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Wednesday, 05/16/2012, 03:04 pm

Exclusive | Gilbert Melendez on Strikeforce, UFC, Diaz, BJ Penn, and more | MMA NEWS


Gilbert Melendez is one of the few fighters to fight outside of the UFC and still garner the respect of a champion in their organization. Melendez is the current Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, and currently scheduled to rematch Josh Thomson on May 19, 2012. Melendez once seemed bitter about losing the opportunity to jump to the UFC when Zuffa purchased Strikeforce. His outlook on the situation has changed a lot over the past year, but not his desire to be on top.

“The goal is to be number one and the only way to do that is in the UFC. Right now it’s going to be a hold off because I have some more fights on my contract, which means I will be in Strikeforce for probably at least another year. After this fight, there will have to be more for me. I’m prepared for that”.

The majority of the reason Melendez is not currently in the UFC is his value to both Showtime and Strikeforce. It’s easy to sell tickets when you have arguably the best lightweight fighter on the planet stepping in the cage for you. Gilbert feels like it’s an honor more than anything.

“Them having the confidence in who I am and what I bring to the table, that makes me feel good. I love Showtime, and I love Strikeforce a lot. I’ve been a part of them for a while and I do call it home. They’ve been nothing, but good to me, and I’m up for building the organization. I’m happy about that. I want people to understand that I’m not bitter about where I’m at. The money is good and that is not an issue”..

Perhaps one of the best MMA post-fight shout-outs occurred after the main event of UFC on FOX 3. Nate Diaz had just defeated Jim Miller, and instead of marketing himself he proclaimed that Melendez was the true number one lightweight on the planet. Melendez was watching at home and was genuinely shocked.

“I was at home with my fiance and my daughter, and Nate I talk about this a lot. When I watch Nate fight, or Nick and Jake fight – I’m at home alone or with very few people. I don’t like too many people around me because it’s a real intense moment. We all go through this together. My initial reaction was that we smiled and laughed. I couldn’t help, but be touched. The biggest day in Nate’s life, with millions of people watching on FOX, and he gives me the biggest shout-out ever. It felt great and it shows what kind of guy he is. His biggest day and he shared it with the whole team”.

Josh Thomson told BJpenn.com earlier this month that he believed his rubber match with Melendez was inevitable. Gilbert did not necessarily feel the same.

“You know what at a time I did and then later I thought I was moving forward. I was up and down with it and thought it was a possibility. I think he thought of it more and I was looking ahead. I’m trying to improve my stock and try to fight guys that are ranked higher. There are guys who are probably easier to beat than Josh that are ranked higher that I could fight. I was looking that way, a business way, and I was trying to get a bigger fight. When it happened I wasn’t too surprised and I was okay with it. It wasn’t something in the back of my mind and I just wasn’t sure it would happen. More so, I didn’t think it would happen when we got purchased by Zuffa, but it does make sense now looking at where we’re at”.

Thomson also told BJpenn.com in an earlier interview that he thought Melendez’s fighting style had changed significantly, but again Gilbert did not necessarily feel the same about him.

“Josh is not too much different than the last time. He’s a little savvier in his jiu jitsu, and I think his kicks are more important to him now. He’s going to be throwing a lot more of those. Still, I don’t see it. I don’t see anything different really with him, but I know I definitely am.”

The first fight saw Josh able to pick Melendez apart and take him down when he needed to. Although he wasn’t able to do that in their second fight, Josh believes he will be able to in this one. Melendez feels he has changed enough to ensure a more decisive victory than his win over Thomson in their second bout.

“I mean it was basically old school MMA back then when Josh and (Mitsuhiro) Ishida beat me. It was ‘meet in the middle and see who was tougher’ type of fighting back then. Now we have a big cage where you can circle and stick and move. You can win on points like boxing and I was a victim of the system back then. Josh stuck and moved, and took me down, and scored his points. So I had to reinvent myself as a fighter. I had to be smooth, and be more intelligent, and learn to deal with that type of fighter. Point fighters were my kryptonite at the time. I’m a different type of fighter with a bigger toolbox of skills. I take that center of the cage now and I own it”.

After fighting each other twice one would expect the pair to be friendly with each other. Many fighters admit that after fighting opponents they respect them more, and in some cases even become friends. Gilbert says there is a time for that, but it is not now.

“I would say you can’t respect the guy after we’ve been through so much together. He’s the guy if I talk to him too much I will like him so much more. I would say I respect the guy a lot and we’re going to be better friends in the future. As of now it’s a complete conflict of interest. He’s the type of guy who can be a friend and fight. I’m the type of guy who doesn’t build that kind of relationship. If the guy I’m friends with beats me it doesn’t change the fact that it still affects my paycheck. If I beat him my paycheck’s better. I don’t know how bad he needs it, but I have a family and I want to take care of them”.

The MMA community was buzzing when Dana White mentioned Melendez potentially facing former UFC Lightweight and Welterweight Champion BJ Penn. Gilbert was just as excited at the opportunity even though it never came to pass.

“It was something we were pushing for and it was out there. There were some words about it and I heard them say they were trying to ask it of BJ. It was never delivered on paper. There were just mumbles of it and nothing where they could say that they almost had it as a done deal. I really don’t know the whole situation, and I put it out there that I would love to fight the guy. I have nothing but respect for BJ and it would be a great opportunity to test myself if I fought him”.

Melendez made it clear he wants to end up in the UFC, but he is happy where he is – for now. The lightweight scene in Strikeforce is thin, and it is obvious a true challenger to Gilbert’s throne may take a while to appear. Melendez did not disagree.

“I mean there’s some guys coming up. I don’t know if they can catch me because I’m ahead of the game and training twice a day. There are guys like Ryan Couture coming up who I’m impressed with. Pat Healy and Couture, I am really impressed with those guys. Other than that JZ and Thomson have been around for a while. I don’t see too much talent coming this way because I think they are all headed to the UFC. There are some tough guys here and you definitely can’t take them lightly. Thomson is no walk in the park. None of these guys are. I still don’t see many guys out there. Ryan Couture did impress me with his last performance. He impressed me a lot and I think he’s on to something. Besides those guys I mentioned everyone else is in the UFC”.

Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez faces Josh Thomson on MAY 19, 2012.

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