Four years is an incredibly long time for a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter.
That's nearly how long Ivan Menjivar, "The Pride of El Salvador" stepped away from fighting back in 2006. At the time, Menjivar was highly regarded as one of the most entertaining and willing fighters in the world, but then life got in the way.
It started with a horrific knee injury, and then a pair of beautiful kids. At the time, the Canadian transplant wasn't sure he'd ever even want to come back.
But then the Octagon started calling to him.
With the debut of the UFC bantamweight division, Menjivar finally had a home. He no longer had to do crazy things like fight Georges St. Pierre at a 175 pound catchweight or former champion Matt Serra at 155 pounds in his lone prior UFC bout.
Since returning to the UFC, Menjivar has gone 3-0 and most recently scored a "Submission of the Night" bonus against John Albert at UFC on Fuel TV. After briefly being considered as Urijah Faber's UFC 149 opponent for the interim title, the Tristar product will instead be taking on Mike Easton this Saturday night in the opening bout of the UFC 148 main card.
Menjivar spoke to MMAmania.com in part one of this exclusive interview about the wolverine claws he debuted at the weigh-ins, why he channeled his "inner Sakuraba" in his last fight and how losing his airport security job may have helped put him into contention.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is there an origin story behind the Wolverine claws at the weigh-ins?
Ivan Menjivar: That was special. Sometimes I see weigh-ins are boring and I just think like that and I find it on internet and I'm, "Oh, I'll come out like that." It can be good for the weigh-ins and I keep it in my locker. They're good, they're really sharp (laughs).
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Will you be bringing them out this week too?
Ivan Menjivar: Maybe, I don't know.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're opponent, he calls himself "The Hulk," and you're out there with the Wolverine claws. It's a battle of the superheros right?
Ivan Menjivar: (laughs) That would be funny to do that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): More about what's been going on with you, the last time I spoke to you, it was before you made your UFC debut and you were saying that your big goal was to be a top 10 fighters. Now the UFC was considering you for an actual interim title shot recently, so that has to mean that you're top 10 now, right?
Ivan Menjivar: No, no. If I had a chance to go for that belt, I'm going to take it. I don't know if I'm in top 10 right now. For now, I'm just going to take it one fight at a time. You never know what's going to come after this fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I heard before your last fight, you actually lost your security job at the airport, right?
Ivan Menjivar: Yes, it happened in November. It took me like two months just to feel happy again. It's not easy losing a job just like that for no reason and people are losing their jobs all over there. That's in the past now, and that happens. Something bad happens and then something good comes after. I'm okay right now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'm worried about the safety of that airport now. They just laid off a cagefighter!
Ivan Menjivar: (laughs) Don't be scared!
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That next fight, you went and you won the $50,000 "Submission of the Night" bonus, that had to make up for everything, right?
Ivan Menjivar: That was a really good gift. Winning Submission of the Night, even if it was the only submission of that show, that was really good for me. You know how it happens a lot where you lose a job, you've got kids and family, but everything seems to work out. My preparation and everything, winning that prize is really good so I can put myself into training and not have to be working and training really hard too.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were working a full-time job and training at the same time. Now that you have that prize money and now that you're not working the extra job, do you feel a difference in your training, perhaps able to put more into your training now?
Ivan Menjivar: Oh yes. Honestly, it's different because you have the time to rest, you have the time to get extra training and it's completely different. You have time.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): And more time with your family as well, right?
Yes, yes. After training, I can come home and do stuff with the kids and play and not think about training. It's relaxing.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Before your last fight, I read that you actually injured your rib really badly. What was going through your head that made you not want to pull out? Was it a respect thing for the UFC or did you just think that you could pull it off?
Ivan Menjivar: Yes, 10 days before the fight. Well one, it was respect for the show because I said I would fight. Two, the money. Three, it was a good challenge to go there with that injury and at the same time, he was a tough opponent but at the same time, we're martial artists and if we have an injury, we're fighting anyways. I say, "Let's go, let's try it and if something is broken after, then it happens."
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): During that fight, John Albert actually hit you in that spot, right? Isn't that what initially hurt you?
Ivan Menjivar: Oh yes, it was hurting so bad. That's part of the sport though, part of the sport.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I remember you saying you 'channeled your inner Sakuraba' to come back and win the fight. Is he like a hero to you, one of your favorite all-time fighters?
Ivan Menjivar: Yes, but I love all the fighters. All the fighters are special in their own way. We are all artists. When we are in the ring or the cage, that's where we express ourselves and our art like a dancer. If you watch "So You Think You Can Dance?" they can dance, someone has something special to show and I think us, we are the same way. We are athletes and at the same time we are artists because we fight differently. Each fighter has a different style and Sakuraba, everyone recognizes him for who he is and the way he fights. Many other guys have different styles and I enjoy.
What happened in that fight was, I was on my knees and I was thinking, "What happened here? Which fighter has the most been in this kind of position? I just had a flash in my head of Sakuraba fighting against many guys in that position and then taking advantage afterwards. I have many fights and I just was patient, waited him out and made my comeback.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Did you ever meet Sakuraba, like when you fought in Japan back in 2006?
Ivan Menjivar: I meet him. He didn't speak much English but I took a picture with him and said, "Hi, how are you?" and I think what he accomplished is amazing. I got a chance to meet many fighters over there like Funaki, Takada, Genki Sudo and many more great Japanese.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now, back to your training at Tristar, it seems like a lot of big things are going on over there with Rory MacDonald and B.J. Penn, Georges St. Pierre is about to come back and Rick Hawn just won the Bellator lightweight tournament. Do you feel like your team has a ton of momentum right now?
Ivan Menjivar: It's a good moment for us in the gym. What we want is to continue training hard and help each other. Even now, we still go out and help the beginners, new fighters and we have many good young fighters who train hard with us. It's a good challenge for me and we're training good. The spirits are good, Firas Zahabi is doing good and we have good communication trying to help each other. We're gonna try to steadily, steadily continue that way and become better martial artists. That's better for us, to just keep developing and get better and more confident.
You can follow Ivan Menjivar on Twitter @IvanMenjivar.
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow where Menjivar talks about having no regrets, the injury that ended up sidelining him for four years and dealing with his upcoming opponent Mike Easton.