For Johnny Munoz, fighting isn’t just how he makes his living. In his eyes, “It's a war situation.”
“I'm a martial artist,” the bantamweight prospect continues. “But I feel like when I'm in there, it's kill or be killed. I gotta return to my family, and this is the mindset you gotta have.”
Doesn’t sound like a fun way to get ready for work in the morning.
Munoz, who faces Liudvik Sholinian this Saturday in Las Vegas, laughs.
“Maybe later on in life when I'm older I'll be more calm and at peace. But right now, it's not a time to be calm, especially in fight camp. After the fight, you can be calm and process things, do yoga, meditate, read a little bit to educate the mind. But the moment you're signed up to fight, that's the day I go to war, and you're preparing your mind for that.”
That’s a fighter talking, so when asked if heading over the border from California to Mexico to hone his craft in the gyms of Tijuana give him more of that fight feel than working out in a place with a smoothie bar and tanning beds, the response is an expected one.
“I feel like a fighter everywhere I train,” he said. “I'm a f**king fighter.”
That he is, but he does understand what I’m getting at when comparing the two gym climates.
“A lot of people will get that luxury - they're in a nice gym and they see an ugly gym, and they're like, 'Man, I don't want to train here,'” Munoz said. “But, to me, wherever I can train, I'll do it. In Mexico, it's obviously not as luxurious as some of the gyms over here, but it's still a pretty nice gym. They've got everything there and I think that's the most important.”
“No smoothie bar,” he laughs. “But they have a cafe on the bottom.”
Munoz, 29, is in good spirits these days as he awaits his fourth trip to the Octagon. It’s been an up and down journey thus far, with an impressive submission of Jamey Simmons surrounded by the first two losses of his pro career against Nate Maness and Tony Gravely. The June loss to Gravely particularly stings, since he got caught and stopped in 68 seconds, before he could even get into the fight.
But that’s MMA and the perils of fighting with four-ounce gloves. One good shot, and that could be the end of a fighter’s night.
“When it happened, I was pissed off,” Munoz said of the Gravely bout. “It was like a weird thing - it was one of those shots I didn't see, but I walked into it. It wasn't really a hard shot, but if you hit the right spot, it doesn't matter how hard it is. And it's MMA - s**t happens. I remember seeing my opponent jumping around everywhere, and I was like, 'Man, f**k that s**t.' It's one of those things - you go shoot somebody and if you don't go check to make sure he's dead, that guy's gonna come back for you. I feel that's what happened to me. I was shot, but I didn't die, but I was still able to see what was going on. Now I'm back and I'm out for payback, in a sense.”
Not necessarily against Gravely, though he would like to run that one back, but against everyone in the bantamweight division. No, he’s not sitting in a dark room, brooding about a loss. Instead, he’s been making the trip back and forth across the border, getting the work in to make sure a night like June 4th doesn’t happen again.
“I'm in a better place now than I was before the fight,” Munoz said. “I'm a sore loser at heart. I don't like losing, and I always come back stronger and focused, and I feel very good for this fight November 5th. For me, the big thing is, going in there, being in the moment, being present, and I feel that's the most important for me because I know when I'm present, I can't be beat.”
As for another lesson learned that night in the UFC APEX, don’t expect to see “Kid Kvenbo” doing any elaborate post-fight celebrations should he get his hand raised.
“I've gotta be comfortable in this stressful environment,” he explains. “The cage needs to be my home, so what am I celebrating for after I win? I should be more pissed off that this is over. That's the mindset I have. After I win, it's okay, I already knew I was gonna win. This shouldn't be a surprise to me. I'll celebrate once I become a champion. The job's not done.”
Just like NFL great Jerry Rice said, “Act like you’ve been there before,” and that’s the philosophy Munoz is adopting. At least until he gets a belt around his waist. In the meantime, it’s all business for this 135-pounder.
“The goal is to be the best in the world,” he said. “If you're not gonna shoot to be the best, someone else is gonna do it. So why him? It should be you.”