It took 20 professional bouts and two wins at Dana White’s Contender Series for Andre Muniz to finally fulfil his dream and become a UFC fighter — and for the people in his hometown of Montes Claros, Brazil, to see martial arts as a real career.
Montes Claros is a small town with less than 450,000 people located 260 miles away from the state capital of Belo Horizonte, and having a representative in the world’s premiere MMA organization is a big deal. Yet, that wasn’t the case back when Muniz was just another athlete trying to work his way up on the regional scene.
“There’s always this dilemma,” Muniz said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I say I’m a fighter, a MMA athlete, people would always respond, ‘is that it, you don’t do anything else?’ It’s like training hard the entire day wasn’t a real job. People see that fighting is my job now, the way I make a living.”
Muniz moved to Rio de Janeiro every time he had a fight booked to train with the likes of Thiago Santos and Luis Henrique at Tata Fight Team, and would work as a personal trainer to earn extra money and make ends meet in between fights.
Victorious in 10 of 11 bouts between 2014 and 2018, a run that started with a decision over former PRIDE star and WEC middleweight champion Paulo Filho, “Sergipano” finally got the call he was hoping for.
A decision over Bruno Assis at the Contender Series wasn’t enough for him to land a deal with the UFC, though, but he would get a second chance a year later. This time, however, Muniz made short work of previously unbeaten Taylor Johnson to earn the shot.
“A lot has changed after I fought at the Contender Series, people (from Montes Claros) started to treat me as an athlete. But only after I fought and won in the UFC that things have really gotten better,” said Muniz, who defeated fellow DWCS alum Antonio Arroyo in his UFC debut in Nov. 2019.
“I was able to get some sponsors after that. I still have to spend some of my money, but things are getting better. But the UFC changes everything. When you become a UFC athlete, no matter what happens in the UFC from now, the fact that I put my feet in there, I’ll always be remembered as a UFC veteran. It changed the way people see me, I’m seen as a professional now.”
Unbeaten in three octagon appearances, Muniz feels different now that he’s paired up against a more seasoned opponent in the UFC, facing Bartosz Fabinski at Saturday night’s UFC Vegas 9. That said, the TFT talent believes that previous experiences in the Brazilian scene were the perfect way to prepare for such challenge.
“I keep my feet on the ground, life continues the same thing to me,” Muniz said. “I continue training hard, head focused, so my mind hasn’t changed much. The only thing I had to change was train harder because I’m in a select group among the best, in the highest level.
“Fabinski has more fights than me in the UFC, four wins and one loss, but that changes nothing for me. I’ve fought people with bigger names and more fights and I know I’m prepared. I’m ready for any situation.”
“The Butcher” Fabinski went 4-1 since signing with the UFC in 2015, but his most recent victory, a decision over Darren Stewart in March, took place under the Cage Warriors banner in England after the company “borrowed” both fighters to the European promotion during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He has good takedowns, but even if he tries to grapple with me, I feel comfortable off my back,” Muniz said of Fabinski. “If you watch my fights, I was able to get a submission on everyone that took me down. I have many submissions in my record.”
“I don’t believe he will try to play that boring game right off the bat,” he continued. “I’ve watched his fights and he opens a lot of holes on the feet. He gets desperate and tries a takedown when he starts to get hit, and I believe I’ll be able to maintain the best distance for me and land a good hand and knock him out.”