It’s Jan. 25, 2002 in Quebec, Canada.

Fans gather in for a fight between two unknowns in Georges St-Pierre and Ivan Menjivar. This is St-Pierre’s first professional fight and just the fifth time Menjivar has taken the ring. The sport of mixed martial arts is on a slow but steady turn as the world is ignorant to its inherent excitement and flashiness. But that is all about to change.

St-Pierre and Menjivar circle the ring and exchange strikes as neither fighter holds the advantage early in the fight. After a short stint on the ground, both fighters return to their fight. Menjivar slips to the ground as St-Pierre pounces on him like a lion on red meat. After a few strikes, the referree stops the fight and declares St-Pierre the winner.

Menjivar (L) delivers a kick (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

It was one of the most premature stoppages the sport had seen up until that point in time. One that would cause an uproar in today’s Octagon. Nonetheless, it was Menjivar’s first professional defeat and one he’ll remember forever.

“That was such a close fight,” Menjivar recalled in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “It was a bad decision by the referee to stop the fight.  But you know what, it happens in the sport. Referees make bad decisions even today. I wanted to continue to fight, but things like that happen.”

“Look at Georges St-Pierre now, he’s a superstar,” Menjivar added. “It’s funny because now we train together. We’ve helped and pushed one another. I’ve learned so much training beside Georges.”

Over 20 fights later, Menjivar has finally found his home in the UFC, where he’s won three consecutive fights including a ‘Submission of the Night’ victory over John Albert at UFC on Fuel TV 1. Following Menjivar’s third straight win inside the Octagon, it was announced that he would be taking on rising star Renan Barao for a chance to move one step closer to his much desired title shot.

Unfortunately for Menjivar, Barao was bounced from the bout due to a Dominick Cruz injury that left an opening for Barao to meet Urijah Faber for the bantamweight interim title. Menjivar’s new opponent will be Mike “The Hulk” Easton, who’s also no stranger to winning ways.

Menjivar was left with a decision to make—either be disgusted with his bump down or prepare even harder.

Menjivar celebrates victory (Jeremy Botter/Heavy MMA)

“I wasn’t too disappointed because I’ve learned that it’s part of the business. Sometimes you have opponent change one week or one month before a fight. In rare cases, you’ll have an opponent change the same day of a fight,” said Menjivar. “It’s our job to be ready for what’s thrown our way.

“A fighter needs to be ready for anyone and anything. The UFC tries to make everyone happy, and it was a professional move on their part. We found out in a timely manner, so it was good. The fans want to see the best fights possible and this was the best decision the UFC could have made.”

A chance at UFC gold has been a longtime dream of Menjivar’s. While he certainly wouldn’t blink at a shot at the throne, he knows it’s a long and steady path to the top.

“I want to live in the moment. Some people don’t even consider me a top-10 bantamweight right now.  So, my first step is to get in the top 10 and worry about the title shot later. It’s one fight at a time for me,” said Menjivar.

“I’ll worry about the future when it gets here.”

Top Photo: Ivan Menjivar (R) battles Nick Pace at UFC 133 (Jeremy Botter/Heavy MMA)