From head to toe, Muay Thai’s Melchor Menor is one of the best at what he does. In the sport of Muay Thai, the complete fighter is something that is hard to come by. More often than not, fighters tend to neglect one or more techniques in favor of honing others in a fighting art that encompasses so many striking weapons.
28 year old Melchor Menor is, perhaps, pound -for- the most well-rounded stand-up fighting artist living on this continent. From kicks and knees to vicious elbows, to superior western boxing skills, the two-time world champion has got it all. At the peak of his game, he is prepared to cement his legacy in a sport that most Westerners have not been able to conquer.
” All I’ve been doing lately is boxing. I feel like I should become a boxer.” laughs Menor after yet another workout at The Boxing Club in San Diego, California. For the last 11 years, the West Coast has been the stomping grounds for the Filipino-born fighter, who has been taking names in the sport for more than a decade.
The time to make changes arrived when Menor crossed paths with boxing trainer Glenn Salud, who was preparing his brother, Jesus “The Hawaiian Punch” for a tune-up fight prior to a big meeting with Marco Antonio Barrera. The Boxing veteran needed a sparring partner, and Menor gladly obliged. After the two went eight rounds, the Salud brothers liked what they saw in the Muay Thai Kickboxer. Likewise, Menor thought the trainer could help improve his hand skills. “People said that I was a natural boxer, but I knew I had to get a professional trainer to get a better understanding of the mechanics behind it.” To beef up his boxing credentials even further, Menor recently hired veteran trainer Russell Mosely, cousin of ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley, to compliment the insight of Salud.
As highly as Menor is regarded here, though, he is equally, if not more, recognized for his skills as far east as Japan and Thailand, where martial arts fighting enjoys popular culture status. The appreciation for Menor overseas began in 1998 when a Japanese matchmaker visiting the States enlisted the American to match-up with All Japan lightweight champion Sudo Nobumitsu. Menor didnÕt disappoint. He swiftly took out the acclaimed fighter, scoring a first round knockout with a leg kick. Suddenly, a buzz was in the air about the Westerner, who fought as fiercely as his Asian counterparts.
The spectacular debut performance prompted the Japanese promotion Kick Union (K-U) to sign Menor to an eight fight contract. Menor went to amass a record of six wins, only one loss, and one draw.
After the deal expired, Menor returned to Japan in May of 2000, for a showdown with Japanese kickboxing hero Masato during “The Coliseum 2000” event. Before 65,000 fans inside the Tokyo Dome and millions of television viewers, courtesy of TV Tokyo, Menor making his debut at 147 lbs, ground his nose to the floor against a seemingly unstoppable force. He kept coming, but was put down three different times by leg kicks. The third knockdown brought to a stoppage. “Masato’s very relentless. That’s just his style. I thought I did well, though.” said Menor. “I fought my heart out. It’s just his leg kicks took their toll on me. I wanted to keep fighting, but my legs just said, ‘No.’ “
Regardless of the loss, a point was made. The United States, had a world-class contender who could duke it out with the best. On top of that, Menor had the fortune that night meeting the mastermind behind the grandeur of the biggest fight promotion in Japan: K-1 founder, Master Kazuyoshi Ishii. The celebrity promoter commended him for his efforts and gave him an open invitation to compete on future K-1 cards., eventually using the fighter’s talents on his K-1 Max event last December.
The noise that Menor made with his skills in the orient spilled over into Muay Thai’s birthplace, where Songchai Ratanasuban, Thailand’s most celebrated promoter, reacted by inviting the fighter to compete on the biggest Muay Thai extravaganza in the world: The King’s Birthday World Tournament.
Menor’s trip to Thailand for the 2000 bash would serve as a nostalgic return to the country where he had fought six years earlier in the National Stadium. Unfortunately, Menor came down with walking pneumonia immediately prior to his scheduled return to Thailand. Against the doctor’s orders, though, the determined and ambitious fighter packed his prescribed antibiotics and boarded the plane.
The date of the big show finally arrived after Menor had put some last minute training in the host country. According to the American fighter, the proceedings were anything but typical for a fighting event as the bouts began mid-day and ensued all the way until 4 AM the following morning. “I got there with my team at 7 o’clock, and I didn’t end up fighting until 3:15 in the morning. It was a long wait, but it was worth it,” said Menor, who did battle with a Thai native for five rounds before dropping a close split decision.
Menor’s spectacular showing won over the crowd, as they gave him a standing ovation. “During the fight, I got cut, and there was blood everywhere. I got mad and went after him even more.”
The outstanding skills Menor possesses and has worked to perfect has drawn the attention of professional fighters and trainers in the combat sport that permits fighting in all ranges, including the ground. Over the past several months, the mixed martial arts community has increasingly sought after Menor’s knowledge of the stand-up fighting game. While an arrangement to train Ken Shamrock for his UFC fight with Tito Ortiz fell through at the last minute, Menor has since been contracted to conduct Muay Thai seminars in various training facilities throughout the United States.
Upon the request of a mixed martial arts fighter, who had purchased Menor’s set of Muay Thai instructional DVDs and has longed for more of the Thai boxer’s knowledge, the director of Second Nature Kickboxing in Allentown, Pennsylvania, brought Menor out to the East Coast to boost the skills of aspiring and active fighters. The weekend long seminar was widely attended by East Coast students of the ground game, including a number of those from Renzo gracies Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training ground in Manhatten.
The sport of mixed martial arts is one that Menor respects and one that has grabbed his interest since big-time promotions like the UFC and Pride Fighting Championships have made a strong play at crossing over into the homes of main-stream America. In the meantime, he stays focused on the fundamentals that brought him to the elite status he enjoys in the striking arts and also on developing other talent in a country that lags behind it’s neighbors overseas. “I think the standard here in America, as far as Muay Thai, is nowhere near what it could be and nowhere what it is overseas in Europe and in Asia,” assessed Menor. “The reason is that, in Europe and Asia, Thai boxing is a sport. For a lot of them, it’s their life, and because it’s their life and it’s all they know and do, they take it seriously. Here in America, it’s a totally different lifestyle. We have to work, pay bills, go to school, this and that. Because of that, the benefits of getting involved in Muay Thai (competition) are so small. The fact that it does not give back to you, that is something that stops a lot of American fighters from training hard and becoming something in the sport.”
Bringing about changes in the level of fighting amongst young, American talent is something that he has an opportunity to do. “What I want to do is promote the sport here. I want to get more people involved, help others train and become champions.” Whether Menor succeeds at winning this uphill battle or not remains to be seen. Two things are for sure, though. He’s made it to the top, and there couldn’t be a better individual to lead those that want to follow in his footsteps.