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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Fight Night 66

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Combat sports, almost by their very nature, usually doesn't lead to a lot of happy career endings.

In most cases, fighters retire either due to injuries piling up, and the reality of losing fights that perhaps at another point in time they feel they would have won. Often it's a choice made for them. And most of the time, the last fight is anything but a career highlight.

For Mark Munoz, that easily could have been him, losing in just 1:40 at UFC 184 to Roan Carneiro, an opponent who by reputation was hardly as tough as a multitude of opponents Munoz beat during his career. It was his third straight loss in the first round, a statistic that more often than not results in most fighters getting their pink slip from UFC. Combine that with being 37 years old and a message was being sent.

Munoz listened to the message. But with the May 16 show being UFC's debut in The Philippines, and with a nickname of "The Filipino Wrecking Machine," it did fit to have him compete on the show. But before the show, Munoz made it clear this was going to be his last fight.

Retirements in combat sports are a funny thing, because far too frequently, you can't take them seriously. Particularly if they wound up like what happened with Munoz. Munoz not only got a win, but put together his best overall performance in the Octagon in several years on a night when he was clearly the biggest star to the sold-out audience of 13,446 at the SM Mall of America Arena in Pasay.

But Munoz made it clear there was no second guessing his decision with a speech inside the ring that will be one of UFC's highlight moments of 2015. It was one of the few times you'd almost wish UFC could give a $50,000 bonus for the best interview.

"It felt awesome," said Munoz at the post-fight press conference. "I never thought I'd be ending my career here. It's a storybook ending, a dream come true. This is where it all started with my family."

It was more than just appearing in UFC's first event in the country that his parents were born in, but Munoz also went full circle since the headliner on the show was Urijah Faber, the man who got him into the sport about eight years ago. The two were both wrestling coaches at UC-Davis and Faber, talked him into giving MMA a try.

And while Munoz, one of the most well-liked fighters in the sport, retired with a win and the warm reception, his last experience cage side of the night was in Faber's corner in a loss to Frankie Edgar.

"Urijah's someone I look up to, even though he's shorter than me," said Munoz. "He got me into this sport. He told me, `You'd be really good.' It took a lot of time to convince my wife to let me get into fighting. I appreciate Urijah. He's a brother from another mother. He's a real role model. We've helped one another as far as character and integrity, and I can't say enough good things about him."

Munoz also noted that this would not be his last visit to The Philippines in conjunction with the sport. Even though he wants to devote more time to his family, including coaching his son in wrestling, to the point he closed his gym, the Reign Training Center, to give him more free time, he vowed to be back.

"I have a talent or a gift or ability, since I was 13, I was wrestling," he said. "In MMA here, wrestling is a discipline that the Philippines needs and I can connect the dots. The striking is good. The Jiu Jitsu is good. But the wrestling is deficient. I want to come back, I was a wrestling coach, I coached with Urijah at UC-Davis, I just love coaching, taking a kid and being able too transform their skills and add to their styles.

"There's so much talent here in the Philippines. I feel their skills, they're good, for me it's just connecting the dots, teaching the wrestling, where you can take people down and stop shots, too. That's what I want to do. Take the good fighters and develop them in wrestling and take the sport up a notch in the Philippines."

Let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five of the stars of Saturday's show:

FRANKIE EDGAR - With his win over Urijah Faber, Edgar (18-4-1) should have clinched what you could make a strong case he already deserved, which is a shot at the featherweight championship.

Since a loss two years ago in a close fight with champion Jose Aldo, Edgar has reeled off consecutive wins over Charles Oliveira, B.J. Penn, Cub Swanson and Faber, a far more impressive victim's list than that of Conor McGregor,who is getting the shot on July 11.

But Edgar fell victim to a reality of the fight business. Sometimes the logical fight based on wins and losses isn't the fight the fans most want to pay to see. Still, in time, the cream does always rise to the top, and it's not as much a matter of being overlooked as much as being delayed.

URIJAH FABER - In a career that dates back to 2003, until Saturday, Faber (32-8) had never lost a non-title match. The streak ended in a bout that was probably as close and as competitive as any 50-45 fight you'll ever see. Edgar won every round, but every round was close and at no point was either fighter even in the slightest bit of danger of being finished. Edgar was just a tad quicker standing, fought his fight, and Faber couldn't stop Edgar's round-clinching takedowns.

Faber's career is at a crossroads. While he physically never appears to age, and at 36, could still pass for a college student, he finds himself for the first time since Zuffa purchased the WEC in 2007, as really out of any championship picture.

After the fight, Faber indicated that he felt weaker at 135 and may want to stay at 145. But in the loss to Edgar, he showed that it is going to be unlikely he can contend in the heavier division. But at 135, his teammate, T.J. Dillashaw is champion, and his next challenger, Renan Barao, has beaten Faber twice.

Due to McGregor, featherweight is becoming a marquee division in UFC, but Faber, the WEC champion at featherweight from 2006 to 2008, needed a win to be a major player in it in 2015. If he stays, fighters that look to be his most logical opponents would be Ricardo Lamas (15-4), Swanson (21-7) or Clay Guida (32-15). Guida may make sense, since it would be a first-ever meeting of two of the company's longtime most popular lighter weight fighters.

GEGARD MOUSASI - Mousasi (37-5-2) seems to have settled in as the kind of top ten opponent who doesn't seem to be able to beat people in the top five in the current UFC. While he stopped short of calling him out, he said that almost all the top middleweights are already booked, so the fight that makes the most sense for him is with Michael Bisping (26-7).

Bisping would appear to offer far greater takedown defense than Costas Philippou offered in Saturday's fight, which would likely also make it far more entertaining. Still, right now in the middleweight division, it appears that champion Chris Weidman and contenders Luke Rockhold, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort and perhaps Yoel Romero are a caliber of fighters that the rest of the division can't get past.

NEIL MAGNY - Magny (15-4) survived an early scare against Hyun Gyu Lim, where he was almost finished, to dominate the end of the first round and finish in the second round. Lim was probably the best fighter of Magny's current seven-fight winning streak.

Magny's team mentioned the name Rick Story (18-8) as a next opponent, but Story was just announced as facing Erick Silva on June 27 in Hollywood, Fla. They could wait for him to be ready provided he wins, but names that would be likely closer to being ready would be the winner of this coming Saturday's Josh Burkman (27-10) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (19-3-1) fight, or Lorenz Larkin (15-4).

PHILIPPE NOVER - Once called by Dana White as the next Anderson Silva, to say Nover (12-5-1) was a bust compared to his billing would be an understatement. After losing in the finals of season eight of The Ultimate Fighter, Nover went 0-3 in UFC and was cut in early 2010.

He had won three fights in a row on smaller shows, and his Filipino heritage certainly didn't hurt in getting him on Saturday's show,where he got a very questionable decision over Yui Chul Nam. Nover won a split decision in a fight that he clearly won the first round and lost the third round in. As far as the second round went, both men had two takedowns but Nam did more damage with his takedowns. Nover did go for submissions from the bottom, and while never close, it was enough for two of the three judges to give him what turned out to be the deciding round.

Given the timing, a good next opponent would be Levan Makashvili (10-1), who defeated Mark Eddiva also on Saturday.