For Pietro Menga, by all accounts, his first shot at a UFC contract couldn’t have come at a worse time. The 12-0 flyweight top-prospect had been expecting a call from the world’s largest MMA promotion for more than a year, following a 41 second KO of Spencer Hewitt back in 2016. But the phone hadn’t been ringing – at least not with Mick Maynard or Sean Shelby on the other end of it – so Menga began looking for other opportunities.
Principal among them was the upcoming season of the Ultimate Fighter, featuring only unbeaten talent. The only problem? They were casting featherweights and lightweights, two & three full divisions above him, respectively. Still, Menga decided to bulk up and give it a run; any path he could find to get into the UFC.
“I didn’t think the UFC flyweight break was gonna come,” Menga admitted in a recent interview with Bloody Elbow, “it just looked like they’d put a halt to the division. So I was like, ‘You know what? My motto is I’ll find a way or I’ll make one.’ I was like, ‘Look, I’m gonna take it by the scruff of the neck, jump in the deep end, and see how I fair.’ At a big disadvantage, but I’m gonna go in 100%, try and dominate and win. And if I don’t win, then at least I can show them: A fighter of my caliber, two weightclasses above... maybe I’d be a bit out of water, but I was prepared to do that. I was prepared to put it on the line, just to show them that I am a force in the flyweight division.
“It’s quite ironic that the one offer I’d been waiting for for the last 18 months came a month after I’d started to climb up to 155. I was really kicking myself after. But, you know, these things happen in life and they’re there to test you. Your character is built and defined by how you comeback and move forward from stuff like this. I think it was the most unlucky set of events I’ve faced in my life, those two months. It was crazy.”
That offer he’d been waiting for was a chance to fight Tim Elliott at UFC on FOX 26, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Normally the flyweight cut is no problem for the Salford-born fighter, but he was nowhere near his regular pre-camp weight this time, having bulked up for TUF. Eventually doctors would end up pulling him from the card, as his struggle to make it back down to 125 lbs became a threat to his health. He hoped Elliott would take a catchweight bout, but no such luck.
And with his debut fight cancelled – largely due to self-created circumstances – his UFC contract went out the window as well. For some fighters, that may have signaled the end of their hopes for a run in the promotion. However, Menga sounds confident that a second shot in the UFC may be just around the corner.
“The door has most definitely been left open,” Menga said of the chances of a quick return to the UFC. “I’m on really good terms with the UFC. My managers are always in contact with the UFC and no doubt that the door is definitely still open. The last communication I had was, Mick Maynard said, ‘Look forward to working with you in the future.’ To me, that says go out, dominate, and do well and show us what you can do.
“Obviously, the unfortunate circumstances of what happened, it was my fault. I took the fight, but there was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity like that. And it’s led me to here now. And you know what, I’m so fired up at the moment to get this win and then... I’m not looking ahead of this guy, but then walk into a UFC Europe card, making my debut. Walking in, I’m going to have the biggest, smuggest smile on my face, walking in on my terms. Going in and dominating and showing what I really am about, as a fighter. With a fair preparation and a fair crack at it.”
The ‘guy’ Menga isn’t looking past is Brazilian flyweight Raymison Bruno. The 10-2 submission specialist has been working the European circuit following a 2016 jump from the Brazilian regional scene. He was one of two fights offered to Menga for his headlining slot, this weekend on Celtic Gladiator 19, in Manchester. For Menga, the choice of opponent was easy, give him the guy with the best record.
“When we got offered... we got offered two Brazilians, and I said to my coach, ‘Look, I want to fight the one with the better record,’” Menga explained. “I sent him the names and said, ‘Can you have a look? I prefer to take the guy with the better record. I think it just looks better for me, potentially.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, you know what, the guy’s legit. He looks good.’ And then he was like, ‘But, in his gi matches, his grappling matches, he looks really good. Then in his MMA matches there’s definitely holes in his game.’ And it just so happens that I’m strong in areas... I believe I’m well rounded, but I’m definitely strong in areas that he’s not so strong in, like the striking department.
“I mean, he’s a black belt and all that, but I think it’s a step up in level for him, to be honest. He’s not fought somebody with fight IQ as high as mine. He’s tough and he’s got great grappling when he gets the fight where he wants to get it, but I’m not going to roll over like that and play his game. It’s going to be a bit of a shock for him, I think, midway through that first round.”
If everything goes to plan, Menga hopes to get the UFC call once again. And, just maybe another shot at his missed bout with Tim Elliott.
“It would be nice,” Menga said of a chance to fight Elliott in his UFC debut. “I don’t know whether he’s going back to flyweight or not. I seen online that he was going up to 35. I don’t know whether he’s staying there. But that would be a nice little buildup if we do end up fighting. It takes two to create a fight, and a little bit of trash talk online, we can build it up a little bit.
“And hopefully bring a bit of hype to the flyweight division, because none of these other guys are really doing much. They’re just not doing much at all. I’d like to think a nice win and a big introduction to the UFC and I can draw some eyes and some attention to the division.“