Mark Munoz was set to fight trash-talking rival Michael Bisping last fall. Then, just two weeks prior to their scheduled showdown, the UFC replaced the injured Bisping with a much better opponent in former champion Lyoto Machida.
Surely, the physical challenge was upped for Munoz at that point. What was much worse, however, was the fact that Munoz and Machida were training partners and friends.
The whole situation threw Munoz for a loop, mentally. It also didn't help that Machida knew his grappling game inside and out after having trained with Munoz for his entire training camp.
"Everytime we worked out it was working out geared towards grappling. It was geared towards wrestling, Jiu Jitsu. He knew everything I was going to do in terms of grappling. Of course, grappling is a huge part of my game. So, knowing my grappling game, he was able to kind of understand where he needed the fight to go. At the same time, Lyoto Machida, specifically, it takes a long time to get used to his distance and timing. I was getting used to Michael Bisping’s for two and a half weeks, then two weeks before the fight, I'm fighting a training partner and friend.
"We also shared a striking coach. And our stroking coach ended up being in his corner. I felt like my back was against the wall. I'm a company guy. I love the UFC and love the opportunities the UFC has given me. But it was kind of a situation where my back was against the wall and it was truly a hard situation, mentally. It was like playing poker with your cards facing out."
All that said, Munoz knows that dealing with psychological challenges is a huge part of being the better fighter and gives Machida full credit for his first round KO victory. "No excuses," he says.
"He threw the kick, it landed. And, hey, that’s just our sport. You've just got to pick up the pieces and get going. Life is the same way. You are dealt a hand. Some people have parents, some don’t. You deal with it, pick up the pieces and live life as best you can. It's the same thing with MMA. You learn from what happens and move on. That's how I am always going to be. I always get better with every fight, with every experience."
A year ago, Munoz was recovering from a separate, though similar rough patch. He was on the verge of getting a title shot before losing a crushing bout to eventual champion Chris Weidman.
Munoz became depressed and ballooned in weight before getting his mind in order and coming back with a big win over Tim Boetsch. The "Filipino Wrecking Machine" says that his recovery from this most recent loss has not been as laborious.
"Man, its been great, actually," he says.
"You need to be tested in order to get better at anything you do. I’ve been tested. Not only tested physically inside the cage but also with adversity. I’ve had adversity with injuries, with going through depression. I know there are different levels of depression and it's tough to say exactly how mine compared to others but I know it was tough for me. This time around, it’s fine."
Like many other champion athletes and fighters before him, Munoz has enlisted the help of a sports psychologist. With his mind strong, suffice to say that Munoz expects his skills to shine against Mousasi in Berlin today.
"I took that loss as something I had to learn from. Lyoto is a good friend of mine. I wasn’t mentally prepared for that fight. I had all the physical things done with strength and conditioning. I had the strength of Hercules. I felt slick. At the same time, I wasn’t mentally there," he admits.
"Now, I switched it up. I hired Ken Baum as my sports psychologist and he's helped me get my mentality right for competition. I know that come fight night, I'll just execute my game plan."