Johnny Munoz has a front-row seat to a revolution, and he’s loving it, as he watches a new generation of Mexican fighters find hope in the success of the nation’s trio of 2023 champions – Alexa Grasso, Brandon Moreno and Yair Rodriguez.
“There's a lot of young, hungry talent down there,” said Munoz, who splits his training camps between Tijuana and his home in California. “And I think because you’ve got three Mexican champions, they can relate to it. Because now they can see, ‘Okay, we can do the same, too, if we put in the work.’ Before, when there were no Mexican champions, I don't think a lot of them had the confidence they could do it. They were thinking, ‘F**k, I got to move to the United States. How am I going to get a visa? How am I going to do all this to get over there?’ Because there's no Latin American champs. But now that they're seeing it, there's hope. Now it's like, I can do this. I can do it here and become a champion and be a contender or whatever it is.”
That’s part of the appeal of training in Mexico for Munoz, who faces Daniel Santos this Saturday on the UFC 288 card in Newark, New Jersey. Of course, there’s the quality coaching and training partners, but having the energy of a host of hungry prospects around him is something that can’t be underestimated. Then again, the 30-year-old is as hungry as anyone, and in Entram Gym, if you’re not there for the right reasons, you don’t last long.
“There's a lot of talent at the gym, but the thing is, it's a big gym. So you get a lot of fighters that come and go, and a lot of those guys, they don't last there because coaches, they don't put up with that s**t.”
Munoz chuckles, knowing that he’ll never be someone shown the door in Tijuana. Not a chance.
“I’m at every session that I need to be at for my camp,” he said. “They give me the sessions I need to go to and I do it. And I'm one of those guys that will do more. They’ve got to tell me to back off. And I've been listening and being smarter now because I don't want to get injured. So the older I'm getting, I'm becoming wiser.”
And better. Currently 2-2 in the Octagon, the bantamweight was spectacular in his finish of Jamey Simmons in August of 2021, but after a loss to Tony Gravely last June, he showed off a more disciplined and effective attack in decisioning Liudvik Sholinian over three rounds in November. It was the kind of performance that cemented the idea that “Kid Kvenbo” is going to be a problem at 135 pounds for a long time.
“I feel like I belong here, and I'm ready to make that run,” he said. “I want people to know who I am and that I'm a good fighter. I know I'm good, and I don’t care about people's opinions, but, at same time, people's opinions matter. Because for me to climb up in this sport, it's almost a popularity contest now. So I do need people on my side to say, ‘Oh this guy's good.’ I need people to talk about me. And I don't care if it's good or bad. I don't care. I think 50-50 is good because now you’ve got both sides of the audience talking about you and that's how you start making money right there. I want to let my fighting do the talking, but after the fighting I'll talk whatever and say what I got to say.”
UFC 288: Sterling vs Cejudo took place live from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on May 6, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass