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Mark Munoz says faith opens doors, he walks through them

UFC middleweight looks back on key moments of young career

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Courtesy of UFC

Mark Munoz throws an overhand right towards Kendall Grove during their middleweight bout at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Munoz win the bout by TKO.

There is a passage in the Bible that UFC middleweight Mark Munoz lives his life by.

He knows it by heart and recites it flawlessly.

The verse is in the book of Jeremiah and reads, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

"I'm a religious guy," Munoz said. "I truly believe what's meant to be is meant to be. I see the doors that open for me, and I always try to walk through them."

Considering everything that's gone right for Munoz along his path to becoming a UFC fighter, it's no wonder he believes a divine power is steering him .

Munoz (8-1) is set to meet veteran fighter Yushin Okami (25-5) in the co-main event of Sunday's UFC on VERSUS card in San Diego.

It's a big opportunity for Munoz, who has been fighting professionally since only 2007, but one he feels more than ready for.

In his sophomore year of high school in California, Munoz was devastated when a severe ankle injury took away the first love of his life — football.

His shattered ankle healed well enough to allow him still to wrestle and Munoz attacked his wrestling career with the passion he used to give football.

Eventually, it led to an athletic scholarship at Oklahoma State University.

"Crazy stuff like that has been happening to me my whole career," Munoz said. "My first love was football. Then I had the ankle injury, which led me to wrestling, which led me to mixed martial arts. Isn't that crazy?"

Following his collegiate wrestling career, Munoz remained at his alma mater as a coach.

In 2004, he received a job offer at the wrestling program at UC Davis in Northern California.

That same year, another talented wrestler — named Urijah Faber — helped out as an assistant coach at UC Davis. The friendship Munoz began with Faber that year had a huge impact on his decision to eventually start training MMA.

"I saw the flexibility in Urijah's schedule where he was just planning his days around training and providing for himself," Munoz said. "I saw what it was doing for him, and he made me a believer.

"He got to train and do what he loves to do and live a healthy life. I thought, 'Man, that's exactly what I want to do.'"

As fate would have it, the year Munoz accepted the job at UC Davis and began considering a transition to MMA was the same year Randy Couture took on Vitor Belfort twice for the UFC light heavyweight championship.

In preparation for the second fight, Couture took his camp to Sacramento for a two-week stint.

Munoz ended up being a part of the camp and says his first-ever sparring session was with the MMA legend himself.

"He brought the training camp over for two weeks, and I went to a few of the practices," Munoz said. "My first sparring session was with Randy Couture.

"I was basically a pure wrestler. They taught me how to jab the day before, so all I did was jab and look for double legs. It was a blast."

After deciding to quit his stable job as a wrestling coach at UC Davis, a move he describes as the riskiest of his career, Munoz's rise up the MMA ranks has been a quick one.

He accepted an offer to fight in the WEC after just three professional fights and made his UFC debut shortly thereafter in 2009.

After weathering a time period early in his MMA career in which he says he couldn't afford to pay for electricity or hot water, Munoz's career now is flourishing. He also is the co-founder of a 7,000-square-foot training facility, which opened in Lake Forest, Calif. earlier this year.

Accomplished fighters such as Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Fabricio Werdum and Renato Sobral have become regulars at the complex.

If Munoz gets past the highly regarded Okami on Sunday, it would be his fourth win in a row and likely would place him among the top of the heap in the middleweight division.

As his career continues to envelope bigger opportunities, Munoz says he doesn't feel any extra pressure. All he can do is come in prepared and see what doors open.

"I'm just trying to walk down the straight-and-narrow path," Munoz said.

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at LVSunFighting

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