Wrestling champion Mark Munoz and UFC title holder Anderson Silva have joined forces in a bid to help each other improve in their respective disciplines.
Munoz, the first Filipino-American to win an NCAA Division I wrestling championship, and Silva, the record-setting UFC middleweight champion have been training together several times per week with dual roles.
The obvious is Munoz has become Silva’s wrestling coach, working with Silva to make it even more difficult to take him down, which is the closest thing to Silva’s Achilles heel. Silva has tried to improve Munoz’s stand-up game, which Munoz himself readily admits is his weakness.
“It’s no secret what my game plan is,” said Munoz, who faces veteran Yushin Okami in a featured fight at Sunday’s UFC at the San Diego Sports Arena. “Take him down and ground and pound.”
Ground and pound is Munoz’s forte, as his punching power when he’s got an opponent on his back ranks with the best in the sport.
Okami (24-5), who is favoured by more than a 2-to-1 margin, is a top 10 middleweight whose game is based on takedown and ground control, and a propensity for fights that aren’t spectator friendly.
Okami’s weakness would be against a top wrestler, as was shown in his October loss to Chael Sonnen. But Munoz, who as a middleweight in his last few fights is competing at his lightest weight since his sophomore year of high school wrestling, is expecting Okami to divert from his usual game plan and attempt to keep the fight standing.
When Munoz and Silva have sparred twice weekly of late at Munoz’s new gym in Lake Forest, Calif., Silva works with Munoz, pretending to be Okami.
And in return, Munoz (8-1) pretends to be Sonnen, also a high-level wrestler, Silva’s opponent for the middleweight title six days later in Oakland.
There’s also a bit of a revenge factor involved, as Okami, the toughest test so far in Munoz’s three-year career, was also the last fighter to beat Silva. That took place on January 20, 2006, at a Rumble on the Rock card in Honolulu, shortly before Silva and Okami had signed with UFC.
Silva threw an illegal kick to Okami’s head when both were on the ground in the first round. Okami didn’t recover from it, resulting in Silva’s disqualification.
Silva, who had claimed the rules weren’t properly explained to him, has bristled when Okami’s name is brought up as a potential opponent in recent years, noting he’s felt Okami could have continued, but took the easy way out, and got what Silva called a “cheap, cowardly way of winning.”
Okami has come close to getting a shot a title shot at Silva. He won six fights in a row in 2006-07, before losing a decision to Rich Franklin at UFC 72 in a match to determine the next contender.
Okami did more overall damage in the fight, but his lack of aggression in the first two rounds cost him the decision.
Okami followed with wins over Jason MacDonald and the late Evan Tanner, and was scheduled to face Silva in late 2008, but suffered a broken hand and had to pull out of the match.
Okami didn’t help his cause when he was outwrestled by Sonnen and lost, putting him further back in the line. Wrestling will be Munoz’s game plan as well.
Munoz, as a 189-pound junior, was Vallejo High’s first California state champion. As a senior, he won both the state and national high school championship, and placed fifth in the junior world championships held in Moscow.
Munoz wrestled for the legendary John Smith at Oklahoma State, finishing his career with 112 wins, sixth on the vaunted wrestling school’s all-time list. He ended his collegiate career by winning the 2001 NCAA tournament at 197 pounds.
After graduating from college, he got a job near his home, coaching at UC-Davis. A star wrestler at the school who had just finished his eligibility and was staying on as an assistant coach was Urijah Faber.
“He was just getting into the sport, dabbling in Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu,” Munoz recalled. “He tried to talk me into competing but I was still trying to make the Olympic team.”
After Munoz failed to make the Olympic team in 2004, he retired from wrestling, noting all the time training in Colorado Springs was too much time away from his family, which now has four children.
In 2007, Faber pushed Munoz to give MMA a try, and this time he agreed to train part-time and take a fight. After winning his first three fights, he got a contract officer from the WEC.
In his early fights, he would just take opponents down and unload bombs on the ground against them, trying to emulate his favourite fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Kazushi Sakuraba, Tito Ortiz and Mark Coleman.
After the WEC dropped the light heavyweight division, only 19 months after his first fight and less than a year after truly devoting himself to the sport, Munoz debuted in UFC.
It was in his debut that he suffered his only career loss, one of the most brutal knockouts of 2009, from a head kick by Matt Hamill. He now says was the best thing that ever happened to him because of the lesson it taught him.
“I haven’t been caught with a head kick since,” he noted.
The loss forced a change in every aspect of the game, including study and learning diet, and dropping to middleweight.
“Those guys (at light heavyweight), some were 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5, 230 to 240 pounds. Some had 80-inch reaches.”
Since then, he’s won three in a row, most recently scoring a come-from-behind win against Kendall Grove in Abu Dhabi on April 10 that earned him fight-of-the-night honours.
Dave Meltzer / Yahoo
Increase traffic to your site now!