“I think every time the fans see me in the cage they always see
improvement and they always see an exciting fight. I’m not one to shy
away from action and just score points; I want to finish the fight and
that’s what you’ll always see from me.”
Mark Munoz was as accomplished a wrestler as one could be. Having reached the highest heights on his Vallejo, California high school and his Oklahoma State University wrestling teams, Munoz was certain his life would go no further than wrestling competitions and higher education annals.
“I went to college and I ended up making the world team in my age group in college as well, then got a full ride to Oklahoma State University and ended up being a two-time All-American and a NCAA National Champion there,” said Munoz. “I coached there for three years at Oklahoma State University and decided to accept a job at UC Davis up in Northern California and I moved from Oklahoma to northern California to be closer to my family, and that’s where I met Urijah Faber.”
Faber – the former WEC featherweight champion and current bantamweight contender - started working on Munoz to get into MMA, specifically to begin fighting. It was a far-fetched idea and at the time Munoz couldn’t see himself inside the cage. However, the future champion would be the biggest influence in his unexpected career change.
“From there, me and Urijah, being good friends, we ran into each other when I was still competing in wrestling and he was at all the tournaments that I was in,” said Munoz. “Then he got into fighting and he told me to get into fighting and I was like ‘no man, I’m getting my master’s, I’m teaching, I’m coaching, I’ve got a wife and kids.’ So I said ‘no, I can’t do it. But then he just stayed on me and brought Randy Couture, Brandon Vera, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Frank Trigg out to our training camp out in Sacramento and he invited me out. My first sparring session was with Randy and I’ve been hooked ever since. So that’s the quick and dirty story about how I got into it.”
From there a three fight win streak began and Munoz built a career in the WEC, growing as it grew until eventually he was one of the early fighters to transfer over to the UFC. His first UFC fight was a first round loss to Matt Hamill via knockout but after the loss the wins began rolling in. A three fight win streak started with a split decision win over Nick Catone at UFC 102, and was then followed by a first round submission via strikes over Ryan Jensen at UFC 108 followed by a TKO stoppage of Kendall Grove at UFC 112. As one of the first fighters to make the transition from the WEC to the UFC, Munoz has a special perspective on the new merger.
“Man, I think its good,” said Munoz. “I think for the UFC to be able to showcase the lighter weight classes it’s going to make the UFC a stronger fight organization because those lighter weight classes are very exciting. I think with the move up for the little men too it’s good for them because they get to showcase their skills on a bigger stage.”
Munoz’ last showing was against Yushin Okami at UFC Live: Jones vs. Matyushenko in August, where he lost a split decision. For Munoz, the loss was yet another lesson learned in the development of an unexpected career.
“I think experience won the fight for Yushin (Okami). That was his 30th fight and this is only my 10th fight so he was able to gauge the distance really well, and for me, I like to bang, I like to go out there and make it exciting,” said Munoz. “He kept the distance where he disengaged a lot of the fight and would come forward and then back up real quick so it was hard for me to gauge his distance. In the second round I was just like I’m just going to keep coming forward and just keep landing big punches and once I did that I did fine. In the third round I wanted to finish the fight and if I got him on the ground I knew I had a strong chance of doing that and so I kept trying to go for the takedown when I should have switched it off and did what I did in the second round. But it’s all experience for me. I’m fighting the good guys in the weight class now and every fight is going to be a steppingstone for me to get that strap around my waist. I learned a lot from that fight and for me to already fight the top dogs in the weight class, it’s a huge opportunity and I’ll never pass that up.”
Up next is Aaron Simpson, both a friend and a former wrestling competitor, who Munoz faces this weekend at UFC 123 in Detroit.
“I know Aaron very well. We wrestled each other in college, we ended up being training partners and wrestling in college and we’ve actually trained a lot together in MMA too so we know each other well. He’s very aggressive and I am too, so it’s going to be a great matchup and I think it’s going to be won in the transition between striking and wrestling and jiu-jitsu, so it’s a great matchup for me. I think his weakness is his conditioning. He got tired against (Chris) Leben and I’m going to force him to fight a high pace fight and we’ll see if he can stay with my pace. He also drops his hands as well and I’m looking to take advantage of that and I’m looking forward to the fight.”
With a training team consisting of King Mo Lawal, Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Krzysztof Soszynski, Fabricio Werdum, Babalu Sobral and Lyoto Machida, Munoz feels confident that he will be ready for this next challenge.
“I think every time the fans see me in the cage they always see improvement and they always see an exciting fight. I’m not one to shy away from action and just score points; I want to finish the fight and that’s what you’ll always see from me.”