CAGED UP: FIGHTERS RISE AND FALL IN THE OCTAGON

July 25, 2007 12:00 am
Larry Munyon loosens up in the octagon, an eight-sided cage, before his fight with Brandon Love of Klamath Falls. (The Pilot/Jef Hatch).
Larry Munyon loosens up in the octagon, an eight-sided cage, before his fight with Brandon Love of Klamath Falls. (The Pilot/Jef Hatch).

By Josh Bronson

Pilot staff writer

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is not just a sport.

It's a culture; a way of life for some.

Fighters devote hours to train in anticipation of one match.

Months of preparation for a few minutes inside the octagon.

But these men aren't brutes.

They're not meatheads or morons.

They're athletes.

They train and discipline their bodies.

They prepare for each fight with strategy and tactics.

Cage fights are not street brawls.

There are rules, regulations and safety precautions.

Fighters have game plans and cornermen.

It's not a barbaric bloodfest.

It's a legitimate sport and it's on the rise.

MMA on the rise

In the last five years, the sport of MMA has put national audiences in a choke hold.

The Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) has led the way with free fight nights televised on SpikeTV.

UFC even started their own reality television show, "Ultimate Fighter," where up-and-coming fighters square off against one another to claim a contract with UFC.

Amateur organizations abound throughout the country, with West Coast Fighters Promotions, based out of Medford, leading the way in Southern Oregon.

Promoter Jeff Trago and his associates plan to make the fights in Medford a monthly event, starting with last Friday's "Warriors Brawl," which featured fighters from Medford, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Portland and even one of our own: Larry Munyon of Brookings.

Larry Munyon

You wouldn't know by the way he carries himself, but this is going to be Munyon's first MMA fight.

"I'm trying to do this in the least cocky way possible," Munyon said. "But it's hard."

Munyon's not cocky, he's confident.

Confident in himself, in his ability and in his training.

Munyon, 22, was a standout wrestler and football player at Brookings-Harbor High School.

He's no stranger to top competition either.

After high school, Munyon took his wrestling skills to the collegiate level, first wrestling in Iowa, a wrestling mecca, and then walking on at the University of Oregon, before suffering a double hernia.

He also played football for the Siskiyou Savages, the local semi-pro football team.

Munyon, and most other amateur fighters, don't get paid the big bucks.

MMA is a hobby for them, not a job.

Munyon is a heavy equipment operator in Brookings by day and an MMA fighter by night.

Training – Wednesday, July 18, 7:10 p.m.

Fight night is only two days away. That means light training today, and a full day of rest tomorrow.

Conditioning isn't something that just happens in one night.

It takes weeks, months, even years for some to prepare for a fight.

"I trained for two years with Jeff (Johnson), as his cornerman," Munyon said. "And I figured, since he was doing so good, I might as well give it a shot."

Tonight, Munyon and training partner and roommate Ryan Teal are doing a light workout.

After a few minutes of stretching and limbering up, Teal throws on a pair of boxing gloves.

Munyon's opponent Friday night is a striker. Munyon is a grappler.

Teal throws punches and moves about the mat like he thinks Munyon's opponent will. And instead of throwing back, Munyon sets up the shot; time and time again.

Over and over he works on taking down his training partner.

Munyon thrives on the ground.

He controls the mat with his superior wrestling techniques and his jiu jitsu training, learned from friend and mentor Travis Millar, who got him started in the sport.

Teal and Munyon discuss strategy between deep breaths.

"He's going to be swinging for the fences," Teal warns.

"Then I'll wait," Munyon said. "I'm just gonna wait."

Munyon shoots and grabs a double leg on Teal, elevates him above his head and then places him gently back on the mat.

"If you get as deep on him as you did on me, you pick him up and you slam him hard," Teal exclaims.

After about half an hour of intense sparring, the two call it a night.

Normal training sessions at Brookings Tae Kwon Do usually last about two hours.

Besides in the gym training, Munyon also works on his cardio by running to and from the gym, carrying over 30 pounds of weights on his back.

Weigh-ins – Friday, July 21, 1:20 p.m.

Munyon arrives at the Medford Armory with his cousin, training partner and fellow fighter, Jeff Johnson.

The two are a little late, so they stand in the weigh-in room by themselves, joined shortly by the fight promoter's wife, Penny, to take his weight.

Munyon stands on the scale: 202 pounds.

He's fighting in the 205-pound weight class, so he's easily under the limit.

But a few minutes later, he takes off his shoes, strips off his clothes and climbs back onto the scale: 197.

"I want them to think I'm fighting light," Munyon said.

His weight is recorded, proper forms signed and then the two head out to the arena to check out the octagon.

While Johnson bounces around the ring, the two banter about the fight.

Munyon reiterates the fact that he is going to take the fight to the floor while Johnson finds the spot on the mat that makes the most noise when he stomps, and instructs Munyon to slam his opponent there.

"It's a show," Johnson says with a grin. "We show what we got and we show off how hard we've trained."

Johnson, 29, who has a 6-1 MMA record, advises Munyon to be careful not to get caught.

"Everyone has a puncher's chance," he says.

Safety Meeting –

6:05 p.m.

Two hours before the mayhem begins, fighters gather around the octagon for a briefing on the rules and regulations of the night's bouts.

Fighters mingle and some talk strategy with each other.

Johnson and Munyon chat with Michael Chapman and a few of his fighters from Impact Jiu Jitsu in Beaverton, a team Johnson has trained with in the past.

Special guest referee John "Guns" Gunderson, a professional MMA fighter with the International Fight League (IFL), the first team-based mixed martial arts league, steps into the octagon and demonstrates which moves will be allowed and which will be deemed illegal.

Depending on the venue or promoter of the fight, some rules vary, although most of the major rules still stand, such as no headbutts, punches to the back of the head or spine, eye gouges or kicks or knees to the head while on the mat.

For this venue, elbows to the head were outlawed, even though elbow strikes are an essential part of some fighters' arsenals in the UFC.

Pre-fight – 7:45 p.m.

It's only 15 minutes until the fights are set to start, and Munyon has just arrived back at the armory.

Most of the fight preparation took place back at the hotel, away from the other fighters.

Johnson tapes Munyon's hands back at the hotel, not rushing and making sure it's a quality tape job.

As Munyon makes his way down the long hallway to the fighters' waiting room, he looks much more serious than before.

He's focused.

All his planning and training have led up to this one moment.

No more guessing or assuming what's going to happen in that octagon.

It's time to get in there and make it happen.

The Fight, 8:35 p.m.

After a 20 minute delayed start, the announcer (and, coincidentally, the head of security) begins to address the crowd.

He goes over some of the rules and regulations of the evening's events, some of which are the same guidelines that he went over with the fighters just over two hours ago.

Munyon was scheduled as the fourth fight of the night but, because of a pair of no-shows, his fight was moved up to second on the card.

Papa Roach's "Last Resort" blares over the sound system as Munyon makes his way to the octagon.

He is deliberate in his approach.

He's ready for this to start.

"As I was getting ready to fight, I was just thinking, ‘I'm here right now and there's only gonna be one hand raised tonight and it's gonna be mine,'" Munyon recalls.

His opponent, Brandon Love of Klamath Falls, stands 4 to 5 inches taller than the 5 feet 10 inch Munyon and glares down at him from across the octagon.

The referee checks both fighters for the proper equipment, which includes a protective cup, a mouthguard and the standard issue 4-ounce gloves, motions for the cornermen to leave the ring, and starts the bout.

Munyon wastes no time and shoots before Love even has a chance to throw a punch.

"I was hesitant about touching gloves with him," Munyon said. "Some of my guys warned me that with a puncher like him, he may touch gloves and then hit you with his other hand. It looked like he had his other arm cocked, ready to throw, so I decided not to touch."

Instead, Munyon shoots in right away and takes Love to the mat.

"I got in real deep and I knew he wasn't getting away," Munyon said.

Once on the mat, Munyon has immediate side control and begins working for the full mount.

With 15 years of wrestling under his belt, Munyon knows how to control someone on the mat.

"It took a little while, but once he started to panic, he opened up and I was able to get a full mount," he said.

As soon as Munyon gets on top of his opponent, he begins to rain down powerful punches to his opponent's head.

"As soon as I punched him a couple of times, his head and arms went limp and I knew he was finished," Munyon recalled.

The referee jumps in and stops the fight as soon as he believes Love is unable to consciously protect himself.

After the ref puts an end to the beating, Munyon dismounts and reacts to the crowd's cheering, pumping his fists in the air and jumping up on the edge of the cage for a few moments.

His cornermen help Love to his feet and make sure he's able to stand on his own.

Blood trickles from his nose and a glazed-over look covers his face.

The ring announcer declares Munyon the winner with an official stoppage at 1:51 in the first round. One of the ring girls drapes a medal around his neck.

Munyon's pre-fight serious face is gone and is replaced with a grin and a sense of accomplishment.

Post fight

One more quick fight goes down in the ring and then an intermission.

In the lobby outside of the main arena, Munyon is surrounded by his cornermen, Johnson and Teal, as well as his entourage from Brookings.

Friends are on the phone with other friends, bragging about Munyon's domination.

Reinactments occur and laughter fills the lobby in celebration.

The group of friends discuss how the fight went down.

"Larry's just super strong, in good shape and he's a great wrestler," Teal explains. "When he's on top of you, it's hard to get him off."

Johnson talks of the game plan and how Munyon followed it just like he needed to.

"I told you exactly what I was going to do and I went out and did it," Munyon boasts. "That's something I'm proud of. I did everything I practiced and it worked. It doesn't always work out like that, but I'm glad it did."

The first intermission comes to a close and the group of friends find their seats to enjoy the rest of the fights.

Once the event is over, Munyon continues to celebrate his victory at an after-party with some of the other fighters.

He knows he has to enjoy this feeling while it lasts because, on Monday, he's back to being a heavy equipment operator.

At least until his next fight.