Mark Munoz bounded out to the UFC Octagon for the final time Saturday with a smile on his face and his eyes misted over. Such a demeanor was in sharp contrast with the forceful and bludgeoning performance that Munoz went on to give in Manila against Luke Barnatt over the next 15 minutes.
After three exciting rounds, Munoz had earned a resounding victory over an opponent 10 years younger and six inches taller, and if his eyes weren’t tearing up again, mine were. Munoz didn’t just snap a three-fight losing streak, he also got to end a storied career on his own terms — something beyond rare in the fight world.
Munoz helped bring the UFC to the Philippines and wanted badly to finish his athletic career in the land of his ancestors. The crowd loved him, and he loved them back, with a moving post-fight speech.
The UFC would be wise to offer Munoz a new contract as a brand ambassador now that he’s done competing. “I have so much to give this sport,” he said.
Indeed, he still does. Munoz is universally liked and respected throughout the fight world.
The former NCAA Division I wrestling national champion Donky Kong-punched his way to the top of the UFC with years of hard work and big victories. He always excited fans with his style, and he made admirers outside of it with his class, candor and downright niceness.
Munoz became a top fighter while simultaneously training others as the founder and owner of what would become one of the top fight gyms in the world, Reign. His generosity with others became the stuff of legend, in short order.
So did his good humor and mood. However, when Munoz did go through dark days of depression after loss, he didn’t hide his struggles.
Instead, he shared them with the world in hopes that others out there suffering through similar battles could know that they were not alone. That, took real courage.
It isn’t easy for a tough guy to show his soft side. Since losing to Chris Weidman, and a shot at the middleweight world title in the process, back in 2012, Munoz went through his share of trials in and out of the cage. He brought fans in with him through it all, and gained a bunch more of them because of it.
Even his reasons for retiring were heartwarming. Munoz let it be known that he now realized he’d missed too much time with his family, and he now wanted to devote much more of his life to being present for his wife and kids.
Munoz sold his gym and decided to retire from competition. So, it is little wonder why so much of the admiring talk of Munoz over the past few weeks has focused on Mark the person.
There is nothing wrong with that. Mark Munoz the person, his gentleness and his warmth are much more significant than athletic accomplishments, in and of themselves.
However, let’s not forget Mark Munoz, “The Filipino Wrecking Machine.” In a world of nickname marketing hyperbole, Munoz’s always seemed appropriately scary.
Munoz began his pro MMA career in 2007, way undersized at 205 pounds, but still had little trouble dominating opponents in the cage. Three fights into his career, he was already fighting in the big leagues — the WEC — and that’s where he began to find his smashing rhythm.
With brutal TKO wins over Chuck Grisby and Ricardo Barros, Munoz opened the world’s eyes to just how much damage the soft-spoken wrestler could do. The grappler was never content to rely on his take down ability, ride out the time and earn decision victories.
Instead, Munoz opened up on opponents on the ground with strikes like no other. Through 17 fights under the Zuffa banner, Munoz landed more significant ground strikes than any other fighter in history.
The term “significant” doesn’t do justice to most of those gigantic blows. Just as he did in the closing seconds of his fight with Barnatt, Munoz had a penchant for throwing his entire body behind his leaping ground punches, making them devastating to opponents and thrilling to watch for fans.
Just as it is important to remember that Munoz is as dangerous as he is loveable, we can’t forget that he was more than just a fan-pleasing slugger. The bulk of Munoz’s UFC career was spent as one of the very best middleweights in the world.
From 2009 to 2012, Munoz won seven fights out of eight, with his lone loss being a decision to former title challenger Yushin Okami. Four of those wins were finishes.
Munoz’s streak was ended by Chris Weidman, who after beating Munoz got the title shot both were hoping for, and then dominated Anderson Silva twice. Weidman still reigns as the UFC middleweight champion.
In his prime, Munoz lost to only the best of the best. And, well after his prime, he fought on, through adversity, loss and injuries, always showing grit and determination.
Now, he’s done fighting, and Munoz should look back at his career with a great deal of satisfaction. Though he never accomplished his goal of becoming the world champion, his drive to be the best propelled him to accomplish so much.
Munoz has always been a pleasure to speak with, and scores of training partners vouch for his leadership and kindness. Those impressions are most important and will last forever.
Today, however, is still a fight day. So, with a fresh and violent reminder supplied by the warrior himself, let us think of Munoz at least one more time as the gutsy, technical, hard-hitting, nasty and simply terrifying son of a gun he is on the mats and in the cage.