Former NCAA wrestling champion ready to crush Chris Leben
Few fighters across the current landscape of mixed martial arts can claim to have the type of drive and focus possessed by Mark Munoz.
The former NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion has parlayed years of success on the mat into a contender-worthy run in the UFC’s middleweight division and is currently riding a three-fight win streak.
This momentum has pushed Munoz further up the ladder and into the headlining slot at UFC 138 against Chris Leben. As the fight approaches this Saturday, “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” sees a title shot on the horizon and will stop at nothing to obtain his goal.
“I definitely feel a victory over Leben gets me a step closer to where I want to be. If it gets me the title shot, that’s great. If it puts me further up the ladder, that is great too. This fight certainly has big implications on the title shot and I’ll treat it as such. At the same time, I want to be the world champion and it’s only a matter of time before I get there.
“I entered this sport to become a world champion and this is what we train for. I’m not here to be just a mediocre fighter. I’m here to be the best. I train as such and I act accordingly. This fight with Leben is going to get me closer to a world title, so I’m very excited.””
Leben – who is notorious for his knockout power and harder-than-granite chin – bounced back from a loss to Brian Stann by knocking out Wanderlei Silva in just 27 seconds. His opponent has notoriously heavy hands, but Munoz isn’t concerned. Not one bit.
“There are a lot of guys I’m training with who also have a lot of power. I’m not worried about it. I’m so excited for this fight. I know I’m prepared and I’ve trained very hard for this. I’m going in there, fighting hard and letting the chips fall where they may.
“Bombs are going to be flying from everywhere. Whether it’s on the feet or on the ground, fans are going to see a very exciting fight. I’m going to be looking to finish the fight from wherever I’m at. I’m not going out there looking to score points and take it to the judge’s cards. There are going to be a lot of transitions and a lot of mixed martial arts going on. Do not blink because there is going to be a lot of action.”
Munoz has never been one to rest on his accomplishments. The discipline he learned from countless hours in the wrestling room has conditioned him to sharpen every aspect of his game.
“I’ve always prided myself on learning very quickly and learning from my mistakes. I’ve been able to apply those things in live competition. I wrestled for a long time and ended up being pretty successful in that sport. I wanted to be able to transition that success into the sport of mixed martial arts, and it’s been going well.
“I’ve been training on getting the little details right in my jiujitsu and striking and it’s been working out. I’ve been evolving like crazy just within the past six months and I feel I am a getting to be a well rounded fighter, not just a wrestler. I’m very happy with the progress. It’s a testament to my training partners and coaches. They are unbelievable and I couldn’t be where I am now without them. It’s truly a blessing for me to be at this point in my career.”
Munoz credits his teammates and coaches at his Reign Training Facility for his continued progression as a mixed martial artist. While he is the heart and soul of a group that includes both established fighters and those looking to break through, everyone involved brings something important to the gym.
“Lately we have had so many good people in the gym. Brendan Schaub was here visiting. Fabricio Werdum and Wanderlei Silva have been coming in twice a week. I’m doing Krzysztof Soszynski’s conditioning regiment for this fight also. It’s kicking my butt, man. I know I can go five rounds easy. Shoot-I did 10 five minute rounds today so I’m in great shape.
“Jake Ellenberger and Jason “Mayhem” Miller are here as well. We also have guys like Brett Cooper, Emanuel Newton and Jay Silva who are making their way to the UFC in the future. We have such a positive vibe at the gym and everyone gets along so well.”
Munoz’s progression was visible in his last his most recent outing against jiujitsu ace Demian Maia. Rather than simply looking to neutralize Maia, he won the fight with a mixture of striking and grappling that even included an attempted submission on the Brazilian.
“I was trying,” Munoz says with a laugh. “The entire time my corner was yelling out “No darce! No darce!” because they knew I wanted to do it. I heard them, but in the back of my head I decided to go for it because that’s the type of fighter I am. I take chances, but at the same time those chances are calculated. I’m not going to put myself in a position where I feel I’m going to bring damage upon myself. I knew if I missed the choke on Maia I could scramble back up and that’s what happened.”
In addition to the contender implications resting on his match-up with Leben, their bout at UFC 138 will also be the UFC’s first non-title five round affair. When asked about going into the record books, Munoz shared what the opportunity means to him.
“It’s great to be a part of something that is the first of anything in this sport. I’m forever immortalized now,” Munoz says. “I’m a trivia question.”