A screenwriter couldn’t set up Matt Manzanares’ title fight any sweeter: a hard-working family man earns the opportunity to fight for a promotion’s vacant title in his hometown. In fact, if it came from a screenwriter, people might dismiss it as too contrived. But this is exactly the situation Manzanares finds himself in.

Manzanares was born and raised in Cheyenne, Wyo., and started boxing when he was only eight years old. He won numerous competitions and championships throughout his childhood and youth, dedicating himself to perfecting that craft and competing in the Junior Olympics against some of the best in the nation. With almost 100 amateur boxing bouts under his belt, he decided to take his time to hone the craft of MMA. His pro record, which stands at 6-2, just doesn’t do his backstory justice. He fought 17 amateur bouts before going pro, taking that time to work on his wrestling and ground game.

Manzanares (R) (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

Manzanares (R) (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

In a world where shortcuts are king (say it in the movie guy voice—do it), Matt Manzanares takes the high road. He works full-time at the highway department making signs to put food on the table for his wife, two daughters and nephew. He takes no shortcuts when it comes to training. He trains with Black Dragon Martial Arts in Cheyenne and drives down to Greeley, Colo., a few days a week to train with Team Wildman.

“It’s really good getting the best of both gyms. Thomas Denny, head coach at Wildman, is really good. He’s been putting me through it. I need a coach who is there for me 24/7, looking out for me, making sure that I am able to reach my full potential,” Manzanares bragged in an interview with The MMA Corner. “And then, with Jerry Davis at Black Dragon, which is where I started, I still train a half a week there. He is good, too. He looks after me, in the gym and in personal life. He’s a really good person and has always been there for me.”

Each time a fighter steps into the ring, he or she needs to be better than they were before. It’s a constant evolution, and if you’re not keeping up, you’ll soon be extinct. Manzanares is a boxer, to be sure, but he’s got a mean ground game, too.

“In this sport, you’ve got to improve in all areas,” he explained. “I’ve got to make sure my wrestling is up to par with my striking, and the variety of coaches and training partners that I’ve got allows me to do that.”

It’s just like a hero to give credit to his coaches, mentors and family.

“I work hard for what we’ve got and I am grateful. This is my passion. My wife told me when I first started [training MMA] that if I was going to do it I had to give it 100 percent. And if I did, she would back me up. And she is true to her word. Each camp, I get better. And each time, I am gone longer. To be a full-time fighter it takes real commitment, and I will do what it takes to do it,” stressed Manzanares.

A hero usually hits rock bottom right before his greatest achievement. Manzanares’ last fight didn’t go his way. He lost a hard-fought battle to Zach Makovsky, who used the win as a springboard to the UFC. It was pretty evident to those watching this flyweight title fight for the RFA that the stakes were high and that the winner would likely vacate the belt to perform inside the Octagon. Now, it’s time for Manzanares to earn his chance versus hard-hitting Brazilian Junior Maranhao, a last-minute replacement for Leandro Higo, who had visa issues.

Manzanares (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Manzanares (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

“There are very little changes to my game plan. Style-wise, he has traditional Muay Thai [and] really good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the same as the other guy. But this guy is a lot taller and lankier, and that will make it harder for me to get in my range. Still, my game plan is simple: work inside, push the pace and capitalize when he makes mistakes,” Manzanares said. “He is taking this fight with a two-week notice. I’ve had more time to prepare, and at higher elevations. He is in shape and going to bring it. I know he is going to try to push early on and finish in the first couple of rounds. He doesn’t want to go to the third round or beyond with me.

“I am going to find my timing and my rhythm and score the knockout. Whether it’s the first or second round or it goes into the third, fourth or the last seconds of the fifth round, I am going to finish it.”

Every great action hero has a reason for doing what he does. James Bond got to save the day and the damsel, John McClane just wanted to free the hostages while only blowing a few things up and Neo needed to save the world (or what we thought was the world). Manzanares wants to make the world better for his daughters by teaching them by example what it means to sacrifice for the thing you love and to demonstrate to them that no matter how lofty the goal that, with the right kind of hard work, they can make their dreams come true. This is why Manzanares works so hard. He wants to be the living embodiment of “Hard Work Pays Off” in the hopes that his girls won’t have to work so hard to make it. But he wants them to realize that anything worth doing is worth the sacrifice.

And this is why the hometown crowd will be in Manzanares’ corner when it’s time for him to earn the title that eluded him before. Whoever wins the bout will win the belt and the battle, but both men will win our respect.

Matt would like to thank God, his coaches—Thomas Denny, Jerry Davis, and Danny Richards—and his teammates. He’d like to thank his sponsors: Smart Sports Medicine Center, Gamma Labs, Eliminate Brand, 307 Muscle, Brawlin Combat Gear, Onnit Labs, MMA Overload and Ammo 2 Go. He would also very much like to thank his family and friends. Follow Manzanares on Twitter: @ManzanaresMMA

About The Author

Staff Writer

Amber currently resides in Tampa, Fla., a hotbed of MMA. She was introduced to the sport Memorial Day weekend in 2006 and quickly became addicted. Amber loves the fact that the biggest and strongest don’t always win, the respect the competitors show and that women are finally getting their shot. She also writes a blog for Fight It Out gear. When not watching MMA, Amber can be found at the beach playing volleyball, in the gym learning from Tampa’s only female BJJ Black Belt, cheering on her eight-year-old daughter in tae kwon do, or at her day job. She has a girlfriend, daughter, too many dogs and a cat who lives in the attic. Communication highly encouraged at amber at fightitout dot com.