On May 12th 2022, Ivan Andres Tena stood in the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.
Draped in the maroon and gold of Arizona State University, Ivan was attending the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Convocation to formally receive his Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) in Mechanical Engineering.
Upon the receipt of his diploma cover, Ivan entered the stage with a spinning kick, beating his chest twice as his name was announced aloud.
Albeit spurred by a friends’ dare, the escapade offered a fitting nod to the pursuit Ivan balanced alongside his academic studies; mixed martial arts.
Indeed, it was during his undergraduate years that Ivan launched his stellar professional mixed martial arts career.
Whilst gifted both academically and athletically, Ivan’s simultaneous commitment to both education and professional MMA, however, had a much deeper rationale than simple will.
This is Ivan’s story.
The Assurance of Opportunity
Ivan Andres Tena was born and raised in South Tucson, an enclave of the Arizonan city Tucson with a modest population of over 5000 residents.
Known as the ‘the Pueblo within a city’, approximately 84% of the local population in South Tucson is Hispanic; Ivan himself is of Mexican heritage.
“Both my parents come from Mexico” Ivan reveals.
“[They] definitely had a rough upbringing for sure” Ivan says. “So, they came to this country [America], had me and my siblings, [and] man, they just gave us all the opportunity in the world to do something great. They really didn’t have a lot – Mexico is a third world country”.
Therein lies the reason for Ivan’s ambition; gratitude.
“[It] definitely gives me a sense of wanting to do something big” Ivan admits. “Thats why I’m trying to make it to the UFC, win a world title, [went] to university, [got] a degree. [I’m] just trying to make the most out of what my parents gave me”.
Strength in Numbers
Ivan’s path to mechanical engineering originates with his innate strength and love for mathematics.
“Ever since I was a little kid, my favourite subject was always math” Ivan reveals. “I don’t know why; it always just clicked. I’d say of all the things that I’ve done in my life, that was probably my greatest natural talent”.
This affinity for mathematics ultimately paved the way for Ivan to become the first member of the Tena family to attend university; a pursuit that offered an additional string to his bow.
“When it was time to graduate high school, I said ‘Hey, I’m pretty good at this thing, y’know – I might as well just have a safety net’ because MMA was always first for me” Ivan admits. “So, I decided mechanical engineering just because it checks all the boxes; has a lot of math, [and] it’s really interesting too. I love science man. I love building things, and it just seemed perfect at the time. I definitely don’t regret it”.
The Professional Undergraduate
As a professional mixed martial artist, Ivan remained undefeated during his years at Arizona State University, amassing a 4-0 professional record.
That record includes a sensational first-round submission of talented Las Vegan Timothy Cuamba in October 2021, which remains Cuamba’s lone professional loss to date; Cuamba would later compete – and win – on Dana White’s Contender Series.
For Ivan, however, one bout stands above the rest; his March 2021 victory against Ricardo Canales.
“After the pandemic, my first fight was a local fight, and it was just kind of a closed arena” Ivan explains. “It was my second professional fight. I remember I came out, I was super nervous ‘cause I hadn’t fought in two years – just because of the pandemic. I was healthy and training and everything, [but] I was coming back super nervous”.
“I came out, and I knocked the guy out in like 10-seconds” Ivan continues. “I just remember thinking… ‘Alright, I can really do this’. I knew I was good enough in training, but after actually stepping there and fighting somebody, that’s a whole different story… To have a fight like that, it really opened my eyes, and told [me] ‘I could really just do something great in this sport’”.
Of course, the training and discipline professional MMA commands necessitates unwavering commitment in and of itself.
Factor the demands of a full-time mechanical engineering degree in tandem, and one can better understand Ivan’s remarkable character – and relentless work ethic.
“Man you really just had to sacrifice a bunch of sleep” Ivan admits. “I think I was averaging like four hours of sleep a night during that whole time period. You’ve just gotta find a way to make it work, which is really what the main thing of that degree is. It’s a lot of science, a lot of math, a lot of difficult stuff, but really what it says and what it tells people is that you can get it done. No matter what you need to do, you can find a way to get it done, and that’s what I had to do. [It] definitely was really intense [though], for sure”.
Bringing the Heat to the Valley of the Sun
18 months on from graduation, Ivan’s focus is now locked on November 17th 2023; LFA 172 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Competing against Brazilian athlete Lerryan Douglas, Ivan’s return to LFA follows his unanimous decision victory over Riley Wiseman at LFA 158, in May 2023.
Despite a convincingly dominant performance, Ivan was disappointed in what the bout offered the audience; Ivan even apologised to the crowd and camera’s at the immediate conclusion of the bout.
“That fight was so boring man” Ivan laments. “I didn’t even need to watch it to know that… [Wiseman] is a black belt right, and when I got on top of him, he just wouldn’t give me any space to work, so I was just kinda laying on him. He was the only guy I didn’t finish out of all my wins, which kinda bothers me y’know… we’re fighters, but we get paid to go out there and entertain”.
“I have an entertaining style, and I take a lot of pride in that” Ivan continues. “So, especially a guy like that I really thought I was gonna knock him out, and to not knock him out, especially [on] my [professional] LFA debut – super disappointing. It almost didn’t feel like a win. I’m definitely gonna come back, and definitely gonna knock [Lerryan Douglas] out”.
When All Is Said and Done
Ivan’s stance is absolute; the focus is now on MMA.
Living and training at The MMA Lab in Phoenix, Ivan is truly all in on furthering himself in his MMA career.
Nevertheless, with a BSE in mechanical engineering, Ivan naturally has aspirations that he intends to explore once the MMA journey concludes – whenever that day may come.
“My senior year of college, I was working with a company called Northrop Grumman” Ivan reveals. “They’re a defence company for the United States – [they] make missiles and rockets and all that. I was involved in a lot of interesting projects for them. That would definitely be something I would look into after fighting, whenever that may be”.
“That, or there’s a company in Tucson called Raytheon Missile Systems” Ivan continues. “They have a lot of cool stuff man – work for the government. That stuff is just fascinating to me. Like I said, I love building stuff, especially big projects like that, where [they’re] funded by millions of dollars. That’s like a dream to me”.
“Even when I graduated, it was kind of hard to fully commit to MMA, just because I had that option available to me” Ivan admits. “Thats definitely something I’m going to pursue after fighting, for sure”.
Regardless of what the future holds for Ivan, one thing is certain – Ivan is living the life that his parents had hoped to give him when they left Mexico. Not only has their son found opportunities, he’s flourished – and is living out his dreams.
The author extends his utmost gratitude to Ivan Andres Tena for making this article possible.
Image courtesy of Ivan Andres Tena.