In the fight game, getting knocked down is an occupational hazard every athlete faces. Nevertheless, some setbacks can require a fighter to dig down deeper in order not only to regain footing, but also to battle back to a position once held.
For Mark Munoz, a series of injuries and a loss to current No. 1 contender Chris Weidman threatened to push the 31-year-old Californian into obscurity in the middleweight division. Fortunately for Munoz, resilience and a positive mindset are intangibles he carries in large supply, and the former contender has set out on a quest to regain his position in the 185-pound division's upper tier.
Throughout his year-long layoff, the former NCAA D-I national champion wrestler stuck to a rigorous regiment to get his body back to form and prepared himself mentally for the climb back. Now, with a clean bill of health and his focused locked on his upcoming battle with Tim Boetsch at UFC 162, the "Filipino Wrecking Machine" is ready to put the middleweight division on notice.
It hasn't been an easy road, but Munoz found the best of himself along the way.
"I've learned a lot about myself this year, and I believe this is an updated version of myself going into this fight," Munoz told Bleacher Report. "When I had my elbow injury, I tried to rush my comeback, and I had to learn a bunch through that setback. This is chapter two. I've had to learn a lot in chapter one.
"In chapter one, I rushed back into things and started grinding, even with an injury I was unaware of. I didn't realize my foot was broken going into the fight with Weidman. Having that year-long layoff, I had to take a different perspective about training and to make sure everything is planned out in my personal life as well. I have to think about my family, my gym and the other things in my life before I think about myself.
"I'm usually a positive person when it comes to many things in my life. But at the same time, I kind of went through a bit of depression in the layoff. I went through kind of a low time.
"After having to pull out of the Chael Sonnen fight and seeing that he went on to be the No. 1 contender, I rushed back into things. Then the way I lost against Weidman and finding out after that I would be out for a year because of a broken foot was the straw that broke the camel's back. I kind of went into a low after that fight.
"I'm usually a positive person about many things, but after being out for a year, and having only one fight in the year before that, I started to wonder how I was going to provide for my family. I didn't know how I was going to operate my gym if I didn't have money coming in.
"But even with everything that happened, I battled through. Now the gym is in the black. I have some community things that are providing residual income. I'm more intentional with my kids and more thoughtful towards my wife, and everything is great.
"But it feels like I had to go through what I went through this past year to realize what I was doing wrong," he added. "And I'm glad I went through those things to be able to realize that. Even through bad times, you can find positives to take from the experience. Over this time, I've learned a lot about myself, and you just move forward from there."
Prior to the setback against Weidman last July, Munoz was tearing his way through the middleweight division. The Team Reign leader had put together a four-fight winning streak and found success in seven of his past eight outings. That success put the former Oklahoma State wrestling standout within striking distance of a title shot.
While the loss at UFC on Fuel TV 4 pushed him down the ladder, the current state of the middleweight division has left the perfect setting for Munoz to make a strong move upward at UFC 162.
"I've been keeping track of our division, and there are a lot of guys who have fallen off and guys who were emerging that ended up falling off as well," Munoz said. "I'm pretty thankful for how the division is looking because I am still in the top 10 leading up to this comeback. I thought I was going to fall off for sure after the loss and the long layoff.
"That was one of the biggest factors in why I went through a depression. In my mind I was like, 'Man, I worked so hard to get where I'm at, and now I'm going to fall out of the top 10, maybe even out of the top 20.' But it's pretty awesome to see how everything works out."
Where Munoz is determined to regain contender status in the division, he'll have to best a fighter who is looking to claim the same position in Boetsch. Since dropping down into 185-pound waters, "The Barbarian" has won four of his five outings as a middleweight and had built solid momentum before coming up short to Costa Philippou at UFC 155.
With both fighters eager to stay in the title hunt and the loser of the bout being pushed out for the foreseeable future, there is going to be plenty on the line in Las Vegas. Stylistically speaking, there are a lot of similarities between the two fighters, and Munoz is excited to get back to work.
"We both go after our opponents and both pack a punch," Munoz said about the matchup. "We are both really strong. The thing about Boetsch, he's really strategic. He has a great camp behind him with Matt Hume in Seattle, and they definitely go through their game plan when they are preparing. I know he is going to come with a strategy, and I try to look at where he would beat me if I were looking from his perspective.
"I'm looking to go after him. I'm definitely going to test his conditioning. I'm going to test his wrestling and jiu-jitsu as well. I'm looking forward to this fight, man. He's an awesome opponent for me to get back into the title hunt.
"My striking and transitions have improved, and I'm going to bring the ground-and-pound, which I always love to do. Fans are going to see sharp transitions," Munoz added. "I've been working on them for the past four months and putting in the work to become a well-rounded mixed martial artist. This fight is going to be fireworks. Don't blink."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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