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Munoz solidified his place in UFC with win over Maia

By Patrick Ibarra

Sacramento’s Mark Munoz need a win over a worthy opponent in the UFC to finally stake his claim as one of the best in the 185-pound weight class. Saturday he got it, winning a unanimous decision over the highly-touted Demian Maia in UFC 131: Dos Santos vs. Carwin.

But it wasn’t an easy road to the top for the former All-American wrestler. Munoz had to work his butt off to get there, and it’s only now starting to pay off.

Mark Munoz won a unanimous decision over Demian Maia on June 11, 2011. (Photo courtesy of UFC)

After a meteoric rise in which he started his career 5-0, the now 11-2 Vallejo native was knocked out by contender Matt Hamill in UFC 96, leaving critics questioning Munoz’s stardom. Was he the real deal, the next possible contender climbing the ladder? Or was he just another flash in the pan, one of the many rising the ranks quickly in the UFC only to fizzle out against solid competition?

Munoz needed a quick rebound to silence them, and got it six months later in August of 2009, winning a narrow split decision over Nick Catone. It wasn’t impressive enough, though, so he took fights in January of 2010 against Ryan Jensen, winning with a submission by punches in the first round, and in April of 201o against Kendall Grove, winning by TKO in the second round.

Still, doubt lingered. He proved he was better than the second-tier of fighters, but he needed to beat big names. When he got a shot to do that, in an August 2010 fight with Yushin Okami, Munoz lost a split decision that left his career in limbo.

With two key losses marring his young career, Munoz was placed back amongst the middle of the weight class. Where would he go from there, though? The only place Munoz knows to go, of course, straight to the top.

Munoz rattled off two straight wins before facing Maia — a unanimous decision over Aaron Simpson in November of 2010, and a first-round knockout over C.B. Dalloway in March of 2011 — and got a third shot at top-ranked competition on June 11 against Maia.

Those who watched the fight saw Munoz struggle early, surprised in the first round by the submission specialist’s aggressive stand-up boxing, but ultimately overwhelm the former No. 1 contender with his superior wrestling and ground-and-pound. Munoz ultimately won the fight by unanimous decision and cemented his place in the weight class’ elite.

The fight was impressive for many reasons. Munoz can often rely on a heavy right hand when he faces opponents of equal abilities on ground techniques. With Maia known as one of the best, if not the best, jiu-jitsu specialist in the world in MMA, it made sense for Munoz to go for a knockout. But when Maia came out with the same strategy, Munoz looked bewildered and lost.

It could have been another opportunity for Munoz to fall apart on a big stage, but he didn’t. Munoz gathered himself late in the first round and battled back. In the second and third rounds, he did what you never do against Maia, taking him to the ground. Maia himself even tried sneak to the ground a few times, pulling guard on a standing Munoz, but Munoz stayed calm and with composure, as if wrestling a teammate in the gym. Ultimately it proved costly for Maia, who couldn’t pull off a submission and took a beating from Munoz on top of him.

It wasn’t just the fact that Munoz won that sealed his future success. It was the way he won. He weathered the storm of one of the weight class’ best, and through the adversity he showed brilliance and dominance. And now, just a few days after the fight, rumors are spewing about a title shot. I think the critics have been silenced.


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