For the first four years of his UFC career, Pedro Munhoz was widely regarded as a talented fighter and opportunistic finisher who had carved out a place for himself in the lower third of the bantamweight Top 15.Competing nine times during that span, the Sao Paulo native amassed a 5-3 record with one No Contest, earning finishes in all but one of his victories and going to the cards against Raphael Assuncao, Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson in his losses, the last two producing split decision verdicts. Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a yearSuffering a loss to any one of the members of that trio of talents is nothing to hang your head about or a major demerit for any competitor, but landing on the wrong side of the results against all three, even in close fights, painted a picture of Munhoz as someone who was pretty good, but not quite good enough to be considered a real threat in the highly-competitive 135-pound weight class.Even after bouncing back from his loss to Dodson with a unanimous decision win over Welsh prospect Brett Johns and a first-round stoppage of Bryan Caraway, the American Top Team representative was still considered a fringe contender at best.But all of that changed earlier this year at UFC 235, when the 32-year-old marched into the Octagon and drew former champion Cody Garbrandt into a firefight that resulted in “No Love” getting laid out for a third consecutive fight and Munhoz collecting a narrative-shifting stoppage win.“It was great,” Munhoz said of his win over Garbrandt in March. “I always knew I was capable of going in there and striking with the best strikers in the division, so it was great to prove to myself and everyone else that I’m a complete martial artist.“A lot of people knew about my skills when it comes to choking people and my jiu jitsu background, but now they are able to see that I can step in there and knock out anyone, stand with the guys with the most punching power in the division. It’s been a huge step in my career.”The victory transformed Munhoz from a top-end gatekeeper to a bona fide threat in the bantamweight ranks and moved him forward in the unofficial tournament to crown the next title challenger in the 135-pound weight class.And this weekend in Chicago, the division will be front and center, as Henry Cejudo and Marlon Moraes’ battle for the vacant bantamweight title headlines UFC 238, while surging Russian Petr Yan squares off with Jimmie Rivera and Munhoz goes toe-to-toe with fellow tournament semifinalist Aljamain Sterling on the ESPN prelims.While his last two outings have showcased Munhoz’s commitment to being more aggressive inside the cage, the usually mild-mannered and affable Brazilian has exhibited a more aggressive approach to dealing with contemporaries who want to talk trash or attempt to get under his skin as well.First it was Yan, who lobbied for a bout against Munhoz politely on social media immediately following his knockout win over Garbrandt, which prompted the surging contender to summarily dismiss the Russian’s request and suggest that he cool his jets in far more crude, far more unexpected manner. I want to fight @PedroMunhozmma next. Who want to watch it?— Petr “No Mercy” Yan (@PetrYanUFC) March 3, 2019 Then came Sterling, who was reminded that Munhoz had a victory over Jerrod Sanders overturned as a result of a positive test for testosterone of exogenous origin in 2014 by a fan, prompting the Serra-Longo Fight Team member to call on USADA to test the man he’ll face this weekend a little more rigorously. I just hope you guys test Pedro properly for this fight. I completely forgot his suspension back in 2015 for his testosterone metabolites.Dana White said he didnt know you guys weren’t testing for EPO. Well I want that done too. No shortcuts to victory!@usantidoping @USADA_UFC— Aljamain Sterling (@FunkMaster_UFC) April 14, 2019 Munhoz responded by calling Sterling a “b—” and suggesting the 29-year-old from Uniondale, New York is simply trying to give himself an excuse in advance for when he loses their fight this weekend at the United Center in Chicago.“I don’t do that for show and it’s not fake — I am who I am and all the trash talk is for real,” Munhoz said when asked about his verbal counter strikes and generally more aggressive manner in addressing both Yan and Sterling. “People think I’m nice, but I’m nice to who is nice with me and the ones who are going to be mean with me, I’m going to be mean back.“I hate bullies and I’ll always stand up for myself,” he added. “If you come here and say something, we can fight — in the street, in the hotel, anywhere; it doesn’t matter to me. I respect the ones that respect me, but the ones that don’t respect me, I’ll fight them anywhere.”And he clearly has lost respect for Sterling.“He called out Dominick Cruz after he just had shoulder surgery,” Munhoz said of his UFC 238 opponent, who enters on a three-fight winning streak. “How are you going to do something dirty like that? Come on. You waited until the guy got hurt and had a major surgery and then you’re going to call him out? Come on. Call me out — I had been calling you out for the last year-and-a-half and you didn’t (say anything).“Aljamain came up with something that was not a fact from five years ago and for me, it was like, ‘You’re just afraid — that’s why you’re coming up with all this,’” continued Munhoz. “You bring it up five years later, after I’ve been tested 25 times by USADA. You’re just a b— and you’re afraid of fighting because you know what type of fighter I am.”After his performance against Garbrandt, the world does too and while he’s clearly irritated by Sterling’s comments about his issues in Halifax, Nova Scotia five years ago, Munhoz has no intention of letting his emotions get the better of him when the two finally stand across the cage from each other on Saturday night in Chicago.“You have to be there cold, fight in terms of how the fight is going, not doing crazy things,” said the emerging contender. “I don’t let those things affect me. If you want to come up and say something to my face, that’s different, but social media and things like that — come on.”Munhoz is confident that he knows how Sterling will look to approach things this weekend and how things will play out. “I know what he’s going to do Saturday night — he’s going to try to hold me because he’s afraid of fighting,” he offered. “But I train with guys who try to grapple with me and if you want to grapple with me, I’m a two-time jiu jitsu world champion, so go ahead — grapple with me and try to hold me down. If you want to stay standing, you’re going to see me swinging for your head.“I just have to do exactly what I’ve been doing,” Munhoz added. “I have the same idea and the same goal for Saturday night as I do every fight — go in there and finish my opponent. “Either choke him out or knock him out.”
Lionel Messi has been handed a three-month ban from international football for accusing South America’s governing body CONMEBOL of “corruption” during the Copa America.Barcelona star Messi was sent off, along with aggressor Gary Medel, after an altercation as Argentina beat Chile 2-1 in the competition’s third-place playoff last month, the referee’s decision appearing especially curious as he did not look back at the footage on the pitch-side VAR monitor. As punishment for his outbursts, Messi is to serve a three-month suspension from Friday’s announcement, ruling him out of Argentina matches until November.That means he will miss friendlies against Chile, Mexico and Germany, while Messi has also been fined $50,000.CONMEBOL has given the forward seven days to appeal the sanctions. After the match, Messi did not appear with his teammates to collect a medal, sparking questioning from reporters.Messi explained his snub of the ceremony as not wanting to “be part of this corruption, this lack of respect towards the whole Copa.”He also blasted the officiating at the competition following Argentina’s semifinal loss to hosts Brazil, before then suggesting referees and the VAR would favor Tite’s men against Peru in the final, which the Selecao won 3-1.