Mark Munoz has never been short in the heart department.
While that intangible in mixed martial arts is typically weighed out in grit and the ability to battle through tough circumstances—a trait Munoz certainly has exhibited—the 36-year-old's latest endeavor is a further extension in his hopes of making a broader statement.
The Team Reign leader is a proud Filipino and is no stranger to the adversity the people of his ancestral country have endured. High powered storms have ravaged the Philippine Islands over the past several years, leaving scores of Filipinos homeless and without clean drinking water.
With storms continuing to ravage the islands, Munoz is looking to use his status as a UFC fighter to bring attention to the cause and raise funds to assist the immense amount of people who are currently in need of help in the Philippines.
"I'm Filipino and I'm from a culture of very resilient people," Munoz told Bleacher Report. "Look at how they've endured through all of these storms and they keep coming back. I've been doing a series of fund-raising events in order to raise money for storm relief in the Philippines. Right now we've raised just above $8,000, and I'm going to continue those efforts after this next fight. I want to do what I can to help the rebuilding process and help those in need.
"Right now we are looking for someone to partner with in this effort, and I really would like to get the word out there about this. I'd love to partner with someone who really wants to get involved and make sure the money gets to where it really needs to go and the people who need it. I'm really excited to do everything I can to help them and want to get the word out about what we are doing."
Munoz has embraced the resilience his people have shown throughout history and believes his heritage has taught him what it means to forge a comeback.
The Filipino Wrecking Machine went through a very public transformation when he dropped over 60 pounds in the lead-up to his bout with Tim Boetsch at UFC 162 last July. The former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler returned to the Octagon in the best shape of his life, as he steamrolled the gritty veteran throughout the three-round affair.
His win over Boetsch put Munoz right back in the hunt in the middleweight division, and his next bout against Michael Bisping had the potential to catapult him into title contention. Yet, after The Count was forced to withdraw from the bout with an eye injury and was replaced by Lyoto Machida, the Orange County-based fighter was forced to deal with a unique and complex challenge.
Not only was The Dragon stylistically a much different opponent than he had prepared for, the two men have been good friends and occasional training partners for years. Nevertheless, Munoz pushed onward and accepted the change of opponent two weeks out from the scheduled date.
Unfortunately for Munoz, the former light heavyweight champion-turned-middleweight title contender ended the bout with a left high-kick in the first round, and suddenly the former Oklahoma State University standout was forced to pick himself up off the ground in both the literal and symbolic senses.
"That matchup did kind of come out of left field, but that's the fight game," Munoz said. "Lyoto is a hard guy to prepare for with a full camp, and I had two weeks to form a game plan to fight him. We've trained together a lot in the past and a few times right before the announcement was made, but he's not one of those guys who are easy to figure out. But those things happen in the fight game and you have to move on and put all your energy into the next fight.
"I started a resurgence against Boetsch, and I want to get that momentum back in this next fight. I started a new chapter against Boetsch, and I'll start another in Germany. This is my story, man. My story is one of adversity. There have been a lot of bumps in the road, and you win some and you lose some. The important thing is making sure you learn from those losses in order to make sure you come back and find success. That's my story and that is what I'm doing.
"This fight has a lot to do with my Filipino culture and the resilience we have," he added. "I have to pick myself up, rebuild and start over. That is what they have done over and over again."
Where he could have cowered back and sought a few easy matchups to rebuild himself in the ranks of the 185-pound fold, that is simply not how Munoz is wired. He will be facing another steep challenge in his next outing, as he will square off with former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi in the main event of Fight Night 41 in Berlin, Germany, on May 31.
The Armenian Assassin will present some interesting challenges, but Munoz is focused on getting things back on track in Germany. While he acknowledges the talent the former DREAM champion possesses, Munoz has his sights set on making a run to the top of the middleweight division, and that road will start with Mousasi.
"Mousasi is a very tough challenge," Munoz said. "He's developed a style that is hard to deal with for a lot of fighters. He's a K-1 kickboxer and his stand-up is great. His boxing is unbelievable and his jiu-jitsu is great. He's a very well-rounded fighter. He poses a lot of threats, but I'm really looking forward to this fight and exposing a lot of his wrestling weaknesses.
"I really do see areas in his game where there are holes, but his wrestling is definitely the biggest. I know he's been working on it, but it takes a lot of wrestling and a lot of years to become good at stopping shots and know the proper position and body awareness. It takes a long time drilling how and where to properly distribute your weight. I do see holes in his wrestling game, and I have to be able to strike and get in to work that part of my game.
"I'm up for a challenge," he added. "I've had a good amount of time to prepare and believe I have a good game plan in place. I'm really looking forward to this fight. I feel like I have a lot to prove, but mostly to myself. I am ready to show I'm here to stay and I'm not going to stop until I get that strap around my waist."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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