Despite growing up almost entirely in the United States, one can really feel the Pinoy blood in Fil-Am UFC fighter Mark Muñoz.
The way he tries his best to speak in the vernacular—albeit in an awkward manner—during an exclusive interview, shows that he really wants to make up for lost time in his homeland. You'll also notice that his expressions, like when he blurted "Ay naku!" after accidentally hitting our mic, aren't set up and are purely Pinoy impulse.
And now, at age 37, with the Filipino Wrecking Machine deciding to hang it all up (well, not totally), where else would his retirement match be fittingly held, but in the land where his heart really is?
Trying not to get too emotional, FHM chats with the ground-and-pound artist, a few days before his much-anticipated clash with co-UFC middleweight Luke Barnatt in the upcoming UFC Fight Night Manila:
How are you taking in the idea that this will be your last fight ever?
For me, it is my last fight, but it's not the last time you'll ever see me around in MMA. I want to come back and help MMA here in the Philippines, inasmuch as I can. Babalik ako sa 'Pinas, tutulong ako sa wrestling, MMA; I want to do that. I want to be able to help as much as I can.
I want to set up a curriculum for wrestling and MMA, so that when I'm here, I'll be able to teach coaches how to coach athletes, and have a look at them and coach them...I want to go to the provinces, help all the kids and teach them wrestling, because there's talent there. I mean, you see them play basketball in their tsinelas, everywhere! I'm like, 'How can they do that?' They're crossing it over and throwing up J's that are just consistent, and I'm like, 'Wow! Athletes here in the Philippines are amazing!' Ang bilis at ang lakas ng mga suntok saka sipa, they're very athletic here. I want go to Baguio, and help Team Lakay. Mark Eddiva is in the card, and there's so many good Filipinos in the card.
We've read in a recent article that your family was the main basis of your decision to retire. With all your plans to help the Filipino MMA community, are you thinking about bringing them here and perhaps, staying for a while?
My wife is coming here; I'm very excited that she's going to be here, to experience the Philippines. They'll be back, and they'll be able to experience [what is it like here]. I have three generations of my family here. Last time I was here, over 200 of my family members closed down a restaurant, and we had lechon, adobo, dinuguan, kare-kare —all my favorite dishes. And a lot of kanin (laughs), so it was awesome. The food was like, so good.
Part of your retirement move was your decision to close and sell your gym (Reign Training Center) in Lake Forest, CA. Could you tell us more about that?
I did close my gym because I was spending a lot of time there. I spent 12 to 13 hours a day there, so it was taking a toll on my body, when I was trying to train, at the same time trying to spend time with my family. It's just too hard. I was trying to wear many hats. It's kinda like pruning. You prune a tree so you could be more fruitful in other places. I'm pruning my tree right now. And when one door closes, a few doors open. So now I'm excited about the opportunities that have been given to me as of late, so I'm just going to walk by faith, and see what God has in store, and just know that everything's going to work out the way it's supposed to be.
Why choose your motherland for your final bout?
It just so happened to be here. I feel that it's just a storybook ending, it was written for me, you know. I haven't had the year and a half I wanted, but that's just the way it goes sometimes. You're going to go through a lot of tough times, but that strengthens who you are. And I'm able to take these tough times and get wisdom and knowledge from them so I could help other people. I want to be a coach, I want to be a teacher, and the best coaches and teachers are able to relate to people that've gone through struggles that they've gone through. And that's me, I'm able to look at somebody and help them as much as I can. That's who I am, and that's what I love doing.
I always say that I'm going to be a better coach than an athlete, pero mahusay ako sa wrestling and MMA, at gusto kong tulungan ang wrestling and MMA, that's where I'm better at.
How did training for this particular fight went?
I went back to where I started, when I moved down to Southern California. So I had my old boxing coach with me —he's helping me out big time. For me that's what it's all about, cause I felt comfotable with those guys. And since I was having a little bit of time throughout the day, I didn't have as much time for myself. So now I'm going back to concentrating on myself so I could do more, for the people. Kind of simplifying my life now, and I'm not having that much stress on me anymore. I think that contributed to a lot of my injuries, and a lot of my bad weight cuts.
What is your mindset when your inside the Octagon?
I don't want to worry about what my opponent does. A lot of people have two approaches; they think about what their opponent does, and then they counter what they do. But I like to concentrate on what I do best, and not worry about what they do. Because if I do that all the time, then I'm not gonna be able to do what I want to do inside the fight. And i go out there end execute my gameplan, and I make sure I take the fight where I want it. And make sure that I fight as much to get it there as possible. I know if I get it there, then the fight's going to be okay.
Describe your long-standing MMA career.
My MMA career was full of ups and downs. It's kinda like a movie. Ha ha. But in the end, there's a good story, leaving a lasting impact for those that you love and people that stuck with you, through thick and thin. The faithfulness that people showed, throughout my career, that's what it's all about. Those were the things you should keep around. So yeah, my whole career has been great—I wouldn't rewrite the book in any way. Although I didn't accomplish what I wanted—in every sport, one percent of all athletes are actually champions—I would never thought in a million years that I'll be one of the more recognizable names in MMA, and represent a country that I love.
It's not done yet. It'll be done after I complete my fight, but I still see that I'm going to compete in other ways. I'm very excited for the next chapter, with what I've done in my career, and about giving away the knowledge that I've accumulated throughout the years.
How Filipino is Mark Muñoz?
I'm very Filipino. From the food, to the traditions and cultures, even the behavior, I'm very Filipino. I grew up in the United States, and I speak English mostly, but naiintindihan ko lahat ang Tagalog. Pero mahirap magsalita kasi when my parents spoke to me in Tagalog, I speak back in English. Ang hirap magsalita. Especially when you get nervous in interviews. But I want to change that, because now I'm going to come back, and of course, if I engulf myself in the language, I'm going to learn a lot more. I'm a lot better than it was before, but I'm still going to learn the language a lot more.
Do you have any idea how big the Philippine MMA community is?
I have an idea of how big it is, but I don't actually know how big it is. But I know that people know who are the big fighters in the UFC, so there's a lot of knowledge. When I walk around, people are like, 'Oh, Mark Muñoz! Idol! Pa-picture!' I've never had security before, until I came to the Philippines. So just to see the popularity of the sport, it's just going to grow. It's small right now, but big. And I'm glad that the UFC finally realized that they need to come to the Philippines. And now that it's here, they're going to see that the Philippines is a huge market for them to grow the expansion of mixed martial arts.
Your philosophy of life outside the ring.
See, life is a lot like fighting, because if you find yourself in a position where you struggle—kasi mahirap ang buhay—afterwards, you know how to deal with a lot of hard times. If you're not tested, then you're not going to be good, right? So if I have an easy life all the time, and then an obstacle comes, I'm just going to be shattered. That's why I think the Filipino people are very resilient. Storms happen here, but yet we get back on our feet. A lot of times, people lose their homes and they find themselves in a position where they're stuck, but they have to find a way out, keep moving. Same as MMA; if you find yourself in a position where you're trapped, you have to figure your way out. Life and fighting are the same thing. You got to find a way to win. And you have to. Because if you don't, you're not going to live.
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