By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
That’s how Mark Munoz describes himself outside of the cage in a recent telephone interview with Northwest Asian Weekly. Munoz, a family man with a wife and four children, lives in a quiet Southern California suburb.
Inside the mixed martial arts cage, he is known as the “Filipino Wrecking Machine.” Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a violent contact sport that combines boxing, wrestling, and multiple martial arts disciplines, and is fought inside a caged ring.
Munoz, 30, is undefeated at 5-0. In Munoz’s last fight on Dec. 3, 2008, he beat his opponent by technical knock out in just over two minutes. This victory impressed the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) so much that Munoz was notified that he will be fighting in the UFC which is considered to be the major leagues of the MMA. The UFC told him to be ready to fight on one of its fight cards in March, April, or May 2009.
Munoz’s parents are originally from the Philippines. He was born on a U.S. Naval Base in Japan.
His passion for wrestling began in high school and college, when he was an amateur wrestling champion. While at Oklahoma State University, Munoz was a three-time Academic All-American, two-time All-American, and the 2001 NCAA Wrestling Champion. Graduating from Oklahoma State in 2001, Munoz dreamed of competing in the Olympics for the United States. However, the training required would not have left enough time for him to take care of his growing family (Munoz and his wife had two children at the time).
Munoz decided to put aside his Olympic dreams for his family.
Instead of being a wrestler, Munoz began to run wrestling camps and coach college wrestlers while working toward his master’s degree in sports psychology.
In 2004, Munoz landed in Northern California at UC Davis where he coached Urijah Faber, an amateur wrestler turned mixed martial arts champion. Faber asked Munoz if he ever thought about training to be an MMA fighter himself.
At first, Munoz declined the invitation citing he had “too much on his plate” with family, school, and coaching. But after much persistence by Faber, Munoz found himself training with UFC mixed martial artists Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and fellow Filipino Brandon Vera. Munoz found this sport to be “pretty cool” as he sparred with people he idolized. Munoz began training full-time in 2007.
Munoz admits that at first his family did not want him to fight. However, Munoz was very persuasive, and his wife and parents recognized that embarking on this career would feed his competitive appetite. Now, his family fully supports his move from coaching to fighting.
One of the benefits of his new career is that it opens up Munoz’s schedule. Since Munoz spends most of his day training, he can spend nights and weekends with his family.
Munoz currently resides in Mission Viejo, Calif., where he trains 5 to 6 days a week. This fall, he had the opportunity to work out at the famous Wildcard Boxing Gym in Hollywood, Calif. It’s the same gym that Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao trained in with Freddie Roach for his December fight with Oscar de la Hoya.
Roach has agreed to train Munoz for boxing after training Pacquiao.
Even though Pacquiao and Munoz were serious about training at the gym, Munoz recalls Pacquiao’s outgoing personality and how he joked around with his friends after workouts.
Munoz recounts an incident where Pacquiao started a water fight in the locker room. Pacquiao doused everyone using water bottles. Munoz said, “It was all in good fun” and made sure he didn’t get wet.
When asked about his future in the MMA, Munoz said, “I’m riding the wave until it ends.” Munoz realizes that fighting can be a stepping stone for a better future. One day, he hopes to open up a gym and continue to coach wrestling.
“Coaching is my passion,” said Munoz. Through coaching, he hopes to give back to others and believes that he can be a person that people can look to as a role model.
As a youth growing up in Vallejo, Calif., Munoz recalls many people within the community who recognized his athletic potential and sponsored his efforts to compete in wrestling tournaments. Munoz wants to pass along the kindness to others.
Aside from his family and training, Munoz is learning Tagalog. Munoz asked his parents to speak to him only in Tagalog.
In 2009, the UFC is planning a fight card in the Philippines and Munoz stated he would be happy if he were chosen to be put on that card. ♦
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.