Munoz Debuts at UFC 96: “I Believe in Wrestling”
Story by Brady Crytzer
They call him “The Philippine Wrecking Machine”… at least since he began his career as a professional mixed martial artist. Mark Munoz, a former NCAA All American and national champion, prepares to make his UFC debut on Saturday, March 7th at UFC 96: Jackson vs. Jardine. Although he has made serious waves in the world of amateur wrestling, Munoz’s thirst for competition has brought him back to the sport that he loves.
In a way, Munoz is still a wrestler at heart. Despite his past successes, this 31 year old light heavyweight hopeful still feels that there is something bigger out there for him to achieve.
“My dream was to be an Olympic Gold Medalist,” Munoz admitted. “The problem is that you can’t support a family by just wrestling. You need a real job and you can’t focus on your wrestling alone. That is a big part of why I’m a mixed martial artist. I can kill two birds with one stone.”
Munoz believed that the transition to the sport of MMA was a difficult one, but he also sees it as a transition he was destined to make. His wrestling roots are strong, and the keys to having success in Ultimate Fighting Championship are a natural fit.
“Diligence,” Munoz stated. “I believe wrestling teaches a sense of perseverance. Wrestling is one of the toughest sports in the world. It teaches you a lot of things very early. Wrestling isn’t a team sport and fighting isn’t either. To be a successful fighter you need to be analytical, you need a sound strategy. Wrestling shares that mentality to do well.”
Although he feels right at home when fighting in the eight sided Octagon, Munoz believes that he needed to make some fundamental adjustments in his approach.
“Striking was the hardest thing to adjust to,” Munoz explained. “Wrestlers, in general, have a tendency to pick up jiu jitsu more quickly because it uses a lot of the same principles. Striking uses similar principles but in a completely different way. A fighter needs to be effective in those transitions.”
His opponent on Saturday, March 7th possesses a skill set that is very familiar to Munoz, and though he’s seen it before it could be the most daunting style he can face. Matt “The Hammer” Hamill is a former world champion wrestler with brutal ground n’ pound and a pedigree that’s hard to match…unless you’re Mark Munoz.
“I don’t mean to take anything away from Matt,” Munoz started. “There is a big difference between wrestling Division III and wrestling Division I. The training that I received and the competition that I faced was much better than Matt’s. Understandably, his disability required accommodation that Division I wrestling couldn’t provide, but our backgrounds are much different.”
Wrestling credentials aside, Munoz is walking into the cage on March 7th a mixed martial artist, not a pure wrestler. He knows that he will need to bring his full arsenal to match up against Hamill.
“The winner of this fight will be the one who uses the other disciplines more effectively. The person that wins in the transitions will win this fight.”
For any would be superstars who still find themselves scratching and clawing their way through the collegiate ranks, Munoz suggests MMA as a viable alternative to continuing a wrestling career.
But success comes at a price.
“I believe in wrestling,” Munoz said. “Some more traditional people think that wrestling hurts mixed martial arts and visa versa.”
“If a young wrestler is thinking about MMA as a career he has got to love it,” Munoz said. “It takes an incredible amount of discipline and strong character. A person needs to have the right motives. You need to fall in love with this sport. You need to be sound in mind, strength, power and heart.”
“If they are looking for fame and fortune right away they are in the wrong sport.” Munoz joked.