Mark Munoz never envisioned himself as one of those guys you would see in the 'before and after' photos taken for supplement and conditioning programs.
But after a lifetime of competing at the top level in sports, two things happened to him over the past year. His body was turning on him and he was getting older, to the point it became something of a concern for a guy whose goal was from day one to win a world championship.
A series of injuries made training more pain than pleasure. He tried to block the idea he was injured, and that wasn’t working out. He was scheduled in a bout with Chael Sonnen in early 2012 to determine who would get the next middleweight title shot at his friend, Anderson Silva, and in his mind, the unthinkable happened. His elbow, which had been giving him problems ever since the start of his MMA career, was simply hurting too badly to continue and he pulled out of the fight.
He was given another shot to get a win to potentially set him up with Silva. The result there was the most one-sided defeat of his career. On July 11, 2012, in San Jose, Calif., not far from Vallejo, where he grew up, on a show built around him as the star. Then, at the age of 34, his doctor told him his foot was broken. He knew he was hurt, and he was limited in training and couldn’t explode off his right foot. But didn’t get it checked out until after the fight. Then he was told it would another year before he could fight again. It wasn’t only that he was hurting, but now his biological career clock was ticking, since a year off 34 is very different than at 24.
"When I got the news I had to sit our for a year, it put me in a tailspin," said Munoz (12-3), who turned 35 in February, and starts on the comeback trail at UFC 162 on July 6 in Las Vegas, when he faces Tim Boetsch.
The match will be on the pay-per-view portion of the show, which is headlined by two men he’s very familiar with, Silva vs. Weidman for the middleweight title.
"I went through depression," Munoz noted about much of the latter part of 2012. "I’m not the kind of person who does parties, drugs or alcohol. I turned to food for my comfort. I got up to 260 pounds. It was really bad. I had to get myself out of that rut. Thank goodness for all my training partners, and Sam Calavitta, Riley Ross and Todd Norman, who did a tremendous job of putting my strength and conditioning in. If it wasn’t for the people who surrounded me, I don’t know where I’d be."
He’s dropped 55 pounds in the last seven months, residing this week at 205. He’s figuring on dropping another five pounds, and shooting his "after" photos this week, tentatively on Thursday. Munoz will touting Velocity Sports Performance and Sun Fair Nutrition, having gone from 28% body fat down to 10%.
The most amazing consideration is that his resting heart rate is now at 37 beats per minute, a level of a genetically gifted conditioning freak. Munoz noted he’s been gifted in that for as long as he can remember, since he’s trained hard for wrestling since the age of 13.
"I’ve also gotten stronger," he said. "Even when I was 260, I was at 48, 49, 50 beats per minute. But my heart rate went down, my cholesterol got better, my adrenal glands got a lot better, my testosterone level is a lot better with the foods I’ve been eating. All together, I’m healthy and fit. They changed my body from the inside out. I’m more energetic. The machine is actually working a lot smoother now."
He’s dropped the pizza, burgers, fries, spaghetti and garlic bread as well as Filipino dishes that he grew too familiar with when he couldn’t train and had no fights in sight. He replaced them with nuts and grass fed bison, venison, fish, chicken and spinach.
"I don’t take any substances, I don’t do any TRT," he said. "I don’t do any growth hormone, and I hear a lot of guys are doing that. I’m totally natural. I’m grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and right now I’m in the best shape of my life, because I put in the work. I’m going to blow the socks off the media when you see my before and after pictures. I was at my lowest of the low, but I took to hard work. It took seven months, but it’s not impossible to be as big as I was and still get in my best-ever shape and change my body composition."
While it was a foot injury that put him on the sidelines, the elbow issues also played a part in his depression.
"Since I got into UFC, I wasn’t able to straighten my arm," said Munoz, who made his name at first in World Extreme Cagefighting, and a wrestler with a naturally big punch and some of the most devastating ground and pound around. "I couldn’t flex it or extend it. It was stuck at a 90 degree angle and I couldn’t do any flexing. I had to pull out of that (bout with Sonnen in January, 2012) fight. I had no choice. I had bone spurs. My doctor told me I was too tough for my own good. Even when I fought, I couldn’t fully extend my punch. I don’t have a long reach to begin with."
Munoz said the problems hurt him in stand-up, but not throwing punches on the ground.
"During the ground-and-pound, you’re not really throwing straight punches where you extend your arm all the way," he said. "When I did ground-and-pound, I used my core and hips and my whole body to thrust into the punch. I don’t punch on the ground to score points. I look to end the fight every time I’m on top. I use my body, shoulders, hips and core into every punch that I throw."
The elbow problems caught up to him. He noted that from wrestling, he learned that you get thrown down, you get up. "But when the doctors told me I couldn’t compete, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back," he said.
"It was a combination of everything," he said. "Having to pull out against Chael Sonnen, that took a hit on me. It’s hard for me. You can’t see from the outside, but I wasn’t quite myself. People really close to me can tell. It was a combination of pulling out of my fight. I couldn’t train for two months. Then rushing back, struggling through that training camp (for Weidman), trying to find different ways to lose weight when my foot was bothering me and my elbow was so bad. Then, after the Weidman fight, the doctor told me I couldn’t fight for a year. That put me on the tailspin where I crash landed. I turned to food. I looked for comfort through food. I’d talk to my friends and say, `Hey, let’s go out to lunch.’ Then I went to the Philippines. My family was there having parties. Filipino parties have lots of food, and all my favorites."
The pulling out of a fight was like the first hard loss, and the Weidman fight was disastrous, as he didn’t even look like he belonged in there. He hardly came across like a fighter who on two occasions was one win away from a title shot..
"I’m the type of a guy who has the wrestling mentality that if you’re hurt, you tape it up, and go out there. It caught up to me. I was fighting hurt for two years. Yeah, I’m 35. The body doesn’t heal like when I was younger. I really had to grin and bear it. Then I had to pull out of a fight. I shouldn’t have fought against Weidman, but I decided to do it anyway. I couldn’t do things the way I wanted to do them, or executive things perfectly. I couldn’t explode off my right foot. I couldn’t extend my elbow. I wasn’t even at 60 percent. Maybe I was 50 percent. Now, my elbow is a lot better. I don’t have a broken foot, I’m now close to if now 100 percent.
"I’m not going to take anything from Weidman," he said. "He threw an elbow that caught me. I’m not going to take anything away from his performance in the fight. But I had a really tough time making weight for that fight. I rushed back coming off an injury to find out, the reason I couldn’t even run or do cardio the way I wanted, is that my foot was broken. The stuff I tried to do in camp to take weight off wasn’t working. I had a nightmare of a training camp. I went through it because I felt I could compete and do well. Unfortunately, it didn’t have that outcome."
With Boetsch (16-5), Munoz faces a fellow former wrestler, Boetsch was a high school wrestling star to the point he was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame. He went to Lock Haven University but didn’t have the level of collegiate success as Munoz, the NCAA 197-pound Division I champion in 2001.
"Tim Boetsch is a very good fighter," he said. "Very durable, strategic in his approach to game planning and sticking to the game plan.
"He comes after you. He’s very intelligent. When I got the call, I felt it was a great match-up. It was an opponent who is going to get me back into them mix. He’s definitely top ten (Boetsch is ranked as the No. 10 middleweight contender, while Munoz is currently No. 8). I don’t want to fight anyone who isn’t going to get me back to where I’ve been."
Munoz is also someone who can give more first-hand insight into the UFC 162 main event, given that he’s trained extensively for Weidman, and has trained extensively in the past with Silva.
"I haven’t spoken to him (Silva) in a while," Munoz said. "I went to the grand opening of Anderson Silva’s Muay Thai academy. That was the first time I’d spoken to him in six months. I haven’t spoken to him since. I wanted to help him out, I really did. We just grew apart a little bit. He’s in Brazil a lot of the time. We did train a year-and-a-half together. I think he’s just been busy. He told me to go to his academy and he said he’d come here. But it never came to fruition. But we’re still good friends.
As for his prediction between his estranged friend and former opponent at UFC 162?
"We all know that Anderson has trouble with wrestlers and Weidman is a very good wrestler. He possesses a lot of the strengths to be able to give Anderson a great fight. For Anderson, he can’t stand still. He has to use his movement. Weidman is a long and rangy opponent and very athletic as well. Anderson is going to have his hands full. When Anderson is moving, he’s the best. If he strikes the way he can strike, he’ll have his way with Weidman. Weidman is very good at setting up his shots and Weidman is very good on the ground. I think if Anderson is on his back, he’s going to have a long night. I see the strength of Anderson as his moving and being active. Weidman has to close the gap and be ugly."