Mark Muñoz is proudly Pinoy, and there was plenty of evidence during Friday's Balls Channel press conference in the ABS-CBN complex.
When asked what his favorite Filipino food was, the 35-year old middleweight rattled off a long list that included adobo, kare-kare, tinola, lechon kawali, and even dinuguan.
Later on while being asked questions about an upcoming Ultimate Fighting Championship fight he struggled to recall a fighter's name.
“Ay nakalimutan na” he blurted out to chuckles from the media.
“I love the people in the Philippines. The hospitality, generosity, and caring. That's how I grew up.”
“When my mom comes to the house to cook for our family of six its like she cooks for fifty, and if you don't finish it, she gets mad!”
Nicknamed “The Filipino Wrecking Machine,” Muñoz was born in Japan in the U.S. Naval Base in Yokosuka to Pinoy parents. He soon after moved to Vallejo, California and grew up playing a variety of sports, but eventually concentrating on Wrestling.
After a glittering wrestling career, Muñoz dove into Mixed Martial Arts in 2007 and carved out a 12-3 record, mostly at Middleweight with a few bouts at Light heavyweight.
MMA website Sherdog now ranks him as the #5 middleweight in the world.
But all of this almost never happened.
“If I wasn't into MMA I'd be wrestling. And if I didn't get hurt before when I was young, I'd be playing American Football.”
On July 6 Muñoz squares off against Tim Boetsch in UFC 162 and he is upbeat about his chances.
“Boetsch leads with his kicks, he's elusive and very strong and aggressive. I'm going to come at him from different angles and link my striking with my wrestling. I know you're not going to see a boring fight.”
“I have to make a big statement in that fight. I have to be relentless and tenacious.”
The Boetsch fight comes a year after a devastating knockout loss to Chris Weidman last July.
“I wasn't myself that day. I was blinded by the fact that I was fighting for a chance at a title. I'd love a rematch with Chris Weidman” he confesses.
Muñoz wants a shot at the UFC Middleweight belt owned by the legendary Brazilian, Anderson Silva, who has defended his title ten times since 2006. However there may be some issues.
The Filipino calls Silva a good friend and says that “he comes from a background where you don't fight your friends at all, and I respect that.”
Muñoz thinks he might be two fights away from a title shot.
But amazingly, one of those encounters could happen here in the Philippines.
Mark Fischer, EVP and Managing Director of UFC Asia was at the press con as well and said that a fight card in Manila is being mulled.
“We're studying it, and talking to some parties about it. I predict, but I won't guarantee, that we will come to Manila in 2014 and this guy (pointing to Muñoz) will be on the main card.”
“If we all work together we can get this done” he added.
“The Philippines belongs in the top three in Asia. They have fighters who are knocking on the door of their first fights in UFC” says Fischer.
Muñoz's father was from Bicol and moved to Pasay City before joining the US Navy. His mom is from Pasay and he relishes his family ties.
“I met sixty of my relatives in a restaurant last time I was here. I'm excited to meet more of my family tomorrow.”
Muñoz was joined at the event by his thirteen-year-old daughter, Alexa. He has three more kids with his wife Kristi.
Muñoz's love for his ancestral home goes beyond words.
After the habagat rains that cancelled his last visit here, Munoz raised funds for flood relief and gained an insight into the hardy Filipino nature.
“I love the Filipino fighting spirit. I saw it come out during the floods. We saw people being tough and perseverent (sic). I wanna represent that (spirit) in the octagon.”
Muñoz is also going to tutor one of the country's best MMA stars. Eduard Folayang of Team Lakay will train with Muñoz for two months to learn the finer points of wrestling.
Folayang, like many Pinoy MMA fighters, has a terrific striking background from Wushu, but needs help honing his ground game.
Muñoz displays an affection for wrestling and is aghast that the International Olympic Committee is set to axe the sport from the Summer Olympic Games.
“Wrestling has been part of the Olympics since 780 BC. That's before Christ! For them (the IOC) to remove it by 2020... I can't even think about it.”
But soon after that diatribe Muñoz's smile returns and he invites all Pinoy MMA fans to his open workout this Sunday, March 10 at 3 pm at the Mall of Asia Music Hall. Fans can have their pics taken with the fighter as well.
Munoz is a Filipino pugilist in touch with his heritage, and one statement explains his reverence for the Philippines.
“This nation was built upon warriors.”
You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.