The former NCAA champion from Oklahoma State came into fighting with a reputation as a fierce wrestler, one of the best in the game. Over time he developed a devastating ground and pound style that could be considered tops in all of MMA.
Munoz has had to endure some growing pains as well, including two losses thus far in his career, but one thing is clear as he embarks on his main event fight against Chris Leben at UFC 138…
Now is his time.
“This is the fight to get me closer to a title shot. This is what we train for,” Munoz told MMAWeekly Radio. “I’m excited to be able to be at this place in my career, to be able to showcase what I’ve improved, and I’m excited and I’m ready. After that Demian Maia fight I took confidence away and now I feel that I’ve arrived. I’m ready.”
The fight with Demian Maia was anything but easy, however, it did show off Munoz’s ever-evolving game. Despite Maia’s standing as one of the most dangerous jiu-jitsu fighters in the sport, Munoz came close to snatching a submission in the fight.
Maia also showed off some rapidly improved stand-up, but Munoz answered right back with some of his own. Sure, Mark Munoz will always be a wrestler at heart, but he’s out to prove that at this stage of the game he’s a mixed martial artist.
“I think I put the division on notice to let them know the wholeness of my game now. I’m not just a wrestler, but I have power in my hands and I have a great jiu-jitsu game. I’m improving every day inside the gym, and I work extremely hard,” Munoz said.
This time around Munoz faces a very tough challenge in the form of Chris Leben, who has some of the heaviest hands in the middleweight division.
Leben is lethal with one-punch knockout power, but Munoz is happy to show the former Team Quest fighter that whether this fight takes place on the feet or on the ground, he can go toe-to-toe with anyone.
“For Chris Leben, he does have power in his hands and I do as well, but it’s mixed martial arts. There’s hundreds of ways to win a fight so for me I want to go out there and perform the best way that I can when it comes to mixed martial arts,” said Munoz.
The other piece to this puzzle is the fact that the fight with Leben is the first ever five round non-title fight in UFC history. If Munoz’s long term goal is to get a shot at the UFC middleweight title, there’s not a much better way to prepare than to get ready for a 25-minute fight right now.
Munoz enlisted teammate Krzysztof Soszynski to lead his strength and conditioning program, and now he’s not just prepared for a 25-minute fight. He’s ready to go an hour if need be.
“I doubled my sparring rounds for 10 rounds, and I just make sure I’m ready to go five rounds. I counted for the nerves and everything else, you’ve got to be ready to go at least 10 rounds. That’s what I’ve been doing,” Munoz revealed.
If victorious, don’t expect Munoz to grab the mic and start demanding title shots or saying something loud and boisterous to try and put the spotlight on himself. Munoz has the quiet demeanor to say very few words and let his actions speak for themselves.
When UFC 138 is over, however, Munoz wants to make sure Dana White, Joe Silva, and everybody else in charge know that he’s ready to challenge for the title.
“I have one sight in mind and that’s to be world champion,” said Munoz. “Middleweight world champion.”