Fast-rising Munoz true to Filipino roots

Wed, 02 Mar 06:09:00 2011

Mark Munoz’s nickname is “The Philippine Wrecking Machine,” but when he turned professional as a mixed martial artist in 2007, he wasn’t a particularly modern machine.

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What was Munoz lacking in those early days of his fight career? Well, it’s better if he tells it.

“I was just a pure wrestler,” Munoz said. “I didn’t have hands. I had no kicks. I had no knees. I was just takedowns and ground and pound, and that was it.”

A little over three years later, Munoz is a vastly different man heading into his fight on Thursday against C.B. Dollaway as part of the UFC on Versus 3 card at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.

He’s won four of his past five, including an impressive decision victory over Dollaway training partner Aaron Simpson at UFC 123 on Nov. 20, and he’s rapidly ascending the ranks of the middleweight division.

And while he’s not causing UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva any sleepless nights just yet – honestly, I’m not sure there is a man in the world who would cause Silva to lose a wink of sleep – he’s clearly become a major threat.

In large part, Munoz’s improvement is because he’s a wrestling coach and he’s constantly harping on his students about turning weaknesses into strengths. He’s taken that advice to heart in his own career.

Too many athletes, Munoz said, work on improving their strengths and ignoring their weaknesses. Munoz (9-2), who won an NCAA national championship in wrestling as a 197-pounder at Oklahoma State in 2001, has always believed the opposite approach is wisest.

And so, for each of his MMA fights, Munoz has set out to add one thing to his game during training camp that he didn’t have in the previous fight. As a result of that drive, his wrestling has managed to improve, because his opponents aren’t able to just drill and drill and drill on stuffing takedowns.

“If you had fought me two years ago, you’d have said, ‘Oh, Munoz is going to look to take me down,’ and that’s pretty much all you would have had to worry about, is stuffing the takedown,” he said. “Now, they have to worry about all things. Now, someone fighting me, I think, has to say, ‘Well, he’s good on the cage, he’s good on his feet, he’s good off the ground.’ They have to respect that I have a lot of different ways I can go now and they don’t know where the fight is going to go.

“I’ve always believed in becoming a well-rounded fighter and doing that is going to set up my takedowns more. At the same time, if I do get taken down, I don’t mind. I can just go where I need to go and not have to worry.”

It certainly makes him much more difficult to prepare for now. He worked relentlessly on his Muay Thai skills prior to the Simpson fight and they turned out to be a big factor in his win against one of the UFC’s more underrated middleweights.

Expanding his horizons gives him a great bag of tricks, but there is also the concern that one could become a jack of all trades and a master of none. In baseball, pitching coaches sometimes ask their pitchers to eliminate certain pitches to concentrate on just a few. Pitchers with a fastball, slider, curve, change and sinker may be asked to rarely throw two, or even three, of those pitches so they can command the others better.

But in MMA, Munoz said, the nature of the sport demands as vast a repertoire as possible.

“That’s what is unique about our sport, that it’s mixed martial arts and it’s a whole bunch of disciplines mixed into one,” he said. “It’s not baseball or football or basketball. You have to be able to be knowledgeable about all disciplines but then be very good at a few. I agree in a sense [there could be a danger in being spread too thin], but at the same time, you have to have knowledge about a lot of things.

“For me, I want to know a lot of stuff about Muay Thai, about jiu-jitsu, about wrestling, about boxing, but at the same time, I have to pick and choose which I do best and which are best for my style and then work on those and improve my weaknesses.”

Munoz is one of the UFC’s most well-spoken and engaging personalities, as well as a proven coach. And, given UFC president Dana White’s stated intention to bring “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series to the Philippines, Munoz would be a natural as one of the coaches.

He was born at a U.S. Air Force base in Japan to Filipino parents and still has a close connection with the people in the Philippines. He said he thinks it is a slam dunk that MMA will be huge in the Philippines and is hopeful that White will consider him for one of the two posts when he’s picking the cast.

White said that the first international version of “TUF” would be in the Philippines and said it could occur as early this year. The UFC has long planned to have a presence in the nation, but had delayed its entrance there because of the struggling economy.

But putting on “TUF” in the Philippines would likely kick start things and lead to a major show on the Islands.

“I would love to be a coach on TUF Philippines, not only because I am a Filipino American, but because I would love to be a part of history, as well,” Munoz said. “I love coaching. That’s what I was before I became a mixed martial artist. MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the Philippines and they’re taking to it quite well. Boxing is huge because of Manny [Pacquiao], but MMA is growing, too, and [Filipino American fighters like] Brandon Vera, Philippe Nover, Shane del Rosario and myself are helping that.

“MMA is going to be a monster sport in the Philippines. Trust me. It’s going to be huge there and I would love to be a part of that.”

Kevin Iole / Yahoo

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