Top UFC fighter Mark Munoz is reinvented, plans to spearhead Filipino MMA development

UFC's Mark Munoz (courtesy of Anton Tabuena, BloodyElbow.com)
UFC’s Mark Munoz (courtesy of Anton Tabuena, BloodyElbow.com – full album here)

Top UFC middleweight Mark Munoz returns at UFC 184 to face Roan Carneiro in Los Angeles, California this coming February 28, 2015. As the UFC is set to make its first event in the Philippines in May, Munoz is planning back to back fights.

 

Leading up to the event, ASIA MMA was about to speak with Munoz on the phone about his upcoming fight, his recent career upheavals an how he’s dealing with them, and of course the UFC Manila card, which he is adamant he will be a part of.

 

Asia MMA: First of all, it’s difficult to stop referring to you as “The Filipino Wrecking Ball” since your parody video at the MMA Awards last year. Who talked you into that?

Munoz: [laughs] A good friend of mine, Adam Hunter who’s a comedian, was planning a lot of things for the MMA Awards. He came up and asked me, “Hey why don’t you do a skit? It’s a spoof on “The Wrecking Ball” since you’re the ‘Filipino Wrecking Machine’”. I said, “You mean do stuff she was doing in the video? Nah, man, I’m not going to do that!” He said, “Come on man, it’s just for comedy.” So I said alright, but I’m going to be fully clothed! Yeah, I wore spandex. I didn’t even watch the video before the awards. Then I thought, oh what did I get myself into?! It was fun, we were cracking up the whole time. It took like three hours to film, and it was only, what, a minute?

Asia MMA: Did you actually sing?

Munoz: Yeah, I did. I can sing, but it didn’t sound right so I said just do a voice over.

Asia MMA: Of course you can sing, right?

Munoz: Yeah, that’s right, I’m Filipino! [laughs] I have a karaoke machine at my house. And at my parents house too!

Asia MMA: You’ve said that last year was your most challenging year ever, including four months off and training to get back from injury and to fight. What’s motivating you the most to get through this comeback period?

Munoz: I’ve always talked about how your life experiences shape your future, and I’ve had a tough road as of late. I talk about life choices, and I chose mixed martial arts. When I talk to everyone, especially my kids, the anti-bullying campaigns, and the people I mentor, and I tell them my goals in the UFC, if I didn’t do everything I can to succeed at them or complete them to the best of my ability, I’d be a hypocryte.

So what motivates me is that I really do want to become a UFC Champion – should I get to where I can compete for it – and I want to try and do it to the best of my ability for all these kids and fighters that I mentor.

That’s what motivates me. I’m a competitor, I’m a man of Faith and believe that God has Sovereignty over my life, and God has me at this point in my life because this is what I’m preaching, not to quit. I definitely want to lead by example.

 

“God has me at this point in my life because this is what I’m preaching, not to quit.”

 

Asia MMA: Your coaches staged an intervention because you train so hard, and they told you that you need to factor in recovery time more. How have you mentally adjusted? 

Munoz: Yeah, it was hard. I’m a guy that has control over everything, but I relented and submitted to them. I’ve been doing the same thing over and over again for five and a half years and I expected a different result. That’s not going to happen.

So my manager and my coaches said, “You’ve got talent, you’ve got what it takes to be a UFC Champion. But, you’re doing everything wrong. You’re training like a madman, like you’re a teenager.”

Last year I came out of every fight with injuries, not just “owies” but injuries, and it affected me mentally. The ups and downs of winning and losing in MMA are so drastic. I’m a competitor and I hate to lose. I kind of went into a dark place one time and I gained like 76 pounds. I kept eating lechon, longaniza, lupiang, all the Filipino foods.

Asia MMA: I was going to ask you about that – the Filipino food.

Munoz: Yeah, I’m a Filipino through and through, man! From the culture, through the tradition to the food, I love it all! So during that time, I just wanted to enjoy myself. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t party, but I love food.

Asia MMA: Halo-halo.

Munoz: Yeah, halo-halo! [laughs] I had halo halo every day one week! I had to go to Jollibee’s to get that! That’s what I’m talking about. You have control over that, so you can have victory over that. I want to show everybody that even though you go through ups and downs, it’s the downs that get you to the ups. Those are the times that are going to get you tougher. And since I’ve gone through it, I can share it, and talk to people about it to help them out.

Asia MMA: Your next opponent Roan Carneiro is s jiujitsu guy and you’ve said you’re training some BJJ for this fight. Who are you training with?

Munoz: I always train with the Gracie brothers; for this fight I have Casey Halstead who’s led a bunch of 10th Planet gyms. He’s in my gym, training at my gym now. He’s an amazing leader and a great guy. I just took to his style. He coaches Tony Ferguson as well, and some other UFC fighters. Ryron Gracie will always be my coach, but Casey’s at my gym and coaching all the other guys so I’m using him for this camp.

Asia MMA: Do you ever walk into your gym, see all these successful MMA and wrestling guys you train with, and have an “OMG” moment?

Munoz: Yeah, I do! I’m like “Oh my God, why am I sparring these guys?” I have a shiner on my eye. Why am I sore today? Oh because I got hit in the stomach about ten times. [laughs]

All joking aside, I’m very blessed. I’m blessed to have what I’ve built, and that these guys trust me with their training. Hard work can get you a lot – I came from humble beginnings and I made something out of nothing. Anyone can do it.

 

“I came from humble beginnings and I made something out of nothing. Anyone can do it.”

 

Asia MMA: Michael Bisping has been training with you for a while now. Would you ever again accept a fight with him?

Munoz: I told them no. We talked about it. Sure, we were going at each other’s throats when we were going to fight each other. I’m getting to know him now. He’s a great guy, and has a wonderful family. He’s a guy I respect.

Granted, if there was a bunch of money on the line and a title, I would definitely consider it. But now we’re building ourselves back up and I wouldn’t accept the fight like that.

Asia MMA: Do you think your friendship with Lyota Machida affected you during that fight?

Munoz: It was hard, man, we were training together, we were grappling. The circumstances put my back against the wall. We didn’t do any striking at all, it was all grappling, and he knew everything that I was doing. Our striking coach, that had been with me for a very long time, was in his corner. It was like, man… this is stupid. [laughs] Why do we have to fight each other?

But such is life. That’s competition, that’s sport. It’s water under the bridge. He’s still my friend, he bought me dinner afterwards. But it still sucks. I lost that fight. But hey, it is what it is, you just have to move forward from there.

Asia MMA: You have a new four fight contract that begins with the match at UFC 184. And then the first UFC event in the Philippines is just ten weeks after that. Do you expect to be on it? Will you fall back into a sort of “wrestler’s yellow alert” holding pattern mentally?

Munoz: I’m going to be on that card. Shoot. I’ve been proposing UFC in the Philippines for so long. I’ve done tours in the Philippines and rallies to get a fight card there, so I am NOT missing that card. I’ve made a lot of connections and worked very hard to get it going. I’ve been having a lot of conversations and they really want me on that card as well.

I’m excited. But first things first. I’ve got to get through Roan Carneiro, and in convincing fashion. I’m definitely going to be on yellow alert when it comes to fighting on that [Manila] card.

Asia MMA: You do a lot of community outreach and now you’re on the Series of Legends wresting clinics. You always say that Philippines MMA needs to “find ways to improve and get better”. Are you considering doing wrestling seminars in the Philippines after your next fight? And what insight, advice or support can you give to your Filipino countrymen and women in the sport?

Munoz: I’m there. I have every intention of coming to the Philippines multiple times during the year. I was even trying to get my wife to move to the Philippines! She said “No, we’re not going to do that.” I was like, “Come on, it would be awesome!” I am going to be there though, and she knows this and supports me.

I’m going to help MMA in the Philippines. I’m going to do everything I can because that’s where it all started for me, that’s who I am, that’s my culture. Although I grew up in the United States, my parents are from there and they kept the traditions, they kept the food, they kept the culture rich in our living. I even choreographed the waltz and the cha cha for girls at Cotillion, so I can dance, too!

I want to be there. I want to be there with halo-halo in one hand and buchi in the other hand.

Asia MMA: And sisig.

Munoz: That’s right. Kare-kare, pancit, dinuguan, whatever. I’m there! Maraming maraming salamat!

 

“I’m going to help MMA in the Philippines.

I’m going to do everything I can because that’s where it all started for me,

that’s who I am, that’s my culture.”