Ivan Menjivar was one of the more respected names in the burgeoning sport of mixed martial arts during the early 2000′s. The diminutive Salvadorian-Canadian fought a veritable who’s who list of the sport while fluctuating between lightweight and welterweight. Clashes against his current training partner Georges St. Pierre when he was a fresh-faced youngster, Matt Serra, Shaolin Riberio, Caol Uno, Jeff Curran, Urijah Faber have forever engrained Menjivar’s name in the sport.
But in 2006, Menjivar retired following a loss to Bart Palaszewski in the IFL, just as the sport was starting its rise to the mainstream. Now he looks to continue his reinvention in the sport as a bantamweight when he takes on John Albert at UFC on Fuel 1.
Two things preceded Menjivar’s decision to walk away from the sport at an early age. The first being a need for knee surgery, the second was becoming a father for the first time, and then a second. But the lure of competition was just too much for Menjivar to leave behind. After a dominant win in his comeback fight for W-1, Menjivar was picked up by the WEC, which was of course absorbed into the UFC. Now riding a two-fight win streak in the world’s largest promotion, Menjivar is careful to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground.
It’s fun to be at that level. To say to the people I do a sport, I love and enjoy it. That’s what UFC means to me. It’s not really about the popularity or the money, but it’s more special and fun to be there for the people and show them what i do.
After fighting at weight classes that were a stretch for the 5’6 Menjivar, he looks to have found a comfortable home at bantamweight. The growth of the sport has necessitated the making of lighter weight classes and given fighters like Menjivar a chance to shine.
It’s closer to the boxing system, because weight makes a difference in a fight. I know I can fight against 170 pounders, but because my body shape isn’t proportional, I’m not as good a fighter [at that weight]. The more categories you have, the more good fights we’re going to see. Because the guys are at the same weight and same body shape and they can give 100% of their talent and experience against each other. It’s a good thing.
Menjivar’s debut in his second tour de force with the UFC came in April at Toronto’s Skydome in front of a record-setting 55,000 screaming Canadians. Menjivar did not disappoint his adopted countrymen as he emerged with a first round TKO victory over Charlie Valencia. Fighting in front of a home crowd that large may have thrown other fighters off their game, but Menjivar was able to remain focused on the task at hand.
When I fought, I didn’t realize [the crowd]. I was too focused on the fight. But after the fight, I came out to corner Georges, and ‘oh wow, it’s big here!’. I couldn’t believe the amount of people and the amount of noise they were making. I was really happy to be part of the show, we made history that night. My name is in the history books in Canada because of that, I’m really happy.
When the talk turns to his upcoming fight against Albert, Menjivar seems almost nonchalant. He is truly a man whose experience has brought him calm, and a belief that if he puts the work in ahead of time, the result will not be in doubt.
It’s a good match-up, a good fight for both of us. I want a win but I don’t care if I lose. So I don’t feel pressure on me. I just want to go out there and give three rounds of everything I have and just enjoy the fight. The fifteen minutes of fighting are nothing compared to the two months I have of training. So I just want to go out, have fun and enjoy it. [The fight] depends on what he wants to do. For me, I just want to have fun and play the beautiful MMA game.
A win over Albert will give him three straight victories since his return to the promotion in the bantamweight division. While others in that position might start clamoring for a title shot. Menjivar’s poise and patience allow him to take joy in going one step at a time. He states his goal is to be recognized in the top ten this year, as he was when he was younger. Asked about an encounter with bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz or another fight with Urijah Faber, Menjivar sounds hopeful but realistic.
It’d be fun to fight those guys. They’re real professionals. I want to be part of that, but I have to be ready to be at that level. They have great teams and train full-time. I have to have more money, for one, and two I need to be ready for that.
Menjivar is one among the many of the lower echelon of UFC fighters who have to supplement their income with other employment. Until recently, that meant working as a security guard at Montreal’s Trudeau Airport. But not even UFC fighters are safe from the corporate hammer, as Menjivar was recently laid off along with the rest of his security detail. Talking about this subject is the one time a smile is not audible in Menjivar’s voice.
I was working there, they fired me. What happened, they gave the contract to another company. the new company came in and they fired like 16 people for no reason. We’re like ‘what’s the problem?’We were supposed to work with you and they said ‘no’. So right now, we have a lawyer working on the case and that’s another fight. Some people were working there for like 20 years, it’s not fair. We’ve got questions and that’s another fight coming soon. I want to give elbows to those guys.
In the interim, Menjivar will have to content himself with firing elbows at Albert. Despite the ups and downs of his careers in and out of the age, Menjivar possesses an unyielding optimism. The smile returns to his voice as he asks to thank some people before the interview concludes.
Thanks to Firas and all the Tristar team. Thanks to my family and thanks to the fans. Because of you we can have a career. Have fun, and don’t drink too much during the fights. That’s important.
Follow Ivan on Twitter: @IvanMenjivar
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