The unpredictable nature of mixed martial arts is certainly something Mark Munoz is familiar with.
The former NCAA Div. I wrestling champion-turned-middleweight contender has experienced his fair share of twists and turns throughout his career, but enduring has become somewhat of his calling card.
After injury forced him to withdraw from a bout with Chael Sonnen in January of 2012, "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" went to the sidelines and had to let his hopes of a title shot simmer. Eager to get back into the mix, a rushed Munoz return to action resulted in a bigger setback, when he suffered a defeat at the hands of Chris Weidman at UFC on Fuel TV 4 six months later.
This series of events forced the Team Reign leader to take a cold, hard look at his fighting career, and the results of this process produced impressive results. The 35-year-old Southern Californian kicked off a career resurgence at UFC 162 in July, as he manhandled Tim Boetsch over the course of their three-round tilt.
Munoz's performance and conditioning in his victory over "The Barbarian" not only earned him praise throughout the MMA community but also opened the doors to the opportunity to face perennially top-ranked middleweight Michael Bisping.
Fighting "The Count" was a moment Munoz had been waiting for, and due to the unpredictability of the sport, it will be a matchup he'll have to find somewhere down the road.
An eye injury forced the brash Brit out of their Oct. 26 showdown in Manchester, England, and in his stead, the UFC tapped former light heavyweight champion-turned-middleweight Lyoto Machida to step in against Munoz.
When Munoz received word of the change-up, he was admittedly taken by surprise. But nevertheless, he's as game as they come and vows to be ready for "The Dragon" in Manchester.
"It is kind of a crazy turn," Munoz told Bleacher Report. "I didn't even know [Michael] Bisping was hurt, and then all of a sudden, I'm fighting Lyoto Machida in three weeks. I'm down to fight anyone at any time, but I have to admit, the whole thing kind of surprised me because it all came in at the same time and was very last minute. But that is the nature of this game, and you have to be ready for anything.
"Lyoto and I were planning on training together soon because he was fighting Tim Kennedy and I was fighting Bisping, but my opponent got injured, Lyoto stepped in, and now we are going to fight. He is a friend of mine and we have trained together in the past, but that isn't something I have a problem with. I've fought friends before and it's nothing personal.
"Now, I'll make the adjustments in training and preparing for his style to make sure I'm ready when I step into that cage," he added. "It's an abrupt turn, and Machida has an unorthodox style that is difficult to duplicate, but at the same time, he's never faced anyone who fights the way I do either. It goes both ways in this situation. I only have three weeks to prepare for him, but he only has three weeks to prepare for me as well."
In addition to putting his growing beef with Bisping on hold for the time being, Munoz also has to adjust to what a victory over his new opponent could yield. With Bisping consistently hovering in the upper tier of the division for years, defeating him would have propelled Munoz onto the title radar.
While Machida carries a high profile in the sport, their showdown in Manchester will be the Brazilian's official middleweight debut. With Munoz having his sights set on getting to the 185-pound title, the obstacle ahead may produce a different path in the outcome, and he understands the road to his desired destination is not always clear-cut.
"[Bisping] is the fight that I've been training for and actually waiting for some time to get," Munoz said. "Bisping has been in the top of the division for the majority of his career, and beating him puts me back into the title hunt. That's where I want to be."
"Lyoto is just coming down from light heavyweight and has never been in the division. He's a big name, and a win over him has the potential to put me up there for a title shot, but a win over Bisping would have for sure put me back in it. A win over Machida would do wonders for my career, but at the same time, I have one goal in mind and that is to get that title. I want to get back up into that title mix."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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