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Mark Munoz Looking to Play 'Whack-a-Mole' Against Demian Maia

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – For most of Wednesday's open workout, Mark Munoz did exactly what you'd expect from a NCAA national champion wrestler preparing to face a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt at UFC 131.

He worked on top control, on ground-and-pound, on extricating himself from sticky situations on the mat. Not a bad idea when you're fighting submissions expert Demian Maia.

But then Munoz apparently decided to mix it up, and suddenly he was throwing his training partner in triangle chokes and armbars, as if he might actually be considering a submission win of his own. Was this some sort of trick?

"You saw that, huh?" an excited Munoz said once his workout concluded. "My jiu-jitsu is good. I'm here to prove a point, too. I have great jiu-jitsu guys in my gym, and they know my game is great. As of late, you guys haven't seen my jiu-jitsu game. That's something I do want to prove."




But seriously. This is Maia we're talking about there. There may be no better jiu-jitsu specialist anywhere in MMA's 185-pound division. Munoz can't seriously think he's going to lock that guy into a triangle choke, can he? Is he really thinking about trying an armbar if he looks up and finds Maia in his guard?

"Yeah, what if?" Munoz shrugged. "What if can happen."

One thing Maia probably isn't worried about is Munoz's jiu-jitsu game. The man may have been an All-America wrestler at Oklahoma State, but in MMA he only has one submission win to his credit, and it came as a result of punches. It would seem like his heavy hands – both standing and on the ground – are more of a concern. But Maia doesn't seem terribly worried about being overpowered on Saturday night.

"When I see wrestlers fight, they train a lot of boxing because they don't want to end up on bottom," Maia said. "I don't have this issue. I know he's very powerful when he's on top, but I'm okay with that. I don't think it's going to be just a stand-up fight."

Even if it is, however, Maia wouldn't necessarily run from that. Earlier in his career he rushed to get opponents to the mat because, as Maia put it, he was "really afraid" of standing and trading punches. Now he's more comfortable on the feet, even if his decision to contest more fights there has led to fewer submission wins lately.

"Now I'm more relaxed, so I think sometimes I don't put enough on the ground to submit [them]. I think it's just, I'm changing my style and it will come back," he said.

Which is not to say he's in any danger of becoming a knockout artist, however.

"I enjoy [striking], but it's dangerous," Maia said. "I enjoy it more in the training than in the fight."

Munoz, on the other hand, isn't at all shy about throwing leather. He even prepared with some unconventional training methods, thanks to training partner Mike Guymon, who introduced him to the arcade game Whack-a-Mole.

"You go to Chuck E. Cheese's and you get these padded paddles, and you see a mole pop up and you whack it," Munoz said. "...I was like, man, that's an awesome analogy. I'm going to take that. So I'm playing Whack-a-Mole on Saturday night."

He may be fighting one of the most skilled jiu-jitsu practitioners in all of MMA, but Munoz doesn't seem to feel that it will be such a hard adjustment to make after fighting so many fellow collegiate wrestlers in the UFC.

"I've been fighting all wrestlers, so this is a big change. I like change. It's great, because I know what Demian has and I know what I have. You know bombs are going to fly. That's just me. I'm going to throw bombs and more bombs. Bombs away. That's what's going to happen and Demian knows that. No disrespect to him. I have so much respect for him, but this is a business. I'm here to prove a point, and I think he's afraid of my power."

At least, Maia's probably more afraid of Munoz's power than his triangle choke. But then again, MMA is a sport where the crazy 'what ifs' happen from time to time. If Munoz can somehow make Maia tap, he'll never have to worry about anyone doubting his jiu-jitsu ever again.