Sometimes the biggest tests take place outside the cage.
It was only one year ago that Mark (The Filipino Wrecking Machine) Munoz was knocking on the door of a middleweight title shot.
Unfortunately for Munoz, his dream of fighting for the championship was soon derailed courtesy a vicious elbow from hot prospect Chris Weidman at UFC on FUEL TV 4 last July.
Though it was a difficult loss to bear, he had been down this road before and it only took a few days for him to clear his head. It wasn't until his doctor informed him that he would be sidelined for almost a year, due to a fractured foot and a re-aggravated elbow injury, that the former NCAA Division I wrestler hit a tailspin.
A fierce competitor and dedicated family man, Munoz was devastated by the news that his passion and livelihood would be put on hold.
"When it rains it pours," Munoz said in a phone interview. "It just kept coming. My mind was just flooded with negative thoughts upon negative thoughts and I just couldn't shake it. I'm not a guy that drinks alcohol, takes drugs or goes out and parties. I turned to food and I got really, really big — the biggest I've ever been in my life. I got to about 260 pounds.
"I was kind of like one of the characters in Austin Powers, Fat Bastard. I was eating because I was sad and sad because I was eating."
Having finally reached the lowest point of his career, Munoz began the tough ascent back to fighting shape. With his family, friends and teammates encouraging him every step of the way, he slowly broke out of his funk.
"I'm really grateful for those around me, to be able to rally me up to get back out there," Munoz said. "I'm the best shape that I've ever been in my professional mixed martial arts career. There are going to be questions that arise, like, 'Man, is Munoz on TRT [testosterone replacement therapy]?' People are going to think that, but I'm telling you, I'm just in the best shape of my life right now and doing it all natural, doing everything right. I'm pretty proud of how I came out of the depths of just the lowest of lows."
Munoz gets back on the saddle when he faces fellow top middleweight Tim (The Barbarian) Boetsch on the main card of UFC 162 in Las Vegas July 6.
Munoz said a win over Boetsch puts him right back in the mix.
"I truly feel that this is a fight to get me back on track to where I want to be," Munoz said. "I can't wait for this fight to come."
A tough and gritty fighter with unorthodox striking, Boetsch knows how it feels to have his title hopes derailed. After putting together a four-fight win streak, he suffered a tough setback against Constantinos Philippou in December.
Munoz said Boetsch provides some unique challenges inside the octagon.
"He is very elusive and his striking is unconventional," Munoz said. "He actually uses kicks to close the gap and look for takedowns, which you never see that much. You never see guys kick and go for double-legs, but he does. He uses those front kicks to keep guys at distance and then close the gap the way he wants to close the gap. That right there is something to deal with.
"He's very strong, very resilient, he can take a lot of damage and come back to win the fight. Having said that, I'm the kind of guy who is very resilient, as well. I use my athletic ability and my scramble ability to end up on top and use my ground-and-pound. So you're just going see a lot of motion with him, me making him fight me and pushing the pace."
Munoz said he can't wait to make a statement against Boetsch. He said fans can expect his trademark Donkey Kong ground-and-pound, but also some new tricks he's picked up along the way.
"I'm very excited to be able to reintroduce myself and for people to see the healthy version of myself," Munoz said. "I'm going to be playing the Donkey Kongos when I'm on top. You're going to see some transitions from wrestling to striking. Hopefully you're going to see a submission I've been working on, as well. So you can definitely expect an exciting fight from me.
"It's a very good match-up and it's going to be nothing short of fireworks, for sure."
- Substance Cage Combat 1.0 goes down Sat., June 29 at the George Bell Arena in Toronto. The card will be headlined by a flyweight scrap between Adrian Wooley and Randy Turner. Tickets are on sale at TicketBreak.com.
- UFC 162 takes place Sat., July 6 in Las Vegas and will feature a middleweight title fight between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman. Also, Frankie Edgar battles Charles Oliveira and Roger Gracie faces Tim Kennedy. The show will be available on pay-per-view.
- UFC on FOX 8 is set for Sat., July 27 in Seattle. The main event will see Demetrious Johnson defend the UFC flyweight championship against John Moraga. Also, B.C.'s Rory MacDonald meets Jake Ellenberger and Robbie Lawler takes on Siyar Bahadurzada. The event will air on FOX and Sportsnet.