Muay Thai World Champion Melchor Menor Exemplifies Forgiveness, Perseverance
At 19 years of age, Melchor Menor became a professional Muay Thai fighter. Since that time, he has secured two world champion titles. Born in 1974 in the Philippines, Menor moved to America as a young child and eventually reached the top of his sport. Gaining worldwide recognition in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and in professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), has provided this gifted athlete, and now father, great exposure to share his story of forgiveness, faith, and perseverance.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: Most kid’s dream of becoming a pro athlete, but in traditional sports like football or baseball… so what lead you in the direction of Mixed Martial Arts?
Melchor Menor: I honestly believe that I fell into this sport by accident. When I was 18 years old I went to the gym one day and was just messing around with my friend from high school who was a brown belt in karate. A professional trainer came up to me and asked if I wanted to fight. I laughed thinking, “Why didn’t you ask the[guy with the] brown belt?” After only one month of training, I was introduced to promoters and in the ring, in Las Vegas, in front of 1,500 people at Union Plaza. I remember thinking, “Is this what’s supposed to happen?” I had no clue. A lot of people in the sport of Muay Thai and kickboxing were there, a couple of movie stars were there, and for me, I was in awe of the whole thing. Next thing I know, I get walked up to the ring with no headgear, eight ounce gloves and a pair of shorts. That was my first experience as a fighter. Looking back on it I was just young, and I worked full time after high school, so fighting was my way to do something with the rest of my time after work.
RM: You won your first fight?
MM: I did by knockout. It was a unique experience. When I knocked my opponent out, I remember going to him and thanking him for being my opponent. I didn’t even know if that’s what was proper at the time, but I did it anyway. The crowd was cheering for me. I walked out of the ring and people were cheering for me and asking for my autograph. It was just so surreal going in there for the first time. I thought, “Hey this is cool, maybe I might try to do this again.” But, I wasn’t really thinking about making a career out of it. I was just going along with it as things were happening.
RM: You ultimately went on to have a career as a professional athlete gaining two world champion titles. In your opinion, what is the path that one takes to become a world champion?
MM: I think that one of the most important things a person must have is perseverance. I continued my training even when I didn’t want to train. I had injuries along the way and times of significant hardship. There were times when I couldn’t afford transportation to the training gym. Some things just hit you in life and they can deter you or put you off on the sidelines if you let them. The difference with me was that I kept coming to the gym and did my work. I saw a lot of my friends at the time stop or get swayed out of the way…I hadn’t seen them for weeks, and weeks would become months, then years. I went through the same hardships they did, but I bounced back and kept myself in the gym doing what I needed to do, preparing physically and mentally for a fight.
‘‘I believe everything that happens in the ring translates into life outside of the ring… from understanding what it means to persevere, to disciplining myself to get back up and keep going.’’
RM: What other areas in life do you find that same perseverance as important?
MM: There are a lot of things and situations that have happened in my life, that if I didn’t know how to get back up on my feet, I don’t think I’d be the same person that I am today. I believe everything that happens in the ring translates into life outside of the ring… from understanding what it means to persevere, to disciplining myself to get back up and keep going. Sometimes in life it feels like you just keep getting knocked down again and again. So then, it’s what you do with it that matters. Even the discipline that it takes to train, and then being in the mindset that you have to be in, going into the ring – going into warfare. Again, I believe that everything translates or parallels life.
RM: What were some of those personal knock down moments for you in life?
MM: One of the closest people to me betrayed me in my career. I struggled to deal with the sense of injustice and betrayal. I actually left the sport for a while. I went back to work and took some time away before I was able to return to it. There was something inside of me that just kept telling me no matter what – go back, get back in there. Here’s the ironic thing about it; I could have chosen to go back via another route, but I chose to return and confront an awkward situation and to forgive that person.
RM: So then, actually if you didn’t know how to forgive people who’ve wronged you, then you might have not had a career as a professional athlete?
MM: Yes, understanding what forgiveness means allowed me to be able to get back to what I loved doing. The experience gave me a great deal of self-realization of what I could become and who I could become. I did not get that in my upbringing with my own father. When I went back and forgave that person, I remember feeling like a huge weight was just lifted off my shoulders – it was the best feeling. He gave me a big hug and right away I went back to doing what I loved, training and working out.
RM: I notice the Bible verse reference Isaiah 12:2 is written on your shorts… what does that mean to you?
MM: When I first came to San Diego I opened a small 1,100 sq. ft. gym that had a ring and a small office. I didn’t know anyone in town. My bedroom was in the back office. I had a small refrigerator and a little microwave, and my shower was a hose at the back of the building. I literally lived there for about six months. One of my students gave me a Bible. He said, “Coach, I don’t know if you believe in God, but here is a Bible.” So, one night in October of 1996, I opened that Bible for the first time. I read the whole Gospel of Matthew that night. I remember crying because of what Jesus did for humanity and then coming to a realization of who God is and it changed my outlook on life. My faith in God is one of the foundations I hold very dear. It has allowed me the strength to endure everything that I’ve had to go through. I find myself praying all the time and thanking [God] for being there with me through difficult times and just caring for me so much!
RM: There has been significant growth in the UFC and the international sport of mixed martial arts in recent years. What are your thoughts on how the sport is perceived and why it has become so popular?
MM: In one sense, the sport is a great platform for anyone who wants to learn a martial art and to understand what it takes to get to that next level in a physical or mental way. You learn a lot about you in the journey and as a sportsman. Unfortunately, [because of] all the media attention there are people who don’t have a strong foundation and look at all of this and say, “Wow! I can be the next superstar.” That is where I think things can go wrong. I did it as a means of wanting to learn the martial arts and for bettering myself. That’s what Muay Thai meant for me.
RM: Recently, you’ve done some stuff in movies and you were on season 14 of the Ultimate Fighter show on television. Do you have any future plans for film and television?
MM: It was a unique experience. I’ve been fortunate in my career to meet the people that I have met, which led to being on a reality show and in documentaries with National Geographic and the History Channel. I got to be in a movie which is coming out this summer  starring Kevin James, playing myself as a MMA coach. These are all unique experiences and I’m thankful to have had them because it’s opened up many new opportunities.
RM: Finally, you have two young children, both boys. What kind of message do you think this sport could give to boys or young men in general?
MM: I think if someone teaches kids properly what it takes to be a professional combat fighter, not just the athleticism, but teaches them the perseverance and endurance it takes to get to the top level as a professional athlete, then I definitely believe that kids could experience tremendous personal growth through training and competition – and that is a very positive thing.