I’m probably not telling you anything you couldn’t have already guessed when I say that Mark Munoz‘s most recent loss was a tough one to swallow.
There’s really no other way for it to go when you start the night as a rising contender on a four-fight win streak and end it face down in a pool of your own blood. Before he met Chris Weidman in the main event of a FUEL TV fight card this past July, people wondered how many wins Munoz might be from a middleweight title shot. Afterward, they just wondered why the ref didn’t stop it sooner.
Those of us watching on TV that night, we knew that was probably a low point for Munoz. We guessed at it, as best we could. But then the fight was over and we changed the channel. We had bills and dinner plans and families to worry about, and the next thing we knew it was a couple months later and we heard that Munoz was injured, maybe, or possibly that he had been injured and was just now learning the full extent of it, and anyway we weren’t going to see him in the cage a for a little while and that was that. So we stopped thinking about him. Every once in a while someone would mention Weidman, usually in a conversation about Anderson Silva, and then we’d remember, oh yeah, Munoz. Maybe we even wondered how he was doing. Maybe we didn’t.
Now that he’s past it, Munoz can admit how bad things were back then. “I kind of went into a depression,” he told MMAjunkie.com (mmajunkie.com) backstage at the UFC on FOX 7 event in April.
That seems like about what you’d expect after a fight like that. What’s harder to realize – especially in a sport that encourages us only to think about a person in the week or two before a fight and the few days, or maybe even hours after – is that it didn’t start or end with the loss to Weidman.
According to Munoz, he showed up to that fight injured. He’d hurt his foot in training, and hurt it badly enough that he couldn’t run on it. Making weight was “a struggle,” according to Munoz, and even his appearance had started to mess with his psyche.
“Getting into that fight I actually saw myself on fight day and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this does not look like me,’” Munoz said. “It threw me for a loop then.”
As he would later tell MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio), he’d come into the fight with a stress fracture in his foot, but didn’t feel like he could withdraw from the main-event bout, especially since an elbow injury had forced him to pull out of the one before it, when he was slated to fight Chael Sonnen at a UFC on FOX event in January 2012.
“I didn’t want to be the guy to back out twice,” Munoz said in September.
So he stayed in the fight. He figured he’d suck it up and get through it. He was, after all, a professional fighter. This kind of thing might as well be in the job description.
“So then when I lost and in the fashion that I lost, that was the low point right there,” Munoz said. “After that it took me about a week to say, ‘What are you doing? Dust off the cobwebs, just stop thinking about it, and move on.’”
Only when he tried to move on, some bad news made it even harder. His doctor told him he’d broken his fourth and fifth metatarsal, Munoz said. He could be out for up to a year.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back right there,” Munoz said.
Not only was he sidelined from fighting, he was ruled out of training. He walked around with a boot on his foot. If he took it off, his wife yelled at him. If he tried to hit mitts with it on, she made him stop. When he’d watch the other fighters from his Reign Training Center work out or compete, it nearly drove him crazy. He couldn’t do anything, and he was not the type of person who was used to doing nothing. With his usual outlets unavailable, he turned to food. He gained weight. Like, a lot of weight.
“It killed me for six months not to do anything,” Munoz said. “… For a guy like me just not to do anything, it put me in a tailspin. … I ate because I was sad and I was sad because I ate. That was the thing.”
But if you see him now, as he’s ramping up for a bout with Tim Boetsch at UFC 162 this summer, you’d never guess he’d spent the better part of the past year in a deep, dark psychological hole. Outwardly, he seems to be the same happy, gregarious man he was before. He’s even lost all that weight. By the time you turn on the TV to watch him fight in July, it’ll likely seem like not much has changed since his fight with Weidman almost exactly one year earlier. There’s Munoz, back again, as if he’s been frozen in a lab somewhere, just waiting for the UFC to push the button that drops him in the cage. There’s Weidman, at the top of the card, fighting the champ.
What we don’t know – what we rarely see with pro fighters – is everything that took place between then and now. According to Munoz, that’s the stuff that sometimes matters the most.
“I wouldn’t say sports builds character; I’d say character is revealed through sport,” Munoz said. “… I think adversity is the dust that polishes the diamond. It’s a bump in the road for me. It’s part of my story. Now I’m back on the horse and I’m riding again.”
It feels like a sports cliche, which is to say it feels almost meaningless when you simply hear about it after the fact. When you have to live through it, however, it’s another story.
And we hear that story all the time, don’t we? Fighters promising that they’re different people now, a brand new so on and so forth. But what if it was actually true? What if it happened in that time when we were watching other stuff on TV, doing other things with our lives? How would we even know?
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