UFC fighter Mark Munoz on MMA in the Philippines, Silva injury

UFC fighter Mark Munoz thinks that Filipino MMA fighters have talent but lack wrestling skills. He wants to be the one to teach them how to grapple.

GRAPPLER. UFC fighter Mark Munoz thinks Filipino MMA fighters need to improve on their wrestling skills, and he wants to help them. Photo from markmunozmma.com

MANILA, Philippines – Mark Munoz knows what it takes to be successful in mixed martial arts. Munoz, a Filipino-American from California’s Bay Area, has competed in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) since 2009, and at one point won 7 of 8 fights in the toughest fight league in the world.

The ground-and-pound specialist has taken note of the rise in MMA’s popularity in the Philippines, much of which is due to his own success in UFC. Groups like the Baguio-based Team Lakay, which has sent fighters to One Fighting Championship (OneFC) and UFC, have spurred regional champions like Honorio Banario and Eric Kelly. 

Yet while the sport continues to grow domestically, Munoz sees one component missing that could take them to the next level.

“Wrestling, by far,” the middleweight Munoz (13-4) tells Rappler.com. “Their striking is unbelievable. Jiu jitsu is growing in the Philippines. Wrestling out there is scarce; there’s no wrestling actually.”

Munoz knows a thing or two about wrestling. As a collegiate amateur, Munoz won two Big 12 titles, a pair of All-American honors and an NCAA title at Oklahoma State University. Munoz has also been a wrestling coach at Oklahoma State University and University of California at Davis.

Earlier this month, bantamweight Dave Galera became the first Filipino national to compete in UFC, but lost a decision to Singaporean Royston Wee, who was by far the superior grappler. Similar deficiencies have haunted other Filipino martial artists.

Munoz has shown fellow UFC standouts Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, the Nogueira brothers, Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen the art of grappling. And he wants to show Filipino fighters the same.

“I went out there and did a couple seminars and saw that their wrestling technique just needs a lot of help. I want to be the guy that does it,” said Munoz. “I’ve wrestled pretty much all of my life and I’ve been able to wrestle at the top programs here in the United States and I’ve been able to compete at the highest level. I would love to be the pioneer to lead the Philippines to show them how to wrestle.”

ROOTS. Mark Munoz poses inside a tricycle during a 2012 trip to the Philippines. Photo from markmunozmma.com

Munoz notes that fighting is a part of Filipino culture ingrained in the historical struggles that have defined the people. The aggression and hunger to assert one’s self are there; the only thing lacking is technique.

“The Philippine culture, it’s a fighting culture,” said Munoz, whose father is a native of Bicol and mother hails from Santa Ana, Manila. “We love our combat sports. We had to liberate ourselves from the Spanish and we did that forcefully at times. To be able to do something that we’ve grown up doing, and do it in a way where it’s a sport and people love watching. To be able to show what the Filipino people can do, it’s awesome.”

Munoz thinks that Filipinos will succeed in the flyweight (125 pounds), bantamweight (135 pounds) and lightweight (155 pounds) divisions, which have begun to pick up steam in the UFC.

Munoz, 35, is looking to get his own career back on track after losing to Lyoto Machida in his most recent bout in October. Munoz was originally scheduled to fight Michael Bisping that night before Bisping withdrew with an eye injury. Munoz is petitioning to make that fight happen in the future.

On Anderson Silva

Munoz wasn’t in Las Vegas the night his friend and former training partner Anderson Silva leg checked a Chris Weidman kick and suffered a freak injury to his left tibia and fibula. Munoz was back in the Bay Area, hosting a viewing party at a UFC Gym to raise funds for Typhoon Yolanda victims. Still, the injury shocked him to watch.

Silva’s compound fracture was one of the worst injuries in recent sports history, and one that the 38-year-old Brazilian will have a hard time recovering from.

“No one thought that that would ever happen. Nobody ever thinks they’re going to get an injury to that magnitude. Anderson has probably thrown that kick over 1000 times and never would he have dreamed about his leg breaking,” said Munoz. “I was very shocked. I’ve trained with Anderson for a long time and I know he trained very hard for that fight so I was floored when I saw that.

“It’s a very hard injury to come back from because not only was the fracture very bad, but there’s ligaments and muscles there. For it to bend the way it did, there’s going to be a lot of recovery. We’ll see, but Anderson has the best doctors around him and resources as far as medical, so hopefully he comes back.”

Munoz says that, even if Silva never throws another kick in his life, his legacy is secure.

“But at the same time he’s done a lot in the sport. He’s been one of the leading pioneers, and if you still talk about whose the best pound-for-pound fighters, you still think Anderson Silva so it doesn’t taint or tarnish anything that he’s done in the sport. He can retire now and still be admired by millions.” – Rappler.com

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at ryan@ryansongalia.com. An archive of his work can be found at ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.

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