Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Flip the script: Mark Muñoz’ lesson about bullying


Flip the script: Mark Muñoz’ lesson about bullying
by rick olivares

The Air Jordan III is one of now retired mixed martial artist Mark Muñoz’ favorite things. That is, of course, outside his family. Mark has worn them for 25 years now. Like many kids growing up fixated with Michael Jordan and the whole sneaker culture, the shoe is a symbol since the shoe is quite expensive back then and today. It is also a reminder of what happened on a dark day day back in 1991 when Muñoz’ world changed.

“I was 13 years old and in eighth grade then,” recalls Muñoz as his mind races back to his middle school days. “I  was walking down the corridor when some guys were checking me out. One of them said, 'Hey, yo! Break yourself off those MJs.’ That meant they were going to beat me up for my shoes. When they said that I felt instantly fear and then a little later, anger. All I knew was I needed to get away from them so I scurried away.”

"One day, they (five of them) finally caught up to me. I got held down, beaten, battered, kicked, and punched because of what I had on my feet. As I was held down, I had this the feeling of helplessness. There was nothing I could do.
I was in a situation I couldn’t control. When I went home, I was overcome by a whole gamut of emotions — profound sadness, a feeling that I was an ugly person, that I am loser, and more. It left me depressed."

After the bullying incident, Mark found it tough to go back to school. Before he would pass through a hallway, he would scout it first for any signs of the kids who took his kicks. If the coast was clear he’d pass right through. If not, he looked for other ways to get around. His self-confidence was shot and it affected his schooling. 

That all changed when a friend of his introduced him to wrestling. "Because of me being bullied, I dove into wrestling. It taught me discipline and tempered the raging fires in me,” Muñoz said with a calmness that shows a man at peace. 

Muñoz became two-time State Champion, High School National Champion. He won a silver medal for the US Junior National Team. "And it got me a scholarship to Oklahoma State University,” he grinned. 

The bad situation turned into a good situation. While competing for the OSU Cowboys, he was named an All-American twice. He compiled 121 wins and won a NCAA National Championship in 2001 as a senior. After working as an assistant coach in OSU, they won another national title in 2003. He later transitioned into MMA where he compiled a 14-6 record. 

“The discipline I learned from wrestling helped me overcome more than just my fear of being bullied,” explained Mark. “It also gave me the inner strength to deal with setbacks.”

Muñoz strung up a string of impressive victories over C.B. Dollaway, Demian Maia, and Chris Leben to hike his record to 12-2. The came a devastating loss to Chris Weidman in July of 2012 that left him with a broken foot, a bum elbow, and his confidence in tatters. After a year-long sabbatical, he came back to win against Tim Boetsch in UFC 162. However, he followed that up with three consecutive losses that sent his MMA career in a nosedive. “Prior to the losses to Lyoto Machida, Gerard Mousasi, and Roan Carneiro, I had only lost in the first round once and that was to Matt Hamill in my sixth fight. All those three consecutive losses came in the first round and that had me thinking that I’m done.”

Except that good things happen to good guys. Muñoz got the send-off he wanted in 2015 with a win and in front of thousands of rabid Filipino fans in the first ever UFC event in Manila in May of 2016. “It’s the perfect way to end my career and I couldn’t ask any more,” he proudly said. “The bullying incident got me into wrestling. Wrestling got me into MMA and now I am here in the Philippines to talk about wrestling and bullying and how to deal with it.”

Years after winning the national wrestling championship with OSU, Muñoz had become a local celebrity in Vallejo. He was in the papers, doing local television and radio shows. The mayor even declared  April 30 as Mark Muñoz Day.

While watching a football game, Mark saw one of those kids who bullied him all those years ago. Their eyes met and Muñoz made his way towards him. The other guy handed over his child to his wife and raised his fists and got ready to fight Mark who was now a muscled six-footer. Except that Muñoz totally flipped the script. “Hey, I want to thank you,” he said to his albatross. "Because if it weren’t for that experience I wouldn’t be the person I am now.”

They shook hands and went about their own business. "Forgiveness is a huge thing” said Muñoz reflecting on the incident that changed him forever. "Forgiveness is not for the other person but me. If I harboured all that resentment and anger then I would want to beat him up. But two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Mark doesn’t know where the other guy is or how he is doing. On the other hand, Muñoz has gone on to be a MMA star and is universally respected by his peers. In the UFC, he known to be the nicest fighter on its roster. His record of professionalism has seen him rewarded as the fight organization has appointed him as an ambassador for the UFC.

And aside from running his own gym in Lake Forest, California where he teaches wrestling, Mark Muñoz gives talks everywhere about the ills of bullying and what they can do to combat it. And he wears his Air Jordan IIIs while at it.

Mark's fave Air Jordans

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