Johnny Munoz was getting ready to fight for the King of the Cage bantamweight title on June 22, his first opportunity to fight for a belt in the promotion he has fought for his entire career.
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Munoz had already had a rough start to 2019 in his fighting career after having to withdraw from his scheduled bout with Tony Gravely — who has since earned a UFC contract with a win on Dana White’s Contender Series — with an injury. After dealing with the devastation of pulling out of a fight for the first time due to injury, “Kid Kvenbo” signed a contract to fight Drako Rodriguez for the KOTC 135-pound title. Rodriguez would end up withdrawing from the bout and Munoz was beginning to get frustrated, wondering when he would get his chance to fight for a title.
From there, all sorts of craziness ensued.
In July, Rodriguez revealed that he was offered to take a short-notice fight against Marlon Vera at UFC 239, the kind of news every fighter dreams of getting. However, King of the Cage would not grant Rodriguez a release from his contract and was, as one would expect, “heartbroken” by the turn of events.
Rodriguez’s manager, Brian Butler of Suckerpunch Entertainment, also took to social media and stated, “I have never seen a regional show block someone’s career/dream like this especially for the peanuts KOTC is paying him.”
In an article for MMA Junkie, writer Steven Morocco spoke with both Butler and KOTC founder and co-owner Terry Trebilcock, and both stated they had the best intentions in mind for Rodriguez. More on that in a moment.
There was another side to the story: the side of Johnny Munoz who, at the end of the day, is an unbeaten prospect looking for a fight. Munoz signed the dotted line and began to prepare for Rodriguez before getting a phone call from his dad that brought a lot of changes and stress.
“That was a big mess, man,” Munoz told The Body Lock. “From my side, I had gotten a call from my manager — my dad is my manager, my coach — he got a call from King of the Cage saying that Drako, I guess his camp, wanted to do a catchweight at 140, 145 or something. They said they would do both, but they would come to 140.
“We were kind of like, ‘Why are we going to do 140? We’re trying to fight for a King of the Cage belt’, I’ve been trying to fight for a belt for a while. I was supposed to fight Tony (Gravely in March), that didn’t go through and now this chance with Drako, they wanted to do 140. That makes no sense. Why would we do that? It’s not going to be for a belt so we were like, ‘No, I’m not gonna do that’, we all know there’s no 140 weight class in MMA.
“They got back to us and I guess they said they couldn’t make the weight, and that was a bummer. I was getting a little stressed out wondering if I would still be able to fight.”
In the interview with MMA Junkie, one of the reasons Trebilcock gave in regards to not letting Rodriguez out of his contract was because he didn’t feel Rodriguez was ready for the UFC. In addition, Trebilcock accused Butler of being deceitful: making up a reason for Rodriguez to withdraw from the bout and then jumping at an offer from the UFC.
Munoz was still looking for an opponent, which he would get a little while later, and was wondering whether or not his title shot would go up in smoke. Once word started to spread about Rodriguez getting the call from the UFC, it became even more confusing to the 26-year-old.
“A week later, I had heard a thing about Drako getting a call to the UFC,” Munoz explained. “I was scratching my head a little bit. I thought it was kind of weird. I wondered if they made that story up to just go to the UFC, then the whole article came out about King of the Cage not releasing him and that whole big mess came out. For me, I was sitting back and watching that mess.
“His management team, I thought it was weird on their part agreeing to go to the UFC knowing he had a fight with me and that he was under contract. I thought it was weird on their part for them to agree to a fight when they had something lined up already.
“I thought that bit them in the ass a little bit because they were scheduled to fight me for the 135-pound belt and the next week, he was willing to fight at 135 in the UFC but wouldn’t be able to make the weight with me. I thought that made them look bad from King of the Cage’s perspective, but now it’s a big old mess. I feel like, now, the damage is done and they should just let him go, let him fly his own way.
“But it was real frustrating for me because I didn’t have an opponent, he said he couldn’t make the weight, and all of a sudden he gets a call to the UFC and can make the weight. And I understand, it’s the dream for everybody to go to the UFC, but it didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t have an opponent, and then I found out I was fighting somebody else a week and a half later. It was a lot for me to take in.”
The report from Morocco stated that, per Butler, Rodriguez “ultimately withdrew because he and his coaches were only informed about the booking three weeks prior to the event. Butler said neither he nor Rodriguez’s team received a bout agreement or notice of an opponent and had been unable to reach KOTC staff.”
A press release from King of the Cage on May 16 announced the title fight between Munoz and Rodriguez for June 22 at KOTC: Golden Era, which took place at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. Along with the press release, Munoz states that social media posts appeared from a teammate of Rodriguez on social media over a month before the scheduled bout.
“That was another thing because they said they didn’t know about the fight,” Munoz said. “I don’t know, exactly, because I’m not the one making the deals. They said Drako, I said ‘yes, let’s do it’. I’m assuming he said yeah, but what I know for sure is that they knew a month and two weeks in advance that they were going to fight me. How I know that, I had seen a post. Someone from Drako’s team posted it, they had ‘Let’s go Drako vs. Johnny Munoz’ and that was a month and two weeks before.
“In my opinion, that’s plenty enough time at this level. I knew two months advance that I was fighting him, so I don’t know where that came from. But I know for sure they knew for over a month that they were fighting. Why would his teammate be posting that? It was just a lot.”
Munoz would get a replacement opponent in Mongolian prospect Rentsen Otgontulga. Munoz would pick up the victory via unanimous decision to become the KOTC bantamweight champion. Last Weekend, Munoz successfully defended his title with a second-round rear-naked choke submission win over Ian King at KOTC: Reaction Time in Arizona.
The CQuence Jiu-Jitsu trained Munoz has been with KOTC since his first amateur fight. While it may put him in a tough position since he was attached to the story with Rodriguez as a scheduled opponent, Munoz feels the promotion has treated him well from the very beginning and, should the UFC call to inquire about his services, would release him from his contract to grab that proverbial brass ring.
“It kind of snowballed into a big mess,” Munoz said of the situation. “I’m a part of the organization, I’m a champion there. In a way, I guess it puts me in a tough spot, maybe people start getting on my page and bad mouthing me because was, not involved in that, but I was scheduled to fight him so my name was brought up in that story. I don’t let that kind of stuff get to me.
“But for me, King of the Cage has been very good to me. I’ve been able to fight locally, travel, I get taken care of pretty well. It’s all business. MMA can be a dirty business. It all depends on who is negotiating for you, but for me, if this is what we agree on, I follow what I say I’m gonna do. I feel like in a couple of more fights, I’m almost there for the UFC and I don’t feel like it’s going to be an issue for me to get released. They’ve been good to me, so I have no complaints on my side.”
Munoz is 10-0 as a pro and is one of the top prospects in the US at 135 and 145 pounds. “Kid Kvenbo” told The Body Lock that he was offered a shot on Dana White’s Contender Series but it didn’t come to fruition, which had nothing to do with King of the Cage.
In addition to being a fighter, Munoz is in college trying to receive his master’s degree — which he is scheduled to receive in 2020. If it were up to Munoz, he wants to wait until next Spring to get that call as he enters his final quarter, one that will be a lot less taxing and would allow him to adequately prepare for a career in the hallowed UFC Octagon.
“There’s been a few talks,” Munoz said in regards to the UFC. “Right now, because I’m also a grad student, I have one more year and I get my master’s degree, we could go to the UFC now. I’ve had a few people reach out already, but I’m trying to finish school. I don’t want to be in school and in the UFC at the same time. My last quarter in school will be in April. I was telling my dad and my team, any time after April I want to make a move. My last quarter is going to be super easy in school, I’ll be willing to take a fight in the UFC, or whatever opportunity comes.
“I think King of the Cage will be cool with it as well. Right now, I feel like I could do it, but I already know how I am. If I get a call from the UFC to go take a fight, I’m gonna be so excited, I’ll leave school in the back burner and I’m so close to finishing. I don’t want to do that to myself. But my last quarter is in April, and I’ll be ready to go then because that last quarter will be super easy.”