It was a storybook ending. It almost felt like a dream.
The only thing that would have topped this would be having that 12-pound world championship belt around my waist.
On May 16, I defeated Luke Barnatt in my final Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight contest. What made it a storybook ending was that it was during the first-ever UFC fight card in Manila, in front of thousands of Filipino UFC fans. Being part of a national (and international) fight card was nothing new to me. But as a Filipino-American, the opportunity to bring a UFC Fight Night to the Philippines — and to end my career in front of the Filipino fans — filled me with great pride.
Once the fight was over, I addressed the fans, removed my gloves and laid them in the middle of the Octagon. My speech trended on social media. I received well wishes from fans, media, fellow fighters and other celebrities. It was as if the week leading up to my last fight was a farewell tour, and the victory over Barnatt was the icing on the cake.
As a Filipino-American, the opportunity to bring a UFC Fight Night to the Philippines — and to end my career in front of the Filipino fans — filled me with great pride.
Then … on May 17 … reality set in.
On that day, I officially became a “former” UFC fighter. I spent the following week in the Philippines giving interviews, attending professional basketball games, going to dinners with national leaders and catching up with my extended family. When the time came to return home to California, the interviews were over and there was no opponent to prepare for. With a lot to think about, that’s when the challenges of retirement started to weigh on my mind.
Was I really ready for life after UFC? Will there be an itch to get back in the Octagon? Will I be haunted by never having become champion?
That’s what I had spent my first 100 days in retirement trying to figure out.
Today is my official 100th day in retirement. To this day, a lot goes into thinking about the next stages of life after competing in the UFC for eight years. It was such a great experience — one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. But being a UFC fighter is just one chapter in my life. It doesn’t define me. I’m also a proud father, a loving husband, a man of faith and an advocate against bullying.
When I announced my retirement prior to my last fight, I always said that I wanted to spend more time with my family. I know I still have plenty left in the tank. But I have spent so much time training, fighting, recovering and training again, that I missed a lot of milestones that happened in my own home. I’m happy to say that since my last fight, I’ve been enjoying the time I now have with my family. We’ve been traveling around Southern California, taking mini-vacations like going to Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo and the Napa vineyards.
Most recently, I participated in a celebrity golf tournament hosted by Adonal Foyle, the former NBA player who currently serves as the Golden State Warriors Community Ambassador. I got to meet and share retirement insights with fellow retired athletes, including Bobby Jackson of the Sacramento Kings, J.J. Stokes, Eric Wright and Darryl Pollard of the San Francisco 49ers, as well as D’Wayne Wiggins from the R&B group Tony Toni Tone. (Yes, there’s more than a little irony when it comes to hanging out with fellow retired athletes and being at a golf course.) After that was over, there was even some time to visit colleges that my daughter would like to go to: Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, UC Santa Barbara, and Pepperdine.
Yes, I crammed all of this in less than 100 days.
Now, for the obvious questions:
Am I still training?
My first real workout happened recently, on August 18. I did muay Thai training with American standout Bryce Krause. Griffin Conway, who is the general manager at the Art of Jiu Jitsu, invited me to train, and it was great to break a sweat again. It felt really good to train for training’s sake — instead of an upcoming fight. At this point in my life, at age 37, it’s important to just stay healthy and maintain physical (and mental) wellbeing. I will continue to train regularly to stay in shape.
Would there be an itch to get back in the Octagon?
No. Not at all. I still love the sport and I’m enjoying seeing a lot of my UFC mates in action. I’m definitely a fan and looking forward to the next big event coming up between Demetrius Johnson and John Dobson. This fight is going to be action-packed and very fast-paced. I’m also looking forward to Frank Mir and Andre Arlovski, two massive heavyweights who are very skilled. Although I’ll always be a big UFC fan, I’m making good on my word and I know that May 16 was my last time in the Octagon.
Will I be haunted by never having become champion?
I’m also at peace with this. I’ve had a great career. I was fortunate to be able to provide for my family and being a UFC fighter opened so many doors for me. Most importantly, I have precious treasures at home that mean more to me than anything else in this world.
Now it’s time to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I’ve had preliminary meetings with UFC Gym president Adam Sedlack and UFC Asia, and I’m also exploring a few other business ventures. In the meantime, I will continue to hold motivational speeches and host wrestling camps under my Team Muñoz brand.
There is still some anxiety as to what I’m going to do next. Most professional athletes face it. Nothing can really replace being able to perform at the highest level of your sport in front of thousands of fans, plus millions watching at home. At the same time, I know I’m not alone when it comes to former players thinking about their next career. I’m excited to see what the future holds for me and my family.
If I could explain my first 100 days of retirement in one word, I would say: Enjoyable.
I feel more complete than ever, now that I’m spending more time with my family. And I’m now there to help them achieve their goals, be they in school, in sports or in life. I’m now having the quality time with them I couldn’t give them when I was an active fighter.
I’ve gained so much more these past 100 days and I look forward to what’s ahead.