It truly is a Manchester Rocky story. After years of injuries, let-downs and hardship, the “Italian Stallion” Pietro Menga finally achieves his UFC dream in Winnipeg, Canada.
Menga (13-0), 29, will face Tim Elliot (14-8-1) on Saturday night, stepping in on short notice for Justin Scoggins who suffered a spinal process fracture.
The undefeated fighter – who trains out of ONE MMA and The MMA Academy – explained how a simple email to the UFC’s 125lb matchmaker, Mick Maynard, afforded him the opportunity of a lifetime.
“Two months ago, I emailed Mick Maynard [UFC Matchmaker] because I really wanted something, I needed a break, so I took it upon myself,” Menga told MMA Plus.
As luck would have it, that email opened the doors for him to step in for the injured Scoggins at UFC on FOX 26.
“I think it’s a Manchester Rocky story, that’s what it is,” said Menga, playing up to his “Italian Stallion” moniker. “I’m going in short notice with ridiculous weight to cut, I’ve done two training sessions, that’s it. I am going in there the underdog and I’m coming out victorious. People don’t do that, but I’m not an ordinary person.
“Italian Stallion goes right with this situation, Rocky Balboa. You know, the odds are stacked against me and I’ll go in there and I’ll prevail and I’ll come out victorious.
“On the other hand, if I would have had a ten-week training camp, the guy would not get out of the first round with me. I still don’t think he’s going to get out of it, but I can guarantee it on a ten-week training camp. It’s an opportunity that I’ve been dreaming of for a very, very long time and it’s there now.”
Pietro Menga on his aspirations to fight on The Ultimate Fighter
In true Rocky fashion, Menga clasped his opening with haste, but this wasn’t his only chance at UFC stardom. In fact, his Canadian call-up was coincidental to say the least, confirming to MMA Plus that his main focus was to audition for the ‘undefeated’ season of The Ultimate Fighter.
That would have meant a jump up to featherweight, followed by a rigorous road riddled with challenges that perhaps may not have led to him securing a UFC contract.
“I think I said to you didn’t I, something big was going on, that wasn’t this, it wasn’t Bellator, it was TUF 145 in January,” Menga explained, as he detailed his road to the UFC. “That’s what I’ve been working towards for the past couple of weeks. I’ve just kind of been preparing for flying over for [The Ultimate Fighter] trials, you know the undefeated series and then getting in the house, then winning that, that was my goal.”
Not only that, but Menga had also held talks with Bellator MMA about the potential of headlining Bellator 191 against the debuting Michael “Mayday” McDonald this Friday in Newcastle.
He went on to clarify his situation with Bellator, having found himself on the promotion’s radar after his 41-second pasting of Spencer Hewitt last July in London
“I got offered a fight for Michael McDonald, I took the fight, I don’t think he would have declined it, I think Bellator have looked and thought ‘this is a bad fight for his first fight’ and they just didn’t want to do it. So, shame on them. But blessing in disguise because now I’m sat here with a four-fight UFC contract.”
Bellator’s miscue is certainly the UFC’s gain, with Menga now set to do battle with former flyweight title challenger, Tim Elliot.
Menga set to expose Elliot and all he needs is one opportunity
Elliot may have lost his last fight, a 49-second submission to Ben Nguyen, but don’t let that slip-up fool you when it comes to the danger the ex-Titan FC champion possesses. And Menga is fully aware of this, but an opportunist only needs one chance to strike decisively.
“My fighting style is an opportunist, and that’s what I am and being an opportunist has got me to where I am today and that’s what’s going to win me this fight, he’s going to make a move, there’s going to be an opportunity, and you think, it’s too late. If you’re too late, you use your strength. If you use strength, you die,” said Menga, quoting legendary 5th-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Saulo Ribeiro, whose wise words reside on the wall of his gym, ONE MMA Academy in Salford.
He continued: “When he shows something, I’m gonna take it, that is the game plan, I can’t do a game plan on a week’s notice, that is the game plan. He makes a mistake, I’m capitalising.
“The pressure is all on my opponent, the pressure is all on him. When I beat him it’s curtains, he’s fighting for his job. Short notice, it’s just a perfect opportunity for an opportunist.”
Calls for the UFC to sign Menga date as far back as 2014, after he blasted through Steve McCombe like he was an insignificant piece of talc.
However, successive rotator cuff and ACL injuries hampered the Brit’s chances at a major MMA organisation and instead left him stranded on the sidelines as the sport continued to pass him by.
“I was ready technically, ability wise but outside of the gym, my mind and developing as a person,” he said. “I don’t think I was anywhere near as mentally conditioned and in-tune with myself as I am now. So, it’s a perfect time for it to all come together.”
As for flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson, the “Italian Stallion” gave his brutal assessment over the lack of fan attention “Mighty Mouse” commands, instead promising to reinvigorate the 125-division with his exciting style.
“There’s no stars, no personalities, there’s a wrestler, there’s a kickboxer. The champion, he has not got a great personality, he can’t sell a ticket, he probably can’t sell a ticket on the street,” he said. “So, they need these guys are going to come in, but where are they? I’ve been sat here waiting and now I’ll change the face of the division. People will tune in. I’ll catch eyes, I’ll make sure people tune in.”