Mark Munoz Eyeing Return to Elite Status with Win over Gegard Mousasi in Berlin

Duane FinleyContributor IMay 29, 2014

USA Today

Not long ago, Mark Munoz held a status as one of the top fighters in the middleweight division. He has every intention of reclaiming that position in 2014.

When he made the decision to drop down to 185 pounds in 2009, the ultimate goal on his agenda was to become the middleweight champion.

Over the next three years, the "Filipino Wrecking Machine" would climb the divisional ladder on the strength of a successful run during which he won seven of his eight showings and used his tenacity and blue-collar work ethic to get the job done time and time again.

As his 2011 campaign drew to a close, everything appeared to be sitting exactly where he needed it to be heading into the new year.

The Team Reign leader had a scheduled bout against former title challenger Chael Sonnen slated for the co-main event of UFC on Fox 2 in Chicago in a tilt that was figured to produce the next opponent for then-champion and longstanding middleweight king Anderson Silva.

As his scheduled scrap against Sonnen drew near, the goals he had been grinding and striving toward were finally coming into focus.

However, Munoz's world was about to be flipped upside down and the resolve of a man who had prided himself on his resiliency throughout his entire athletic career was about to have those attributes tested like never before.

David Becker/Associated Press

First, an elbow injury would force him out of his bout with Sonnen and he would sit on the sidelines and watch the Oregon native earn another title opportunity by defeating Michael Bisping, who had stepped in to replace Munoz on the Chicago card.

While that turn of events was a difficult pill for the former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler to swallow, an extended layoff due to a slow recovery period and a knockout loss to Chris Weidman in his return to the Octagon in July of 2012 pushed the 36-year-old to the fringes of relevancy in the middleweight fold.

Nevertheless, Munoz rekindled his motivation and surged back to put on one of the best performances of his career against Tim Boetsch at UFC 162 last July.

In his one-sided victory over "The Barbarian" in Las Vegas, Munoz looked to be reinvigorated as he fought like an athlete in prime form rather than one who had been out of action for more than a year.

His win over Boetsch not only solidified the comeback he had been working diligently toward, but put him back into the mix of a middleweight division that had taken on a far different look than when he left it.

On the same night when Munoz made his triumphant return, Weidman shocked the MMA world by defeating "The Spider," as he knocked out the pound-for-pound great to claim middleweight gold.

With the landscape of the division in flux and his resurgence in full swing, Munoz set his sights on once again grinding his way back into the upper tier of the 185-pound fold.

While he would face another setback in his next outing against Lyoto Machida in the main event of Fight Night 30 in Manchester, England, Munoz refused to allow the loss to derail the greater mission.

July 11, 2012; San Jose, CA, USA; Mark Munoz (left) fights Chris Weidman (right) during the middleweight bout of the UFC on Fuel TV at HP Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The former Oklahoma State University wrestling standout will be looking to get things back on track when he steps into the Octagon this Saturday night against Gegard Mousasi at Fight Night: Berlin.

The former Strikeforce champion also holds a high profile in the middleweight mix, and Munoz believes a victory over "the Armenian Assassin" is exactly what he needs to put himself back into the elite level of the divisional hierarchy at 185.

The current state of affairs in the middleweight fold is such that capitalizing on the right opportunity can make all the difference, and that is precisely what Munoz intends to do this weekend.

“This division is wide-open right now," Munoz told Bleacher Report. "There have been a lot of things that have happened that have stirred up the division. With Chris Weidman winning the belt and Vitor Belfort being in a place where it’s questionable whether or not he will return, the road to the top of the division is more wide-open than it’s ever been. There are a lot of good fighters in the mix and I believe I’m up there.

"I can definitely compete with the best guys in the division. I’ve built my name up with my work inside the Octagon and I’m excited to take this next step toward what I’ve always wanted to do, and that’s to become a world champ.

"[Gegard] Mousasi is a tough opponent who has strong skills in a lot of different areas," he added. "He is a very experienced striker and presents some interesting challenges in that department. But I see places I can capitalize and areas in his game where I believe I'll be able to take advantage of. I'm excited for this fight and to continue my comeback."


Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.