By the time Mark Munoz steps in the cage, seven months will have passed since that forgettable encounter with Lyoto Machida in Manchester. In that time, the middleweight landscape has changed fairly drastically. Machida decisioned Gegard Mousasi and, by virtue of the ongoing, unresolved Vitor Belfort mystery circus, slid into a title shot with Chris Weidman (who defended his title against Anderson Silva at UFC 168).
Now Munoz and Mousasi -- Machida’s recent casualties -- are scheduled to meet in Berlin at UFC Fight Night 41. And when they do, it’ll mark a historic day for Zuffa and its merry band of frequent fliers. That’s because May 31 will be the day of the UFC’s first global doubleheader, an experimentation that is being presented as something like "the new norm."
So what’s it like to headline a card to kickoff a marathon of Fight Pass exclusive fights?
"Kind of weird," says Munoz, who will headline the German port before throwing it over to The Ultimate Fighter Brazil 3 Finale in Sao Paulo. "It was weird when I heard there was another card, because Chael [Sonnen] was training at [Reign with me] and he was the main event of that card. Then Wanderlei [Silva] got hurt when they fought at the Ultimate Fighter house, but yeah, I found it kind of weird.
"I was like wow, that’s crazy, you’re fighting the same day as I am? But that just proves what they UFC is. They’re just marching along and doing their job. For them to have two shows on one day, that just proves what they can do as a company."
The Brazil card was originally going to host the grudge match between Sonnen-Silva, but then became Junior dos Santos against Stipe Miocic when it was learned Silva wouldn’t be ready in time. This past week, Dos Santos hurt his hand and had to pull out of the fight. He has been replaced with Fabio Maldonado, who just defeated Gian Villante in late March.
In any case, Munoz and Mousasi will be vying to stay relevant in the wide-open 185-pound class while on the European continent. Though he’s lost two of three fights, a win against Mousasi would get the 37-year old Munoz a step closer to the rematch with Weidman that he has been coveting since losing a title eliminator back in July 2012.
With Machida-Munoz, it was a short notice battle of one-time training partners (and Munoz didn’t fare well). With Mousasi-Machida, it was a highly technical game of chess (Machida was the more unsolvable enigma). But in a round robin situation, the old cliché comes back into effect. Styles make fights.
And Munoz’s Donkey Kong will make for an interesting problem for Mousasi’s use of range and space.
"Gegard Mousasi is a very good striker," Munoz says. "His boxing is great, he’s got great kicks -- I mean, he was in K-1, so the guy is unbelievable when it comes to his striking. His jiu-jitsu is really good as well. He can recover his guard, he can scramble, he’s really good when it comes to jiu-jitsu."
Plus, who can forget what he did against Ronaldo Souza at Dream 6?
"Yeah, he’s got those good upkicks," Munoz says. "When he’s on the ground he kicks with his feet and scrambles back up where he wants to keep it. So, he’s a very, very good opponent. I’ve been following him in the UFC. With Ilir Latifi, he just picked him apart. With Lyoto, it’s hard to fight Lyoto man. He’s just a different guy."
In his time away, Munoz has been busy with Samaritan work, doing seminars at his gym and launching his anti-bullying campaign. He’s also helping bring relief to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, a category five super typhoon that ripped through the Philippines in November, killing over 6,000 people and leaving 2,000 unaccounted for. To date, Munoz -- who goes by the nickname "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" -- has raised $8,000 in funds.
Dealing in the heaviness of that project has helped lessen the impact of his loss to Machida, which happened just two weeks before the storm. In fact, he says he can draw parallels.
"With the Philippines, they’re close to my heart," he says. "I just want to help out the Philippines. And it’s kind of like my career. Although there may be storms that hit, the Filipinos, they’re a resilient people. And though there are losses that I have, I’m resilient, too. I come back. It’s metaphorically like my career, actually."
The good news is that Munoz, who is currently sitting at No. 7 in the media-driven UFC’s middleweight rankings, is still within orbit of Weidman. In today’s UFC, where dual cards are possible on the same day and fighter availability is (just about) as important as the established pecking order, crazy things happen.
"I think the division’s shaken up quite a bit, with Lyoto being there, and who knows if Vitor’s going to come back, and Weidman being hurt," he says. "There are a lot of different avenues to be able to get a title shot. Especially, look at T.J. Dillashaw getting a title shot. After one guy gets hurt, T.J. Dillashaw comes in there [to face Renan Barao]. Anything can happen man, you’ve just got to stay ready and stay in shape and be ready to rock."
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