The UFC heads to the Philippines this weekend for UFC Fight Night: Edgar vs. Faber. The event is significant for many reasons.
Top of the card are featherweight contenders Urijah Faber and Frankie Edgar and both have expressed serious interest in challenging Conor McGregor for the title should he beat Jose Aldo in July.
Both men have lost to Aldo previously so in a weird way they’ll be cheering on The Notorious for the benefit of their own careers.
Nestled in the middle of the main card is an intriguing middleweight match-up that sees UK MMA’s Luke Barnatt take on ‘The Filipino Wrecking Machine’ Mark Munoz.
Independent Sport spoke to both fighters in the week leading up to the UFC’s inaugural visit to the Philippines.
Baptism of fire for Barnatt
Barnatt burst into the UFC via series 17 of the reality show The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). By this time he had been fighting professionally for just over a year and had gathered an impressive record of five wins and no losses. Once in the TUF house, he was picked first by Chael Sonnen, won two preliminary fights but was knocked out in the quarter finals.
Once in the UFC proper Barnatt picked up two stoppages from three wins. But things went downhill from there.
There phrase ‘never leave it in the hands of the judges’ must be ringing around in Barnatt’s head. The decision losses to Sean Strickland and Roger Narvaez may have been controversial and unfair but the record books show the UK middleweight is now on a two fight slide.
Despite what the record books say, Barnatt is defiant about those results - “I still feel like I won both fights… the fight against Sean Strickland was a joke it was rated the second worst decision of the year behind Ross Pearson and Diego Sanchez… It was a blow (losing) the first time because I had such momentum going into the fight…when it happened the second time it was a huge blow and I need to put that right.”
Going to the Philippines to fight a hometown favourite may present some issues. Last weekend Mark Hunt fought a few rounds more than he needed to. It may have been a case of Australian officials giving the hometown fighter every chance to get back in a fight he was clearly losing.
Reflecting on the Mark Hunt fight Barnatt believes the fight should have been stopped long before the fifth round - “the fight was a disgrace. It was 100% the referee’s fault. I believe he didn’t stop the fight because it was a key Australian name. He definitely felt under pressure and he should be punished.”
Though he’s headed into hostile territory facing a fighter with Filipino heritage he believes what happened in Australia won’t happen to him – “If I got a guy that hurt… I’m looking to knock him out stiff”.
Munoz going out on his own terms
While Barnatt is looking to reignite his young career, Mark Munoz is looking to sign off on his in style.
A decorated college wrestler, Munoz racked up an impressive record of 12 wins and two losses before meeting Chris Weidman in a contender eliminator fight in July 2012. The winner would challenge Anderson Silva for his belt. Weidman knocked Munoz out in the second round and went on to snatch the UFC middleweight title from Silva a year later and has held the title ever since.
For Munoz his career hit skids. Injuries, weight issues and bouts of depression resulted in him winning one and losing three in his next four fights. What was most surprising was all three losses were first round stoppages.
Munoz announced the fight this weekend in his spiritual home will be his last. Win, lose or draw he’ll bring the curtain down on his fighting career but it’s not because of the losses or the finishes.
Munoz is philosophical about the hardship endured over the last eighteen months of his career - “Tough people just don’t get tough, they’ve got to go through tough times to get tough.”
His fighting life, which began in 2007, has seen him spend a lot of time away from his home. With a wife and four children, Mark felt he was missing too many key moments and promised his wife he’d quit in 2015.
“I told my wife before I started MMA I’ll be done by the time Elyse is in 1st grade and she’s been in the first grade for a whole year now… My oldest daughter is 15 and she’ll be off to college in two years and I’ve a son who wants me to coach him in wrestling in high-school... those conversations have been the catalyst to my decision to retire.”
Whether it’s the rebirth of Barnatt or the victorious end for Munoz, Saturday night will be significant for both men. You can watch UFC Fight Night: Edgar vs. Faber live on the BT Sport app from 1pm BST on Saturday, May 16th (repeated later from 10pm on BT Sport 1) or catch the Early Prelims from midday, live on UFC Fight Pass.