LIHUE — When Kauai High School senior Halle Sakai heard a former college wrestling national champion was coming to Kauai, she jumped on the chance to learn from him.
“I was like, ‘I have to go,’” Sakai said. “He’s placed at worlds. It’s just amazing to have somebody like that come down here and come and help us.”
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight fighter Mark Muñoz lead a handful of wrestling clinics on-island Friday and Saturday.
On Saturday morning, he led a group of 17 young grapplers in a seminar at Kauai High School. Some of them are local high school wrestlers, and others were young novices with little to no experience.
“There’s incredible athletes here on the island. I know it’s the beginning for a lot of them,” Muñoz said. “Mixed martial arts is fairly new. Wrestling is new here on the island. But I see there’s amazing athletes.
“I went to (Longman Jiu Jitsu North Shore Academy) yesterday. There’s amazing athletes there,” he continued. “Amazing jiu-jitsu players there. Amazing fighters there. It’s just, they need wrestling in their life. So, I’m able to bridge that gap for them.”
Muñoz, known as the “Filipino Wrecking Machine,” has a 14-6 MMA record.
His last bout was a unanimous decision win over Luke Marnatt in UFC Fight Night: Edgar vs. Faber in May 2015 in the Philippines. His wins include one Fight of the Night honor, a technical knockout victory over Maui native Kendall Grove in UFC 112 in April 2010.
As a collegiate wrestler, Muñoz won 121 matches for Oklahoma State University, was a two-time All-American and won an NCAA national championship in the 197-pound weight class in 2001.
“I was excited that we were able to get a wrestler with his experience to come and show us and tell us what he’s learned,” said Kapaa High School senior Braeden Jensen. “He’s a really good coach. I’ve learned a lot of technique, and a lot about philosophy, too. I think it’s made me better.”
The clinics were organized by Kauai High School assistant wrestling coach Paul La Blanc.
“It’s been great. Yesterday, we started with kind of an informal session up in the Westside for current KIF wrestlers — kids that had a little bit more experience,” La Blanc said. “From then, we headed to the Longman and had a really great ‘wrestling for jiu-jitsu’ session. We showed them some things they might encounter when they’re coming against wrestlers, and just some things on their feet as far as a takedown game that will improve their jiu-jitsu.”
Kauai High senior Matthew Tamanaha said he had a long night and an early morning, but was thrilled to attend the clinic.
“Actually, I’m running on two hours of sleep right now. But it’s good,” Tamanaha said. “Wrestling always wakes me up. It’s something that just really gets me motivated, I guess.”
He said about working with Muñoz: “Mark’s awesome, actually. He’s a really cool guy. He’s really smart, too. He, just like Coach Paul, he’s really good to talk to. He loves helping the kids.”
Muñoz said the one thing he hopes the young wrestlers took away from their time with him was to strive to be “extraordinary.”
“The word extraordinary is in two words: extra and ordinary. We’re all ordinary people. But in order to be extraordinary, which is standing out and being great, is doing the extra,” he said. “The extra is doing the things people won’t in order to do the things people can’t.
“People won’t get up early and run if they need to work on their conditioning. People won’t stay after practice and work on the thing they need to work on. People won’t lift when it’s the offseason,” Muñoz continued. “I want them to get that perspective. They can be extraordinary.”
Sakai, Jensen and Tamanaha all said they hoped to improve their skills after working with Muñoz.
“He’s doing a lot of working on the little stuff. It’s really good to focus on all of that,” Sakai said. “When you’re practicing for season, we don’t have time to focus on the little details, which is what really matters when it comes down to wrestling.”
The KIF wrestling season begins in January. It will be just the sixth season since wrestling became a KIF-sanctioned sport.
“I hope they take away a lot of his ideas about work ethic, dedication and diligence. Those sort of things,” La Blanc said. “There’s that mindset of what it takes to be successful on the mat and successful in life. Meeting a quality individual — somebody that used to be locked in a cage and fight for a living, and yet he’s a nice guy.”
Muñoz said this trip is his first to the Garden Isle and he is already looking forward to the next one.
“I love it, man. It’s so awesome here,” he said. “My kids want to move here, man. It’s so amazing. I said, ‘Isn’t it beautiful here, guys?’ They were like, ‘Yeah, I want to move here.’ So, I might be back.”