who will, most likely, spend the remainder of his career somewhere around the top 10.
Again, there’s no shame in being Gegard Mousasi. This is a guy who has bested Mark Hunt, Hector Lombard, and Jacare Souza, but that pesky Machida, the maid of honor to Weidman’s bride, showed up once more, derailing “The Dreamcatcher” and his title aspirations three months ago.
So why is it that, despite the blatant realization that Munoz and Mousasi will almost certainly never fight for a UFC title, we still care about their upcoming bout?
Well, for starters, Munoz has just got one of those magnetic smiles that make you want to pinch his cheeks and give him a big hug. Mousasi, on the other hand, has the deadpan look of a stone-cold killer, and we’re drawn to him because his charisma is in his hands and feet, which regularly connect, with power, on his opponent’s faces, mid sections, and legs.
Okay, so maybe these aren’t the real reasons we love the gatekeepers and what they do, but re-watching old fight footage, it’s obvious that Munoz and Mousasi live and die by their aggressive styles, and their relentless nature inspires us for more action, more violence, and more blood.
The gatekeepers truly embody why MMA has become such a phenomenon in the last few decades because they represent the everymen and women. They continue their pursuit of greatness and excellence away from the shining glare of gold belts.
And who won’t tune in for that? Especially given the 9:30 AM (12:30 PM EST) start time for UFC Fight Night Berlin; it’s Munoz and Mousasi in your living room for breakfast. That’s five rounds of all-out pugilism as you drink a coffee in your bathrobe, so let’s be thankful for these gatekeepers.
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