Mark “Mugen” Striegl's strong hands aren't just for pounding other fighters into submission. They also have a more artistic purpose.
“My high school in Japan (St. Mary's International) had a very good ceramics program. I used to make plates and bowls in my downtime before wrestling matches. It got me to relax. I like working with the different glazes and being creative.”
“I want to bring my ceramics wheel over to (his home in) Baguio so I can get into it again.”
The 24-year old may love his earthenware, but he doesn't have the proverbial porcelain chin.
Striegl has gone 12-0 in his pro Mixed Martial Arts, with all but two ending via submission. In his latest fight last November, he took out Harris Sarmiento at the Pacific Xtreme Combat 34 in the Smart Araneta Coliseum with a Scarf Hold Armlock 2:37 into the first round.
His take-no-prisoners mentality is evident in this clip of the fight.
Striegl is wearing a black t-shirt and grey pants for our interview. He has an easygoing, genuine manner about him. His jet black hair is gelled up and complements his chiseled features. He looks almost ordinary, with only his bulging biceps betraying his profession. Striegl also speaks eloquently about the intoxicating lure of MMA.
“It's a black and white sport. You can't hide anything inside the cage. As soon as the cage doors shut, people are gonna see what you're all about. Gonna see your soul.”
“All fighters are a little nervous before a fight. If a fighter says he isn't scared before a fight, he's lying. That's why you train so hard. Confidence comes from training. You react based on drills you've done in practice. It's all second nature, muscle memory.”
“As they say, train hard, fight easy.”
Striegl's daily regimen at Fight Corps MMA in Baguio is indicative of his philosophy. He runs in Burnham Park every morning “until I finish my playlist,” then does strength training. Afternoons are spent doing circuit training and running up Baguio's steep hills, which he says “is not fun.”
Mark is the son of Frank, an American, and Sonia, from Calapan, Mindoro. Both were teachers in St. Mary's International School in Tokyo, Japan, where Mark and his elder brother, Frank jr., grew up.
The young Mark was raised on Filipino food like adobo and pansit, and is close to his Filipino aunt and cousins, who he grew up with in Japan.
Christmas holidays as a child were spent in Calapan, where he recalls enjoying New Year's eve fireworks.
Frank Jr. was the first to get into wrestling, and he soon infected his brother with a passion for the game.
“My fighting style comes from wrestling. It's grappling-oriented. I like to come forward and make my opponents break. My style is high-paced and frantic.”
Striegl says his amateur record as a wrestler in 77-1, his one loss coming against the team captain of a rival school in Japan. Naturally he was able to avenge that loss at the end of the season.
Aikido, the purely defensive Japanese martial art, was another influence in Striegl's style, as was Taekwondo.
Striegl went to college first in the University of San Diego then transferred to Point Loma Nazarene University nearby. But he spurned college wrestling and instead got into amateur Mixed Martial Arts, amassing a 10-1 record as an amateur fighter. He won the California Pancration State Championship at Featherweight.
Soon after he turned pro, and his third fight ushered in a change in his life.
In February of 2011 he vanquished Crisanto Pitpitunge in Baguio with a rear naked choke in the third round. Although he won, the thin air was a difficult adjustment.
“I gassed out (got exhausted) in that fight. I was so disoriented. I thought there was only one minute left in the round, Turns out there was five!”
Striegl liked what he saw in the mountain city and eventually moved there.
“Even just walking around (in Baguio) is a workout. It's good for your strength and conditioning. The Team Lakay guys (Eduard Folayang, Kevin Belingon, Honorio Banario) are cardio machines.”
Another Baguio fighter, Eric Kelly, is a good friend. Striegl spent some time training in MuayFit in Malaysia where he got to know his fellow Featherweight(145lbs).
“Kelly and I will never fight. We're too close.”
Striegl has settled down to an idyllic life in Baguio, where he lives in Kisad Peak on Legarda street. Striegl also teaches wrestling at Fight Corps in Trancoville three times a week, and he currently trains with Floridian Will Chope and Filipino Adam Cacay, who he will corner in an upcoming bout.
“Cornering is fun but it's nerve-wracking. I don't get nervous in my own fights, but when you're cornering a close friend, it's hard.”
While in Baguio Mark has developed a fondness for pinikpikan and confesses to eating balut twice a week leading up to fights.
He's also in a relationship with a Baguio girl, Starr Cabuco, a teacher at the Christian Legacy Academy.
But apart from being a lover, Striegl is also a fighter, and his next encounter will be in May in the Philippines, against an unnamed opponent. PXC's next fight card, this coming February 16, may determine who he will face.
Striegl already has one fighter in his crosshairs: PXC Featherweight title-holder Joe Taimanglo. His message to the Guamanian: “I hope to see you in May.”
“I'm confident I can beat him” he says with not an ounce of bluster in his voice.
But the wrestler-turned-MMA fighter has even bigger goals in mind.
“I'd like to make it to UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship.) It's the Superbowl of MMA.”
He's reportedly been named by MMA site Bloody Elbow as one of the Filipinos most likely to make it to the UFC.
Who would bet against him? All of his opponents seem to crumble against him. Even those underwater.
Another of Striegl's pastimes is fishing. He loves both the deep-sea variety and fishing in streams. Recently he caught some smallmouth bass in the Salmon River in Idaho.
“I love the battle of fishing” he says.
Striegl craves just about any kind of scrap. That will to win could soon lead him to the pinnacle of the MMA firmament.
Follow bob on Twitter @bhobg333. Follow Mark @MarkMugen. Learn more about PXC on their website, www.pacificxtremecombat.com.