Mark the “Filipino Wrecking Machine” Munoz said after his UFC 123 win over friend and training partner Aaron Simpson that it was weird hitting a friend in the face. We have talked about Asian Americans in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) like Nam Phan, and Mark Munoz is another one to watch. He was a two time California State wrestling champion in high school, and went to Oklahoma State, with its legendary wrestling program. He became the first Filipino American to win a Division I NCAA wresting championship and was recently inducted into the California Wrestling Hall of Fame. Not only was he a wrestling All-American, but he made the NCWA All-Academic team for three years and the Big 12 All-Academic squad for four, graduating with a degree in Health Science. Munoz got started in MMA after working with MMA star Urijah Faber when they both were assistant wrestling coaches at UC Davis.
Munoz has his own gym, Reign Training Center, where notable MMA athletes like Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Jake Ellenberger, and Junior Dos Santos have trained. He has also trained with middleweight champion Anderson Silva, helping him prepare against wrestlers like Chael Sonnen. And of course, Munoz has trained with his friend Aaron Simpson, also an NCAA All-American wrestler.
At UFC 123, while he and Simpson showed each other a lot of respect and were friendly in pre-fight interviews, it was still difficult. “It was definitely weird fighting each other,” said Munoz. “It’s just we go way back, man. I love that dude.” Munoz won in an exciting match, and afterward, they exchanged text messages. “I gotta say it was really weird fighting you,” Simpson texted. “I had weird thoughts throughout it. I didn’t like it. Sorry we had to do that, but I always have had a great deal of respect for you and love you, brother.” Munoz said much the same in a reply text that wished him and his family a happy Thanksgiving. Much man-love between cagefighters! While it might not sell the fight, it’s a refreshing change from the trash talk that often goes on between opponents, and it makes me respect Munoz (and Simpson too) much more.