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Wednesday, 06/13/2012, 01:06 pm

EXCLUSIVE | Mark Muñoz Talks Weidman and the Top 10, Says He’s ‘Two Fights’ Away from Being Best in the World


It seems like everyone wants to get on Mark Muñoz’s calendar these days. I found this out myself when I called him for our scheduled interview, only to get his voicemail. As it turns out, “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” gets so many calls now that he’s taken to screening them. But for my part, I was excited. I got a call back.

Such is the busy life of the man most consider to be the #3 ranked fighter in the world at 185 lbs. Over the course of our conversation, however, I learned that Muñoz is so much more than that. He is a husband, a father to four children, a small business owner, a founder of two non-profit organizations, a public speaker, and yes, a determined fighter. But beyond these things, Muñoz is also at heart a motivator, a self-described “lover,” and a man who even five years ago never thought he would fight for a living.

First thing’s first. On July 11, the world’s #3 fighter will meet the world’s #8 fighter, Chris Weidman, at UFC on Fuel TV 4, in a match many say could determine the next contender for the UFC Middleweight Championship. I asked Muñoz what fans could expect to see in his bout with Weidman.

“My plan is to hit him really hard in the face and in the body, and that’s what [the fans] are gonna see (laughing). Pretty much. That’s the game plan, man. Obviously I got a lot of other stuff that I’m gonna do, but that’s basically what you’re gonna see from me.

“[Weidman’s] greatest strengths are his wrestling and his striking, and he’s got great Jiu-Jitsu when it comes to chokes. So I think defending, transitioning from striking to wrestling and, on the ground, making sure I have hand control, [if I can do those things] I’ll be fine.

“What my advantage is is that I have power from every position, and he knows that. So I’m not gonna back down. I’m just gonna go straight forward, and I’m gonna hit him really hard in the face, and in the body too.”

I asked Muñoz how high his confidence was right now, and if he felt comfortable going so far as to guarantee a victory.

“My confidence is at a high right now. It’s high. I feel that I’ve put my mark on the division, and I’ve just got to take what I’ve been training for. It’s out there; I just gotta get it. So my confidence is pretty high. But at the same time, I know that he’s training really hard and he’s a tough opponent. I’m not gonna look past him at all. He’s a really tough opponent. He’s undefeated for a reason, but at the same time I know what I’m best at, and I’m gonna take the fight there.

“I don’t guarantee victories. I guarantee good fights. The byproduct of a good fight, for me, is usually a victory. So I’d love to have a victory, and I’m looking to get a victory.”

As these two fighters are both very talented wrestlers, I asked Muñoz if fans could expect to see a striking contest and who, in fact, was the better wrestler between the two of them.

“I do believe there’s going to be a lot of striking, but I think that this fight is gonna go everywhere. Not only will we be on our feet striking, but [the fight] is gonna be on the ground grappling, it’s gonna be on the cage dirty boxing … so I think it’s gonna be everywhere.

“I think our MMA wrestling is about the same, I really do. I think our Jiu-Jitsu is about the same. I think our striking is about the same. But the advantage that I have is power.”

I asked Muñoz if he prepared any differently for an undefeated fighter.

“I don’t prepare any differently [for an undefeated fighter]. An undefeated fighter, he’s used to winning, and he’s confident. And he goes out there and he’s confident in his style. He’s just like any other fighter in the UFC: He’s young, he’s hungry, and he’s gonna look to win that night. But I’m gonna stop him, and stop him forcefully.

I asked Muñoz if he thought his #3 ranking was accurate. He ended up giving me his impromptu top 10 list.

“I think #3 is good. Obviously the two top fighters above me are Chael [Sonnen] and Anderson [Silva]. I’ve yet to fight those two. Vitor, I think, is #4. Vitor is obviously an amazing athlete, is super fast with his hands, and is a well-rounded fighter. I’d probably put Chris Weidman at #5. Obviously I’ve told you what I thought about him. At #6 I’d probably put [Michael] Bisping. After Bisping, I think Hector Lombard is #7. He’s fast, but I think if you put the pressure on him, he’ll fold. Brian Stann [is next]; he’s got great, great hands. He can put the pressure on … and I think he’s improving his wrestling every day. I don’t know who’s #9 or #10. … I think Alan Belcher is in there too, though. Alan Belcher, I think he should be in the top five somewhere. He’s in the mix for sure. You saw what he did to [Rousimar] Palhares. He’s great. So he’s in there somewhere for sure.”

Muñoz said if he can defeat Weidman, he deserves a shot at the 185 lbs. strap.

“I feel that I’m one win away [from competing for the title]. I feel that this win is going to help me to project myself into being the #1 contender. I truly believe that. I truly believe I deserve to fight for a title.

“Obviously, [a title shot] would mean a lot to me. It’s what I’ve trained for. It’s my goal. I want to be the best in the division. That’s my goal. I’m one of the best in the world in my weight class, in my division, and I want to be the best. So I never shy away from that and would love to attain that.”

I asked Muñoz what motivates him to be the best fighter in the world at 185 lbs.

“I talk about the three Fs. The first F is my faith, and that’s what comes first in my life. And I know that God has a plan for my life and that I’m going to live accordingly. The second F is family. My family means a lot to me. My family means the world to me. I’m going to do everything I can to raise my kids in a loving relationship with the Lord, in peace, and in the ways to be successful in life and whatever they get themselves into. The last F is friends, and everything else comes after that. My friendships are important to me as well, because in my friendships, I can really surround myself with people that are like-minded, and that can really help in my quest to achieve my goals, whether athletically, business-wise, socially, what have you. It means the world to me to be able to accomplish these goals, and my family is high on that [motivational] scale. So that’s what I fight for: Faith, family and friends.”

Muñoz and I talked about how fighting for the title may mean fighting friends and training partners. I asked him if he was ready for this.

“I’ve done that before. I have. But we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.”

I asked Muñoz if he considered himself friends with consensus #2 middleweight Chael Sonnen, and if the two had ever trained together.

“Yes we are. Yes we are friends. We’re friends through wrestling and we’re friends through our management. We haven’t trained together, but it’s kinda weird, because it’s kinda one degree of separation. I’ve trained with a lot of guys that’ve trained with Chael, and Chael’s trained with a lot of guys that’ve trained with me. But we still remain friends, and we know that there’s a possibility of us fighting some time. We know that, you know? But we’re both professionals, and [if that happens], we’re gonna go out there and give a good show.”

I asked Muñoz a question that had to be on a lot of people’s minds: Had he not been forced out of the fight because of injury, would he have beaten Sonnen this past January in their originally-scheduled matchup at UFC on Fox 2?

“After watching him [Sonnen] that night, and knowing what I’m capable of, I think I would’ve pulled out the win for sure, yeah. I think he had an off night that night, for sure. He wasn’t himself. He was looking to see if he could push the pace, dirty box against the cage, take people down and put pressure on them, but you saw Michael Bisping actually doing that to him. Yeah, he definitely wasn’t himself.

“[Michael Bisping] is not a fighter to sneeze at. He’s definitely tough. But it was surprising to me that he was pushing Chael against the cage.”

Did Muñoz think Sonnen won the fight?

“I thought Chael won. I thought he did enough to win. I thought the takedowns were the difference in the fight.”

Muñoz said he didn’t want to pick a winner between Sonnen and Silva for their much-anticipated rematch.

“I just want to see a good fight. I’m gonna take the diplomatic answer and say I just wanna see a good fight, because I have history with both guys.”

I asked Muñoz if, given his previous elbow injury, he was physically, mentally and emotionally ready for a title shot.

“Yes I am. All of the above. Growing up as a kid, I was top in my division in my age group. I was a two-time state champion in high school wrestling. I was a high school national champion. I took second at the junior worlds, and I was on the junior world team three times. In college I ended up being a champion in my weight class, 197 lbs., NCAA Division I national champ, and was part of the national team thereafter training to become an Olympian.

“So I feel that I’ve been training pretty much all my life to become a champion, and I’ve done that in other aspects of my life, and I’m trying to do that here, in mixed martial arts. I have the mentality and the work ethic, and I feel that it’s almost there for me, and I’m going to train accordingly, and hopefully do that.”

Muñoz and I talked about his training camp and who he’s been working with in the lead-up to the fight.

“My training camp has been great. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jake Ellenberger, Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller, Krzysztof Soszyński, Jay Silva, Brett Cooper, Mikey Gomez, Satoshi Ishii, Wanderlei Silva, Rafael Cordeiro, my boxing trainer Danny Perez, my strength and conditioning trainer Todd Norman … yeah, man, training has gone great. I’m just getting ready to go. Four weeks to go, man.”

In between what sounded like bites of food, I asked Muñoz if he was sticking to Soszyński’s legendarily-brutal diet regimen.

“I’m actually eating it right now (laughing). I am. I’m eating a ‘K-Sos’ instant meal. I can send you a picture of it and show it to you.”

I’m still waiting on the picture.

Another one of the names on Muñoz’s training camp list — Jason “Mayhem” Miller — stood out as an athlete who has been in the news a lot lately following his retirement from MMA. Muñoz said recently that he sees Miller finding success again when he conquers his inner demons. I asked Muñoz what he meant by that. His answer was really an uplifting message for all.

“There are a lot of things in our lives that we deal with, and we have different demons in our lives. Demons can be our desire to work so much and not concentrate on things that are really important. They can be being distracted by different people that pull us away from what we want to achieve in life. So that’s what I meant. Mayhem, he’s a very talented athlete. But he has the urge to fight himself in a lot of different areas. He’s got Bully Beatdown and all that stuff, but I was talking about demons in his head, you know, with being distracted with other stuff.

“Mayhem, I love him, man. He’s a great friend of mine. And I try to encourage him as much as I can. And I try to hang out as much as possible with him. But I think everyone has demons, and he’s no different. I have demons myself. He’s just got to be able to deal with those demons and be able to keep them at bay, so he can actually find blessings at the end.

“I talk about, with different people, that there’s a soaring eagle that flies high above the mountains, and soars over the mountains. And then there’s a prowling wolf that crawls around, looking for everything to scrounge on. The eagle flies high and soars high, but yet the prowling wolf is low, and looks for something to scrounge upon. And there’s a battle between the two of them, in yourself. Who’s gonna win? Well, the one that wins is the one that you feed. So that’s why, for me, the three Fs are very important. My faith is first, my family, then my friends. Because if I have my priorities straight, then I can soar high like an eagle, and I can keep the wolf inside of me at bay. And that’s what I was talking about.

“I would love to see Mayhem fight again. He’s got a lot to offer the sport. We’ll see. I’ll have to talk to him about that.”

I asked Muñoz at what moment in his life he knew he wanted to be a fighter.

“I never thought in a million years I’d ever punch and kick people in the face for a living. If you would have asked me that years ago I would’ve been like ‘No way. I’m not gonna fight. That’s not what I do.’ I’m more of a lover than a fighter.

“But Urijah Faber, who’s a good friend of mine, just stayed on me. He was like ‘Muñoz, you need to fight. You’d be so good at it. If you pass up this opportunity, you’re gonna regret it.’ And he stayed on me for three years. Finally after those three years, he tricked me into coming to a practice. And he said ‘We’re just going to be wrestling and doing Jiu-Jitsu.’ And so at this practice there was Randy Couture, Brandon Vera, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, James ‘Sandman’ Irvin … a who’s who of mixed martial arts at that time. And so they were wrapping their hands, and I’m like ‘Man, what are you wrapping your hands for?’ He was like ‘Oh, we’re just gonna do a little MMA sparring.’ So we ended up getting them gloves on, and he was like ‘Oh, you’ll be fine.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t even know how to wrap my hands.’ So he wrapped my hands for me, and he goes ‘Just do a double jab, double leg, and just do some ground and pound, and you’ll be fine.’

“So everyone starts getting a partner, and no one wanted to be a partner with Randy Couture. My first sparring session was with Randy Couture! So I started sparring with Randy, and I’m like, ‘This is crazy. Why am I sparring with Randy right now?’ So I started jabbing and landing my jabs, and doing pretty well with them. I end up doing a double jab, double leg and taking him down. And then, he ended up getting back up in classic Randy Couture fashion. We ended up getting in another scramble, and he just put me against the cage and took me down. He starts scrambling, I got back to my feet, he tried for a double leg … it was actually really, really fun. I fell in love with it then. That was back in 2007. Urijah did right by tricking me. He tricked me into getting into mixed martial arts, and I’m here to stay.”

In keeping with this reflective mood, I rattled off some of the guys Muñoz had beaten — Mike Pierce, Demian Maia, Chris Leben — and asked him which of his victories was the most meaningful of his career. His answer surprised me.

“I think it was the Kendall Grove fight. I was at the end of my rope there. He hit me with an uppercut. I woke up on a single leg and toughed it out. He kneed me in the face. I woke up on a single leg; toughed it out. And I ended up getting on top of him and finishing him with my ground and pound. I showed a lot of character in that fight and showed what I’m made of, showed my heart. Down deep, that was the most satisfying victory.”

I mentioned that Grove wasn’t as highly regarded as some of the other fighters I’d named.

“Yeah I know, huh? He was tough though. He was tough. He was a hard puzzle to figure out.”

I asked Muñoz which of his two losses hurt the most.

“I take losses kinda differently than other people. I learn a lot from losses, and I know everybody else does, but … My loss to Matt Hamill caused me to have a three-fight winning streak. My loss against Yushin Okami caused me to have a four-fight winning streak. So having said that, I feel like that’s my story line. Those losses, they both hurt the same, but being a champion isn’t determined by how many wins you have, but how many times you pick yourself up after a loss. That truly shows your true colors, your character and your fortitude. So I’ve definitely proved that I have a champion’s perspective, and that I’m going to go out there and improve myself every time I step into the Octagon.”

Muñoz said he would be interested in a rematch with Okami.

“I would love a rematch with Yushin. I would love it. [I would prevail] for sure. I was a totally different fighter when I fought him the first time I fought him.”

Still feeling nostalgic, I asked Muñoz about his early days in the WEC.

“The WEC was actually a really good promotion, and it was a breeding ground for future champions. I feel like in the WEC, I figured out how to fight on a bigger show and how to deal with some pressure. The WEC was a close-knit organization. I loved fighting for the WEC; it was great. The experience, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

This website’s namesake, BJ Penn, just came out of semi-retirement at 33 years old to agree to a fight with Rory MacDonald at UFC 152. I asked Muñoz if, at 34, he ever felt like time was catching up with him.

“I’m 34 years old and proud. Actually 34 years young. I have four kids and a wife. I own my own business. I’ve opened up two non-profit organizations. I’m dabbling in some movies and stuff. So, I definitely can quit fighting at any time. But I have one goal in mind, and that’s to be the world champ. Having said that, training every day can be a bit troublesome, in the fact that you wake up sore. You wake up like ‘Aww, man. My back. My leg,’ or whatever. But at the same time, when you’re not doing it, you’re like ‘Man, I miss being sore.’ As we talk right now, my feet are sore, my lower back is sore, but I’m loving every minute of it. Kinda weird, huh?

“I do feel that, at 34, I’m still in really good shape. My body can take a lot more. So I feel that I can fight up until I’m 40 years old. But I’m taking care of my body. I’m eating right. I’m on the K-Sos system. And I’m putting good things into my body. Definitely, afterwards, I like to splurge a little bit (laughing). But I’m taking care of my body and living a healthy lifestyle. So I definitely feel that I can go on longer in the sport. But yes, I do feel old at times, and I walk like an old man at times. But that’s only because of the training that I do.”

As our interview wound to a close, Muñoz left me with some words of encouragement. I saw a side of the fighter that many fans watching him on television might not see, but that anyone who has any personal contact with him can’t help but notice. Muñoz is not only highly motivated, but also a great motivator.

“I appreciate your interview. This is one of the more fun interviews I’ve had. You’ve got a long, long successful road in front of you. Shoot for your goals man.

“I talk about the five Ds. I have the three Fs and I have the five Ds. The first D is desire. Everyone has a desire to be successful, and you may have the desire to be the #1 MMA journalist or to be #1 at what you do. Everyone has the desire to be successful. The second D is direction. You’ve gotta have direction in order to be successful. And direction is your goals. You’ve got to have short-term goals and long-term goals. Obviously the long-term goal that you have is you want to be the best that you can be. For those short-term goals, and example is researching fighters, getting to learn more about their lives and stuff like that. For me, a short term goal is to practice my jab, practice my hook, practice transitioning from my striking to my wrestling. I think that’s going to go with my long-term goal, which is to be a world champ.

“Then the third D is diligence, which can be summed up in two words: hard work. You need to work hard for your goals. You need to work hard for your desires. The fourth D is discipline — discipline not only in the sport that you play or the school that you are into, but discipline in your life choices. What are the choices you’re making past 9 or 10 o’clock? What are the choices you’re making with your friends? Are you making the right decisions? Discipline is huge. And then the fifth D is dedication, and a synonym for dedication is devotion. You need to be devoted to your desires, so that you can have direction, and diligence, and discipline, and dedication. So the times that you don’t want to come to practice, those are the best times, because you’ll learn the most.

“I talk about these five Ds, and I talk about character and leadership development at all these public speaking engagements that I have with different schools and organizations. And I truly believe if you apply these five Ds, that you can achieve success inside the cage, outside the cage, in the courtroom, in the gym, in the classroom, wherever you might have a position. I think these five Ds are something anybody can apply in their life.”

I had one last question for Mark: How far are we from hearing people say “Mark Muñoz is the best in the world at 185 lbs.?”

“Two fights.”

That may prove to be true. But for many of those who know him, Mark Muñoz is already the best in the world.

BJPenn.com would like to thank XYIENCE for its assistance with this interview.

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