Bronx native Leo “The Mexicutioner” Muniz will be the sole USA representative at Copa Combate, an MMA tournament promoted by Combate Global that features fighters from eight different countries. As his Mexico-themed attire may often suggest, Leo Muniz is very proud of his Mexican heritage, but will proudly rep the red, white, and blue when he competes on Dec.12.
The COPA COMBATE tournament (airing live on Univision, TUDN USA and Paramount+) requires that the winner must win three contests in a single night, making it one of the toughest tournaments in all of sports. Due to the nature of competing in a trio of fights, the action is typically faster-paced, with more KO’s and submissions than you would typically expect to see.
With this style of MMA being branded as “Much More Action,” the eventual winner will claim a lofty prize of $100,000 for surviving the field. Muniz explains how he approaches such an epic test of his mettle, and how he balances elite sport with a busy family life.
“The adrenaline that you get, every time you step in the cage, man, that’s so unique, it’s so rare,” says Muniz (6-1-0). “It’s something that you will only find stepping in that walk. The preparation, and making that walk to step into the cage, seeing your opponent walk in, that’s memorable to me and it’s something that I have playing in mind day in, day out.”
For Leo Muniz, MMA is more of an all-consuming way of life rather than simply being his career. “I try to get a skill-work session in, at least every day,” he says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that I am going to be sparring every day, but there has to be some skill-work development in there, because it’s sports specific. Then, strength and conditioning wise, I’m doing sessions on Tuesday and Thursdays.” For the most part, Muniz’s family travels with him. As the father of four kids, fighting is certainly in the blood as his wife, and two of his children are also training in MMA. “It’s a family thing,” he beams. “I think that’s one of the key things on how we balance this lifestyle. Everyone’s on board, and we are not on separate ships. If you see me, the chances are you will see my family.”
MMA is a marathon and not a sprint
Muniz played soccer in his youth, and would frequently run track as part of his training. It’s a tool that he’s brought with him for MMA prep, and feels that it adds a lot to his arsenal. “It keeps the lungs going,” the Mexicutioner says. “Running three or four miles teaches you to stay mentally strong, how to pace yourself, and not blow everything out in one shot. Running is a little different from sprinting, so I can relate to [running] as far as fighting goes.”
Building back stronger
After Muniz tore his MCL and ACL he looked to weight training as a way to rebuild stronger. These days, Leo Muniz is a big proponent of weight training, and his personal bests include a 325-pound squat, 415-pound deadlift, and a 225-pound bench press. Not bad for a 135-pound bantamweight! “I learned a lot,” says Muniz. “just going through that process.”
Landmines for explosive power
Muniz has been working on strength and conditioning at the new WARROOM Gym in Whippany, NJ, and he’s turned his attention on being more explosive. One way that he has been able to work on this is through utilization of the landmine press. “I’ve been learning how to throw everything from the hip,” he says. “Using the landmine press is something that generates from the foot, to ankle extension, knee extension, hip extension, which is exactly what we do when we are punching. You know, we need a point of contact on the ground and we need to be able to fire all cylinders at the same time, and that’s pretty much how you start developing knockout power.”
Nothing ever grows in the comfort zone
Muniz heads into the COPA COMBATE tournament in great form. He earned back-to-back wins against Team Alpha Male member, Hector “El Matador” Fajardo back on May 29 and Aug. 13 to secure his entry. But how will he train for three very different challenges in one night? Is it possible to prepare for the rigors that he will face in the tournament?
“At night, we are doing pad work, and we are doing drills, because it’s three fights in one night, so if you think about it, the total rounds would add up to a championship fight — that’s 25 minutes.” says Muniz. “So, it’s something that we have had to prepare for, and add on after the lifting sessions, just because the muscles are shocked and a little bit filled with blood, and you’re a little fatigued.”
Muniz is not afraid of a challenge. He relishes the chance to push his body to the limits and has used sparring to replicate his upcoming experience as best as possible. “Sparring is always a fresh, new guy,” says Muniz. “It’s a mental challenge as well, because you can’t just focus on one guy. With three fights in one night, and three different opponents, your mindset has to be able to adjust real quick. It’s a challenge that I like because nothing ever grows in the comfort zone.”
Recovery is key
Leo Muniz says that grabbing as much sleep as possible is crucial for making sure that his body heals to its full potential. The fighter also enjoys ice baths in order to break down lactic acid, and he is also starting to explore the benefits of controlled breathing and meditation. “[Working on breathing] really helps to build up the lung capacity,” he says.
In terms of making weight, Muniz works with the nutritionist coach, Mike Hernandez, and adopts a simple approach with no gimmicks, based around reducing fats and carbs, while keeping his protein intake high in order to repair his muscles.
Eye on the prize
So, what would “The Mexicutioner” spend his $100,000 prize money on? “Well, we’re probably gonna use that money to move to New Jersey,” says Muniz. “Because we do live in Pennsylvania and all my training happens in New Jersey, and lately I have been commuting to go to work, so I have been driving more than 6½ hours daily, so moving to New Jersey will probably be the right move, right now, not just on saving money, but more on saving time, which in turn will, I hope, give me more time with my family.” Sounds like a shrewd investment to us!
Muniz will face Pierre Daguzan of France in the first stage of COPA COMBATE live from Miami, FL, on Dec. 12.