MONTREAL — Nine months ago, Ivan Menjivar was on a roll.
The Salvadoran-born Canadian bantamweight was riding a three-fight win streak, unbeaten since joining the UFC for his second stint and first since a one-and-done in 2004 when he lost to welterweight Matt Serra.
As a result of his string of wins — a complete trifecta with one submission, one knockout and one hard-fought decision — he was placed in a matchup against the fast-rising unbeaten Renan Barao at July’s summer showcase card, UFC 148 in Las Vegas. With the organization’s 135-pound class still relatively new, at least compared to its more established divisions, it was quite conceivable that the winner would get a title shot — or at the very least, a No. 1 contender’s bout.
However, an injury to champion Dominick Cruz left his main event challenger Urijah Faber in need of a new opponent, so the UFC pulled Barao and promoted him into an interim title bout against the former WEC featherweight champion Faber at UFC 149 in Calgary. Instead, Menjivar got Mike Easton, who was on seven-fight win streak.
The changes worked out quite well for Barao, who got a belt wrapped around his waist with a methodical five-round defeat of Faber. Menjivar didn’t have as much fortune as he was outpointed by his late replacement.
But Menjivar wasn’t about to make any excuses for his loss.
“Nothing (in particular) affected (my performance against Easton), that’s part of the sport,” said the humble Canadian. “I have a lot of experience in MMA. Sometimes it happens that they change your opponent the day before the fight — sometimes the day of the weigh-ins –so you have to prepare for that.”
Considering how close Menjivar had gotten to a chance at championship glory — and how Barao was able to claim it in such quick fashion– one might have thought the 30-year-old Menjivar may be dwelling on the missed opportunity. Not so.
“No, not really, opportunities come all the time,” Menjivar said. “When a door closes, another one opens. That happens, I lost the fight. The only thing I have to say is, when you lose a fight, you just go back to the gym and get better.”
Despite the setback, he “definitely” still has it in his plans to go after the title. The bantamweight division, which was only added at the beginning of 2011, is not as deep as some others, so Menjivar (24-9) thinks getting back into contention is well within his reach.
The Tristar fighter and Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt’s task will begin with Saturday with a matchup against newcomer Azamat Gashimov (10-1). It must be strange going from a matchup against a guy who is now an interim champion to a guy who is making his UFC debut.
But you won’t hear any complaints from Menjivar.
“Right now the sport is so big, there are so many fighters, so it’s hard for us. So when they say, ‘Can you fight this guy?’ You have to say yes now,” said Menjivar, who likes to look on the bright side. “I’m lucky today to fight three times this year, because sometimes it’s hard.”
Watch Menjivar’s fight as part of the two hours of early preliminary fights streamed live on Sportsnet.ca Saturday starting at 6 p.m. ET. Then catch the UFC 154 televised undercard on Sportsnet starting at 8 p.m. ET. There is also an hour-long preview show at 7 p.m. ET.
As far as the matchup goes, Menjivar’s guess is as good as any who haven’t seen much of the 22-year-old Russian, who fights out of Fairfield, N.J.
“He’s a new guy for me, a new guy for everybody,” Menjivar said. “It’s important for me to not let him work.”
One thing Menjivar will certainly have on his side is the hometown crowd. But apart from that, he doesn’t really see it as huge advantage.
“It’s okay, the only good thing is I’m close to my family,” Menjivar said. “It’s not a big difference. I’m living here, but when people love you, win or lose, they still love you.”
You can bet the people will love to see him win again, so he can get started on another potential run at the bantamweight title.