Munoz paving UFC’s German inroads

There may not be a better ambassador for the sport of mixed martial arts than Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Mark Munoz.

That could be one of the reasons he was selected to headline today’s card in Berlin, a market the organization has faced resistance in entering up to this point.

Munoz will fight Gegard Mousasi in the middleweight main event of the card, one of two UFC shows today in different parts of the world.

The Berlin event will stream on the UFC’s online platform Fight Pass at 9:30 a.m., with the main card at noon.

A heavyweight bout between Stipe Miocic and Fabio Maldonado will headline an event in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that will serve as the finale for the third season of the Brazilian version of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The card will air live at 5 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (Cable 329).

Brazil continues to be a thriving market for the organization. But Germany has been a bit of a struggle. The UFC had events in Cologne in 2009 and Oberhausen in 2010 but had not returned since.

There have been issues getting MMA on television, as well as some political opposition to the sport.

Munoz said it has been a matter of educating the nation on a new sport.

“I feel like I’ve had to really work toward educating people here in Berlin,” Munoz said. “Ground-and-pound is actually frowned upon a great deal. People keep asking, ‘How can you possibly hit a guy when he’s down?’ They still see the sport as brutal and barbaric and see the fighters as unintelligent, inarticulate people. They just have that whole no-holds-barred impression in their head and believe that all we do is think about fighting.

“I wanted to be able to change their thought process about who we are and how we train and how the sport is regulated. It’s been received very well. I’ve been promoting it for two months, and I’ve had the feeling just in that time that the understanding has gone up significantly.”

It’s not the first time Munoz has embraced the opportunity to serve as an ambassador. He has been part of several UFC cards in new markets, including the first Middle East card, in Abu Dhabi.

Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but Munoz is as mild-mannered, intelligent and eloquent as it gets, making him an ideal spokesman to show that MMA is far from the barroom brawl perception.

“I think I’m the UFC’s go-to guy as far as unlocking new markets in different parts of the globe,” he said. “I’ve been getting my passport stamped a lot lately. But how often do you get a chance to travel the world doing what you love. I’m blessed. I love all of it.”

He knows he’s in Berlin as more than an MMA missionary, though. Munoz and Mousasi are coming off losses to top contender Vitor Belfort and will need a win to stay relevant in the division.

Munoz, 36, could be running out of chances to make a run at the title.

“This fight is huge for me,” he said. “The guy is very experienced, and he’s been one of the top fighters in the world for a long time. This will get one of us back in the picture. I understand what it means.”

To that end, the two-time All-America wrestler and 2001 national champion at Oklahoma State plans to stick to his roots.

“He’s great in so many areas, but what he lacks is wrestling,” Munoz said of Mousasi. “Guys that haven’t had near the experience of me have taken him down. I know he’s been working on it, but it takes years to learn the awareness, positioning and feel it takes to counter a series of techniques coming at you. I’m confident I can get it to the ground and keep him there and win my fight.”

Less than an hour after that fight, the attention turns to Brazil for the nightcap.

It’s the first time the UFC has had two events on the same day, an occurrence that is expected to become more commonplace as the organization continues to expand globally.

There’s only one Munoz, though.

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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