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UFC 276’s Andre Muniz looks back at near-retirement, wild Contender Series experience before impressive run

UFC 269: Andre Muniz v Eryk Anders
Andre Muniz
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Andre Muniz is nearing the top of the UFC middleweight division with four octagon wins and submissions over the likes of Ronaldo Souza and Eryk Anders ahead of his UFC 276 bout with Uriah Hall in Las Vegas. It’s an opportunity that comes years after he considered walking away from the sport.

“Sergipano” was 14-3 as a professional and victorious in eight straight fights when he jumped on an opportunity to compete in Russia, where he faced Azamat Murzakanov in a light heavyweight contest. Muniz went on to lose the fight in just 50 seconds. Living in a small town in Brazil and training with a small group of people that wouldn’t prepare him for the elite of the sport, Muniz considered hanging up the gloves and finding something else to do with his life.

“I’m very grateful for all the people that helped me, but we’re talking about a world-class level of competition,” Muniz said in a recent episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca. “I had already decided I was going to stop [fighting], so to look back at myself fighting for regional promotions and then be on the Contender [Series] and be ranked today, I always tell my teammates that hard work pays off.

“Hard work does pay off. To abdicate from certain things and commit to something, it pays off. You might not get to the UFC, but good things happen to people that work hard and work the right way.”

Muniz’s wife convinced him not to give up on his dream when he was on the fence, and he decided to move to Rio de Janeiro and train full-time at Tata Fight Team. Almost a year after his loss in Russia, Muniz was approached by his coaches Tata Duarte and Philip Lima about an upcoming season of Dana White’s Contender Series exclusive for Brazilian athletes, but he had to be on a winning streak in order to have a chance.

Muniz stopped Joao Paulo dos Santos and Willyanedson Paiva in a combined time of 1:55 for the Watch Out Combat Show promotion to get his shot in Las Vegas, and was matched up against a former training partner of his, Bruno Assis.

“I was busted up before the fight,” Muniz recalls. “I had furuncles on my knee and my face was fractured. I couldn’t spar for five weeks. My visa arrived late and I only got to Las Vegas two days before the weigh-ins. I got to Las Vegas on Wednesday, the fight was Saturday, and something went wrong on the brain MRI I did Thursday. The doctors wouldn’t clear me. Everything went wrong.

“My manager Alex Davis said, ‘Son, I just want you to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s a decision, if you’re putting on a show, just win. After everything you’ve been through, you just go ahead and win and we’ll get something good for you.’”

Muniz had to wait a year after the decision victory, but he returned to DWCS in 2019 to submit Taylor Johnson in under two minutes to finally seal a deal with the UFC.

“After all the difficulties I had to go through in life and fighting, I have a strong mind,” Muniz said. “I was like, ‘Man, he’s gonna have to kill me. If he doesn’t kill me, I’ll beat him.’ I had that spirit, you know? I got punched in the face and kept walking forward. When the body fails, your mind must stay strong.”

Muniz made his UFC debut three months later, winning a decision against Antonio Arroyo. He only fought once in 2020, scoring the first of three straight armbar finishes by tapping out Bartosz Fabinski. The historic finish of “Jacare” led to a clash with short-notice replacement Anders, and Muniz now expects to be closer to the belt by finishing Hall.

“Justice only belongs to God, brother, but for some reason I am where I am now and I think I can go even further,” Muniz said. “I know I can go further and I’m working for it not only for myself but for the people around me. My wife, my daughters, my team, my coaches. I think there must be a reason for it, and I give my 100 percent every time I’m there. It’s kill or be killed.”

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