Gilbert Melendez has been one of the top MMA lightweights in the world for years.
Though he has beaten many of the top fighters of this era, few casual sports fans knew who he was.
“I could have put up a sign (at his gym) that said ‘pound-for-pound top 10, No. 2 in the world lightweight, Strikeforce champion,’ and people were like ‘What?’”
That all changed after Melendez got to fight on MMA’s biggest stage when he made his UFC debut in April. Melendez lost a controversial split decision to UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, but something else happened.
“Now I could put up a sign that said ‘0-1 in the UFC’ and everyone would be like, ‘Whoa … this guy fights in the UFC!’”
Melendez no longer is fighting in anonymity.
The former Santa Ana (Calif.) High wrestling star has another big fight when he takes on Diego Sanchez in one of the featured bouts at UFC 166 on Saturday at 7 p.m. PDT on pay-per-view in Houston.
“I think both of us have a lot of pride on the line of being more of a warrior than a winner,” Melendez said of Sanchez. “We’ll see who the better warrior is in this fight.”
Even though Melendez lost the split decision to Henderson, the former Strikeforce 155-pound champion said he gained valuable experience.
“It was all positive stuff,” Melendez said. “Besides winning the title, it was the best ‘B’ scenario for me. The majority of people think I won, 75/25 percent think I won that fight. More recognition than ever, really, nothing to be bitter about aside from not getting the scorecards in a competitive fight. It wasn’t the biggest ripoff in history. It was a close fight, I think I won it, I stand by it, but yeah.”
Melendez wants another shot at the UFC title, but the UFC hasn’t promised him anything. Josh Thomson, whom Melendez beat in two of their three fights, is getting the next shot at newly crowned UFC 155-pound champion Anthony Pettis.
“Hey, he beat me once, and the last fight was debatable as well, you know?” Melendez said of Thomson. “I’m down to fight again. If he has the title, too? At this point, I’m down and I’m feeling good about fighting anybody. I know it’s going to happen eventually. Before my career ends, it’s an inevitability.
“I think it’s leaning more towards … they (the UFC) want me to work a little harder to get that title shot again. I had my shot. People ask, ‘Are you mad about Thomson?’ I had my shot. I’ll have to work for it.”
Melendez said he isn’t so convinced his teammate, Nick Diaz, who announced his retirement after his loss to UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre in March, will stay retired.
“I think with the right opportunity, for the right thing, he’ll come out,” Melendez said. “Whether it’s boxing, whether it’s kickboxing, whether it’s whatever, some sort of challenge would be great.”
Melendez said Diaz would only be interested in fighting a big-name opponent. Michael Bisping of Orange, Calif., who is recovering from an eye injury, heard that news and offered his services.
“Well if Diaz wants a fight at 185, I would happily welcome him to the division,” Bisping wrote on Twitter.
Bisping isn’t the only one who likes the matchup. “I love that fight,” UFC president Dana White tweeted on Tuesday. …
UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos will meet for the third time in two years in the main event at UFC 166. Some experts believe Velasquez-dos Santos deserves to be considered one of the great trilogies in MMA history.
“Well definitely, that’s the way it turned out,” Velasquez said on a recent conference call. “He won the first one, I won the second one, so obviously we need a third one that kind of settles the score. But, yes, I think so. I think we’re two of the toughest guys out there in the division, you know, and it just so happens that we have to fight again so it is what it is.”
Said dos Santos: “Well, for me it’s an honor to be competing at such a high level with this guy. Cain Velasquez right now, is the champion. I think he is the guy that I have to beat in this division and I respect that a lot, and that’s why I’m training so hard here. I’m spending a lot of time at the gym, and thinking about how I can beat this guy.”