COMMENTARY | As UFC middleweight Mark Munoz prepares for his UFC 162 bout with Tim Boetsch at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on July 6, he's not the same Munoz who was once a breath away from a title shot.
He's not the same man whose ascent up the middleweight ladder was brutally halted by Chris Weidman in 2012.
He's not the same man who is now a year removed from his last trip to the Octagon.
He's a better Munoz, and he's ready to slingshot back to the forefront of the middleweight division with a win over Boetsch.
"That's a great metaphor because you have to pull back in order to gain that force to actually push forward," he said. "That's exactly what I had to do. I didn't mentally do it myself, but my body physically pulled me back.
"I'm a man of faith," he continued. "I choose to believe that God, as it says in Psalm 23, that the Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. That's exactly what He did. He made me lie down. I had to be pulled back in order to spring forward. So yeah, I've got some momentum going forward, and you better believe that shot I'm slinging with my slingshot is going to be a great shot."
Forced to refocus
Munoz, 35, was riding a four-fight win streak when he collided with Weidman at UFC on Fuel TV 4 on July 11, 2012.
A chance at Anderson Silva's title was potentially one win away.
But midway through the second round, Munoz was rocked by a Weidman elbow and fell to the canvass. Weidman wasted little time, furiously raining down punches as fans watched, waited, even pleaded with the referee to end the fight.
The momentum stopped.
Not only had Munoz lost the fight, he then received news that a pre-existing foot injury would keep him out for at least six months. Then he had rehab.
Munoz was looking at a one-year layoff.
"When I got that news, it took me into a tailspin and I kind of went into depression," he recalled. "I'm not a guy that drinks or does drugs, but I went to food. I got up to 260 pounds, and it was just bad. Then I had thoughts lingering in my mind: 'Should I be doing this?' 'Am I done with mixed martial arts?' 'I'm way too big, I won't be able to make weight.' And this and that."
Munoz, who walks around between 200 and 220 pounds, said he had previously overtrained, spending hours upon hours in the gym.
Those options were off the table.
"They say the more time you spend on something, that's the most important thing to you," he said. "I was spending a lot of time training. And I was overtraining. I really was. I'm a guy that wears my heart on my sleeve, and I put everything out there. I was so focused on becoming a world champ, that I actually spent more time on that than being intentional with my kids and teaching my little girls how to read or out coaching my son on how to be a better man and wrestler."
The reality hit harder than any of Weidman's punches.
"I have four kids, and I was very focused on becoming a world champ when I have four beautiful…"
"…beautiful jewels at home," he continued, his voice heavy. "I don't need gold around my waist. I already have gold back home. It made me focus on them more and be more intentional. And it made me more thoughtful toward my wife. After being pulled back, I saw all the hard work she was putting toward the family, and how I need to step up and lead."
That doesn't mean the championship belt has lost its luster.
In fact, Munoz says he's readier than ever to make the charge.
Ready to return
At UFC 162, Munoz (12-3, six KO/TKOs), No. 8 in the UFC's middleweight rankings, faces No. 10-ranked Boetsch (16-5, seven KO/TKOs), who is also coming off a loss and is highly motivated to get a win.
Munoz has reprioritized his life -- as a leader in his home and at his gym, Reign Training Center. He believes he's ready for a new chapter and to climb the UFC ranks.
"A win over Boetsch is definitely going to put me in the mix," Munoz said. "People are going to see how far I've come physically, and they're going to see how far I've come technically, as well. I definitely believe it is going to put me back in the mix, and people are going to start talking about me again."
He expects an action-packed fight full of fireworks.
"I'm going to push," he said. "I'm going to push him hard. Not only physically, but cardiovascularly. I'm going to see what shape he's in, push him as hard as I can, and I'm going to punch him as hard as I can. Donkey Kong is going to come out, and I'm definitely going to play the donkey congas on him. So I'm ready, man.
"Tim Boetsch, I respect him a lot," he continued. "He's a UFC vet and he's got experience, and I come in with the same experience. We're just going to see who's more prepared."
Munoz has been preparing for this fight for about seven months, he said. He's not worried about ring rust, rather, can't wait to get back in the cage.
And when he does, it will be a more mature Munoz than before, motivated by his devotion to his family, love for his gym, and his priority on faith.
"Just my journey back, man, has been incredible," he said. "I don't regret what I've gone through. I needed to go through it. It was a blessing in disguise. And now I have the perspective, my body is healthy, and I'm going into this fight fully confident and knowing I can win."
Paul Putignano lives in Southern California, where he has covered mixed martial arts and a wide array of sports across the Greater Los Angeles area. His work has been published in a variety of newspapers and online publications.
- Martial Arts
- Sports & Recreation