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UFC 129: Ivan Menjivar ready to put his name in the history books against Charlie Valencia

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If you're a newer fan to the sport, perhaps you don't recognize Ivan Menjivar, and you'd have good reason.

"The Pride of El Salvador" at one point took on some of the greatest fighters in the world, including former UFC and WEC champions Georges St. Pierre, Urijah Faber and Matt Serra but he walked away from the sport at just 24 years old after suffering a bad knee injury during a 2006 split decision loss to Bart Palaszewski in the IFL.

The Canadian transplant returned to MMA in 2010 with a first round submission of Aaron Miller and was immediately invited to participate in the final WEC event ever against tough British bantamweight Brad Pickett

His bout with Pickett was one of 2010's best with both men throwing caution to the wind and trading knockdowns, aggressively going for the finish. Unfortunately, their fight was completely overshadowed by the incredible Pettis-Henderson match at the end of the evening.

Ivan will make his UFC debut this Saturday night against Charlie Valencia on the UFC 129 undercard and he's very excited to fight in front of his adopted country's fans.

"I'm from Montreal in Quebec, Canada and I've lived here for a long, long time. I'm a Canadian citizen so I'm really happy to fight for Canada and I'm happy to go to Toronto because it's the first major MMA show that's legal. It's a big step for the sport here in Canada. Montreal is a big place for MMA and Toronto can be even bigger so that's really good for us, the athletes in Canada, to go and fight. It's a new market for us. More shows, more people and I'm really happy, really excited."

While many would be intimidated by the size of the 55,000 crowd, Menjivar has been there before.

"I'm not scared. When I made fights in Japan, I really enjoyed that. It was really fun to go there for those people. You feel like people love you and I'm not stressed from the people. I'm really happy about that but I really want to go there and make a good show, make a good fight and at the same time, we'll be doing history right now. UFC in Toronto is major history in Canada. I can put my name in history for that day."

The veteran fighter trains out of the vaunted Tristar gym in Montreal and he had plenty of great things to say about head trainer Firas Zahabi.

"Firas is a genius. Sometimes when he takes the time to prepare for the fight, he studies the opponent. Last time we didn't get to work as much but this time we started doing the preparations together. I can say that he's good. He's training us and preparing us in a good way. He's one of the best MMA coaches in the world right now."

Ivan always wasn't afraid to spoil a bit of his gameplan for his upcoming opponent, veteran wrestler Charlie Valencia.

"To beat Charlie, I need to go back to wrestling because in my last fight I didn't. Next fight I want to go back to wrestling. I also really worked my boxing again and Muay Thai. I don't want to be on my back. I want to be on top. I also want to be faster and the first to the punch. I need to be faster in the cage compared to Valencia."

Menjivar has taken an incredible journey to becoming a mixed martial artist. When he was 11, his family moved to Canada after violence and civil war erupted in his native El Salvador. Early in his youth, he had to struggle with temptations of the streets, but that's what thankfully led him to our wonderful sport.

"When I was 16, I tried to be a member of a street gang, a latino street gang. At the same time I started doing martial arts in a little school. When I started joining the people in the gang on the street, this guy decided to make me fight against three or four guys. I said yes and three guys in front of me and they tried to punch me but I had about six months of training in martial arts and I started punching, I started kicking and giving head butts, kicks to the groin, everything and they say 'Oh, Menjivar, you're so good! You'll be good for us. You're a member of the gang.' After that though, they never talked to me because I was the only one who had fought back and punched them. I realized I was stronger than that and I decided to focus on my studies and my school and MMA and I'm very happy that things happened like that. MMA became my new family."

When Ivan first began fighting, there were no smaller weight classes. Despite presently fighting in the bantamweight division, he was lucky to find a fight at 155 lbs. In just his fifth professional bout, despite being dwarfed in size, he gave future pound-for-pound great Georges St. Pierre all he could handle for five full minutes. Menjivar's gritty performance actually convinced St. Pierre to add wrestling to his arsenal and he trains with Ivan to this day.

One thing you'll never see out of Ivan is disrespect. "The Pride of El Salvador" is one of the most humble fighters on the planet and he would never talk trash about an opponent.

"The fans love stuff like that (trash talk) but it's not natural to me to get up face to face with a guy and touch his nose to my nose. It's not me. For me I want to go there, be professional, have a good show with you. After the fight we can go hang out together, get a drink together. I don't fight you because I hate you, no. I fight because I'm a professional. Fighting is a beautiful art. If you want a show, I do my show in the fight, spinning kicks and back elbows, that's my show. My opponents have a family like me. They do the sport because they love the sport, just like me. We do it for the same reasons so I respect them just like I want them to respect me."

Menjivar is a busy man. On top of training as a professional mixed martial artist, he puts in 40 hours a week working airport security. There's no one I'd rather have protecting my safety in the skies than a tough mixed martial artist. 

The adopted Canadian is very goal-oriented and he's got his 2011 already laid out in front of him.

"My first goal is to win my next fight. It's really important. Second goal is to continue fighting for UFC at 135 and get in shape. Maybe by the end of this year, I want to be in the top 10 again and fighting the top guys. I think it's realistic and I think I can do it. I also at one point want to visit El Salvador and be a role model and teach them."

The 28 year old bantamweight has a very refreshing outlook on the sport and he'll bring the perfect mind-set to his fight on Saturday night.

"To be honest. I want to enjoy this fight like it could be my last fight. That's why I want to prepare and be the best of me in every fight now.Right now my knee is great. Everything is good and I'm in perfect shape but anything can change. I want to enjoy the moment and I want to say after the fight that I'm happy. We are lucky to do the sport on this level. I'm thankful to the UFC for giving me a second chance and I don't want to miss it."

For the full audio of my nearly 50 minute interview with Ivan, click here. Menjivar begins at about the 27 minute mark.

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