12-13-2010, 01:32 PM
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Barrie, Ont. Can
| | Mark Munoz Reflects on 2010, Breaks Down Fight Against Friend Aaron Simpson
Mark Munoz Reflects on 2010, Breaks Down Fight Against Friend Aaron Simpson - Bloody Elbow
Mark Munoz Reflects on 2010, Breaks Down Fight Against Friend Aaron Simpson |
by Duane Finley on Dec 13, 2010 2:14 PM EST in UFC Interview
UFC middleweight and former NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion Mark Munoz knows about determination on a scale few could imagine. After a string of strong performances it is easy to forget that the southern California native has only been fighting professionally for just over two years. In this time frame "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" has established himself as one of the top competitors at 185 lbs.
In 2010 Munoz entered the octagon on four occasions and each time the cage door locked behind him a war raged forth. Perhaps the most memorable performance came against TUF winner Kendall Grove. After a rough start in which Munoz found himself in trouble on two occasions, he battled back for a second round stoppage that earned both men "Fight of the Night" honors.
This recent stretch saw Munoz going 3-1 with his only loss coming to middleweight contender Yushin Okami by way of a controversial split decision that was the topic of heavy debate throughout the MMA community. While the loss does not sit well with Munoz it has validated his confidence as he has proved to himself that he belongs with the best in his weight class.
Never one to sit idle, Mark jumped back into the fire as he faced fellow elite level wrestler and close personal friend Aaron Simpson at UFC 123 where after another three rounds in the grinder, Munoz walked away with another victory. Preparing to end the year on a high note, I sat down with Mark on the eve of UFC 124 and in the first installment of a two part Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview, Munoz discussed how wrestling contributes to MMA, the intimate details of facing a close friend, and reflected on the most active year of his young career as a professional fighter.
"There were a lot of positives taken out of this year and I was able to get a lot of experience out of fighting the caliber of opponent that I faced in 2010," Munoz stated. "Having only fought competitively for two years total and being at the level that I am at now is incredible. I'm grateful to have the training partners that I have and the trainers that surround me. The level of support around me is awesome and that's what it is all about. Even the fights where I have lost have still provided so much experience. After I lost to Yushin Okami it was a wake up call that I can fight some of the top guys in the world at 185 lbs. It gave me the sense that I'm definitely right there towards the top of the division. Looking back at the performance that I had against Okami I know that I could have done a lot better but it was a learning experience. Now I feel that I am prepared and could definitely see myself fighting for the world title so there is definitely a lot to take out of this past year. I now have the confidence that I really belong where I'm at. Before I felt I was just a tough fighter but now I truly believe that I belong in the top echelon of the division."
In his most recent outing Munoz faced fellow elite level college wrestler and close personal friend Aaron Simpson at UFC 123 in Detroit. Munoz was coming off a razor thin split decision defeat against Yushin Okami and the fight was Simpson's return to the cage after suffering the first loss of his career to Chris Leben. Outside of the fact Munoz and Simpson are both outstanding fighters on the rise the men have known each other for years and harbor a tight knit friendship. I asked Munoz what it was like to face another high level wrestler inside of the cage and to break down the fight from his perspective.
"I knew fighting Aaron (Simpson) was going to be tough because he is an outstanding wrestler and we actually share many similar credentials," Munoz stated. "I trained with him for awhile so I knew what he was bringing to the table in our fight. He is also a very good friend of mine so I definitely know a lot about him. It's true what they say about two wrestlers fighting each other because it does cancel itself out and then the fight turns into a stand up war. The fight between Aaron and I was actually won in transition as we used our wrestling to set up our striking and our jiu-jitsu into our ground and pound. That's what made the difference in our fight and there were a few times when I would get an escape from the bottom and actually scored big power punches or power strikes with my elbow. I think this fight was won in transition and it proved who was the better mixed martial artist as well."
One topic that never seems to disappear in MMA is the unwillingness and some times refusal of friends and training partners facing one another in competition. UFC President Dana White has been fighting this obstacle for years but when Munoz and Simpson where slotted to face one another their friendship was only a footnote to a great matchup.
"I actually talked to him afterwards and it was tough man," Munoz replied when asked to share his thoughts on fighting Simpson. "He expressed some things after the fight saying at times it was difficult to hit me and it was definitely tough but we were the ones that put ourselves in the same organization in the same weight class. We lost at almost the same points in our careers and nearly have the same record so there are a lot of similarities. We were even thinking about getting into MMA around the same time. Here is something interesting...we were at the Palace of Auburn Hills for the NCAA National Championships for wrestling in 2006. He coached at ASU and I was at UC Davis and he asked if I ever thought about getting into MMA. I told him that I was considering getting started and had been doing some boxing and jiu-jitsu and he told me that he had started up those things as well so we started training at nearly the same time for MMA. The ironic thing is that our MMA careers were somewhat born out of that conversation at The Palace of Auburn Hills and we ended up fighting one another in the same spot where it all began for us. There are a lot of ties between Aaron and I, we know each other's families and it was pretty difficult to fight a friend like him because I care about that guy. He's like a brother to me so it was really tough."
"At the same time are both extremely competitive," Munoz continued. "When we run together it ends up being a race because one of us will start running a bit faster to stay a step ahead and by the end it's an all out sprint. He is just as competitive as I am and that's just how we get along. It doesn't matter if it's MMA, racquetball or volleyball...we are going all out because it's competition to us."
Staying on the topic of fighters that are close friends and training partners I asked Munoz to share his opinion on a piece of information I had gathered speaking to other fighters. I have heard fighters say that when two people are openly refusing to face one another inside of the octagon it stems from the fact they already know who is going to win. From intense sessions in the gym a fighter knows when he has another fighter's number and I asked Munoz to confirm or deny this information.
"Yeah man it's totally true," Munoz answered. "In a gym there is somewhat of an unspoken pecking order that applies...kind of like a wolf pack. There is an alpha male in the group and that's just how it is. It's a natural thing and when you have to face someone you train with you say to yourself that you can beat him, but it's another thing to actually believe it. I've always been one of those guys that works extremely hard and I believe in what I do. When I was training with Aaron he ended up going to Arizona Combat Sports and I moved to southern California and started training with the fighters down here so just the quality of training partners has made a big difference. The training partners that I have worked with have been so much better than what has worked with and I put my confidence and a lot of belief in that. My confidence stemmed from the practices that I had with the Nogueiras, Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, Fabricio Werdum, Babalu, King Mo, Jason "Mayhem" Miller and so on. In my mind I know that if I am able to go hard with all of these guys there is no way that Aaron could keep up with me."
In the sport of mixed martial arts wrestling has been known to catch negative criticism with the fighters who employ a wrestle heavy game plan being labeled as boring or fighting safe. Munoz came into mixed martial arts with elite credentials having won an NCAA Division 1 National Championship but has quickly expanded his skill set to make him sharp in other necessary aspects.
"I truly believe that wrestling is the most important discipline in mixed martial arts," Munoz stated. "It allows you to dictate wherever you want the fight go. If you want to keep it on your feet or take it down to the ground you have the base to put your opponent wherever you feel you will have the most advantage. It's the foundation and the glue that keeps everything together and without wrestling you are going to have a hard time in mixed martial arts. Obviously there are other disciplines that are very important as well like Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu and boxing but for me I feel that wrestling is what has gotten me to where I'm at in such a short amount of time. One of the things that I learned in wrestling was the importance of technique, drilling all of the time, over and over again and that has given me the dedication to pick up other things in a similar fashion so I think it translates very well into the rest of mixed martial arts."
Munoz continued, "Wrestling teaches you to stay in the match although you are hurt...to tough it out and push yourself as far as you can. Wrestlers are known for being gritty with the ability to pursue things under pressure. That's just what wrestlers do and we were programmed do this at a young age. We are tough by nature and coming from a form of competition where you are one on one prepares you for mixed martial arts. When you wrestle at the levels I have competed at internationally and the NCAA championships, the pressure you feel walking to the octagon is almost exactly the same. You still have those anxieties you would have before a big match and coming through that prepares you for MMA both mentally and physically. I truly believe that."
Before the explosion of MMA elite level wrestlers had limited choices of furthering their wrestling careers beyond the college mats. The best of the best went on to pursue Olympic dreams while others hoped to grab one of the few college coaching jobs available to wrestlers of the highest caliber. Since wrestling has been proven to be an excellent base for mixed martial arts more and more young wrestlers are having dreams of chasing championship gold rather than Olympic gold medals.
"I'm starting to see that now," Munoz answered when asked about the sea change in amateur wrestling. "Having my own gym I see more young kids getting into boxing, Muay Thai and taking jiu-jitsu classes. Before this wasn't happening because you would take Karate, Tae Kwon Do or wrestling and you would invest your time and effort to become the best you can be at that one particular thing...that one particular discipline or sport. Now due to the rise of mixed martial arts kids are branching out at an early age. It's also helped the numbers for wrestling as well because a lot of kids are getting into wrestling because of mixed martial arts too so it's happening all over the map."
While wrestlers may begin their MMA careers with a traditional foundation the evolution of the sport has also brought changes to the wrestling discipline as well. While fighters like Mark Coleman and Randy Couture helped establish wrestling in MMA, dynamic fighters like Georges St. Pierre has taken the principles and adapted them to a different brand of fighting.
"MMA wrestling is totally different than pure wrestling," Munoz explained. "Although pure or traditional wrestling does translate into mixed martial arts it is entirely different because MMA wrestling is based largely on the transitions made from wrestling into jiu-jitsu or striking. When I was wrestling in college all I wanted to do was close the distance and put my hands on people where in mixed martial arts the fight starts off punching. Knees are involved, there are elbows...punches are flying so using your wrestling ability to set up what you are trying to do to finish is what would make it a different style."
" I don't want to die for you, but if dying is asked of me, I'll bear that cross with honour, 'cause freedom don't come free."
"All men wanna be rich, rich men wanna be kings, a king ain't satisfied til he rules everything"
Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests) |
All times are GMT -7. The time now is 10:06 AM.
Quick Member Login
Top 5 Latest Threads
Latest MMA News