Mark Munoz is ready to contend.
After a less than stellar UFC debut against Matt Hamill, the former national champion wrestler out of Oklahoma State dropped down to middleweight. Shortly thereafter, he began laying waste to the division.
"The Filipino Wrecking Machine" began to terrorize fellow 185 pounders with his ferocious ground and pound, building himself into a main card fighter based on that aspect of his game alone.
After teaming up with Master Rafael Cordeiro and several of the best Brazilian fighters in the world, he has taken his game to a whole new level. He's now nearly as lethal on the feet as he is on the ground, which spells trouble for the rest of the division.
Find out who Munoz brought in to help him prepare for Maia's vaunted ground game after the jump:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You started out in MMA using the wrestler stance and you've progressed to putting your weaker foot forward. And while it was difficult transition in the Yushin Okami fight, it really paid off with the first round knockout of C.B. Dollaway. Do you feel like you're slowing advancing in your technical stand up?
Mark Munoz: Yeah, definitely. I knew that my striking needed work. For me, I've always preached making your weaknesses your strengths. For me, I knew my striking was a component in MMA that I really needed to work on. I was just a wrestler when I started and I'm still a fairly new fighter. I've been fighting only four years now and for me to progress this much is just amazing. It's just a testament of the guys who I have around. My training partners and my trainers have just been unbelievable. I have really worked on my footwork and my striking extensively in the past year and a half.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I would say your striking defense has improved drastically, too. It wasn't too long ago you were fighting and getting hit really hard by guys like Matt Hamill and Kendall Grove. Now you're avoiding shots from C.B. Dollaway, avoiding shots from Aaron Simpson and really outstriking these guys. It's been really fun to watch your progress.
Mark Munoz: The coaches I have say it's fun to watch me progress because basically, I used to be a punching bag in sparring. Now I'm bobbing and weaving and counter punching. They tell me, "Man, remember before when you were like a bobble-head doll?" They're having a blast watching me get better and it is pretty awesome to be able to advance so fast.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're notorious for having the nastiest ground and pound in pretty much all of MMA. What do you think is the secret behind how powerful your striking is on the ground? I honestly can't think of anyone that hits harder when they've got their opponent on their back.
Mark Munoz: I think it's a lot of core strength and a lot of years of wrestling to where I can attack and use my hips to keep them down, which frees my hands up and get the knockout with the punch. With grappling, I always use my hips and my core to move and I think that has a lot to do with it. I do a lot of core training and lot of practice with ground and pound. I developed a system where you use your whole body and put torque into your strikes on the ground. A lot of guys just use their arms on the ground, but you can use striking on the ground with the same technique as on the feet. That's something a lot of people are missing on the ground. For me, I punch with my whole body. A lot of the guys who train with me, I teach them how to finish the fight when you get on top.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're facing Demian Maia and you've been working with Marcel Louzado quite a bit. How much of a help has it been working with a guy that's defeated Demian multiple times in competition?
Mark Munoz: It's been amazing. He's given me a lot of insight into what Demian does and a lot of positions that Demian has. It's been awesome. Along with Marcel, I have Fabricio Werdum, I have Ryron and Rener Gracie over at the Gracie Academy. I have awesome, awesome training partners who can emulate Demian very well. Even Jason "Mayhem" Miller, he's a great jiu-jitsu and ground guy and he can teach me so much in regard to Demian. I'll be able to implement what they've taught me in the fight. I welcome the ground game and I'm definitely not afraid of it if I'm put there. It's gonna be an awesome fight. Nothing short of fireworks for sure.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Demian's known for having a unique system of jiu-jitsu. It's kind of funky. Which of your training partners has been able to simulate Demian's style the best to help you prepare?
Mark Munoz: Ryron Gracie for sure. He's been the one that's been spearheading my preparation for this fight. He's been with me since I moved out here and started up in Orange County and he's the one that accepted me in before anyone knew who I was. He's been helping me develop for this fight. Everyone else has been helping as well, Marcel and Babalu and them but Ryron has been especially helpful.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've seen that you've been working with Wanderlei (Silva) and Shogun (Rua) a bit in the preparation for this fight. What brought that about?
Mark Munoz: I have a partnership with King's MMA over at Huntington Beach and that's been pretty much run by Master Rafael Cordeiro, the legendary Chute Box coach. He brought in Shogun and actually Shogun's in my gym right now training. He brought in Wanderlei and we've built and awesome team at Reign Training Center. We've been building off each other and sharpening each other. I've been really blessed to have the team that I have right now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of Reign MMA, you are one of the busiest fighters I know. You've got to balance family life, fighting and your gym that you run. How difficult is it to try and balance everything on top of being a contending middleweight fighter in the UFC.
Mark Munoz: Without time management, without prioritizing things, I would be a different person. I learned that in college. With all the hassles I have, I prioritize my time and make sure to spend the time that I need to with the people who are most important to me. If I just try to do everything to the best of my ability, all this stuff is going to get put on the side. I take care of the things I can take care of now and the things I can do later, I do later. That's pretty much the basis for what I do. I'm a man of many hats. I wear a lot of hats. At the same time I make sure to take care of the things I need to take care of. My sister's been helping me a lot as well.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were actually present on both cards where Demian Maia when he received both losses of his career: UFC 102 where he lost to Nate Marquardt and UFC 112 when he lost to Anderson Silva. Did you get a chance to see those losses live and did you glean anything from them?
Mark Munoz: Yeah, I definitely learned a lot about his style and I learned a lot from watching that. For me, I study my opponents, but at the same time I don't just think, "I've got to look out for this, I've got to look out for that." I don't want to just concentrate on what he does, I want to concentrate on what I do. If I worry too much about what he does to the point that it affects how I fight, it's almost like paralysis by analysis. I just want to concentrate on what I do best and implement it and execute it and go out there and make sure I execute my fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you think your top control and ground and pound can neutralize Maia's jiu-jitsu?
Mark Munoz: For sure. I think that if you're getting punched in the face by my ground and pound, you're not gonna be too concerned about throwing up submission attempts. You're more worried about survival. I welcome the ground against Demian. It's gonna be great. We'll see what happens on Saturday night.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your overall mixed martial arts game started to flesh out when you were brought in as a training partner to help out the Black House guys from Brazil. How did that relationship come about. There are a ton of different wrestlers out there, but they chose you to train with.
Mark Munoz: I was training with Brandon Vera when I didn't have my own gym and Brandon had Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira training at his gym. When I was there, I was rolling with Nogueira and he ended up loving how I rolled and how I did a lot of stuff. He watched me do my circuit training and he asked me about my training, he asked me about how long I'd been doing mixed martial arts. He was impressed and he wanted to train with me a little bit more, which was awesome because I never thought in a million years that I'd ever train with Minotauro Nogueira. I was over at Alliance training center and from then on we built an athletic relationship. Now we're good friends and training partners. From there I met Ed Soares and from him I met Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Junior dos Santos and all the guys from Black House. So it's pretty awesome.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How difficult is it to sweep either Nogueira on the ground?
Mark Munoz: Sweep Nogueira? (laughs) You pretty much don't sweep him. I kinda just make him scramble so I can get back on top. I wouldn't necessarily call it a sweep per se, but I make him wrestle me. I make it into a wrestling match and he struggles a little bit because that's kind of the thing they all need to work on. I make him scramble and that's how I can get back on top.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Okay, prediction time. How do you feel the fight with Maia will play out? For the fans out there, what can they expect when they see you in there?
Mark Munoz: Aw man, you can expect to see everything in between cage work, bombs being thrown from on top on the ground, bombs being thrown on our feet. You'll see a lot of action and it's not going to go three rounds, definitely.
Mark would like to thank Form Athletics, Toyo Tires, Xyience. Ryron and Rener Gracie, all the guys at King's MMA and Reign Training Center, Shogun, Wanderlei, and his family especially his sister who's been helping him out with his networking.
Thanks to SBNation member Tree Frog who contributed to this interview