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Gilbert Melendez: Are the other Top Lightweights Ready for “El Nino?”

Exclusive Interview by Marc Anthony

“I am the guy to beat. They’re not the guys to beat. It just so happens they are under the UFC banner, so they get a little bit more love because of that.” – Gilbert Melendez

Gilbert Melendez started his pro career in the WEC in 2002, beating Greg Quan by TKO in the first round. He became the first WEC Lightweight Champion in 2004 defeating Olaf Alfonso in the third round by TKO.

In 2006, he beat Clay Guida by split decision and won the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship.

In 2007, Gilbert lost to Mitsuhiro Ishida by decision, which he later avenged by stopping Ishida in 2009 by TKO strikes in the second round. He later defended his title in 2008 defeating Gabe Lemley in the second round by TKO.

On June 27, 2008, he lost his title in a back and forth battle against Josh Thomson, he later avenged his loss to Josh Thomson in December 12, 2009 by unanimous decision regaining the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship. April 17, 2010, in a highly anticipated fight against Shinya Aoki, ranked number 2 in the world at lightweight, Gilbert defeated Aoki by unanimous decision and defended his title.

MA: What is your predication between Nick Diaz vs. Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos on Jan 29th Strikeforce card?

My prediction is Nick Diaz by stand up or jiu-jitsu. He is better all around. They both don’t like to wrestle or do takedowns. Nick by whatever the heck he wants. I see it not going past three rounds. I think he is going finish him. I definitely don’t think it’s going to go five rounds.

MA: At what point has the sport of MMA become the business of MMA for you?

Well, I have reached my goals and I say about now. Now more than ever, it’s been the business for me. At a time I was number two in the world or top five in the world, number one at 145 in 2006.

In 2007, I lost a couple of fights and I had to sit back and make a decision… “Is this going to be my career or something I just did for the heck of it?” After my second loss, I decided to make it my career. It’s been my career since then. I would say since my last fight I beat the number two guy; I am top ten again and in the pound for pound list. From here on out I just want big fights and I want to get paid. Its business now I have reached my goals. I want to stay on top.

MA: You have said you want to fight Kawajiri?

Yeah Kawajiri, he took out Josh Thomson. It looks like a pretty good rematch. I beat him before, that’s one of those decisions that went real close. I am surprised I got it in Japan but I saw it and I think I deserve it. Yeah it looks like he is a good match up; I want to show everyone how much I have improved. I think he thinks it’s going be a close war again but I am pretty confident if we do five rounds I will finish him. I will put it on him. He’s the guy that I want to measure up my improvements. I know he is a real tough guy but I really think I have evolved as a fighter and I will destroy him this time.

MA: That’s your motivation to train for someone you already beat like him, to finish him off?

Yeah it’s been years. It’s a little tougher for Josh Thomson who I fought last year. But someone who I fought in New Year’s Eve 2006? It’s been enough time to show that I have grown… to come back and revisit it again. It doesn’t seem real smart to revisit Josh Thomson again; it’s not as motivating…we just fought. Maybe another two years down the road, maybe we can see it.

Right now, it doesn’t really make much sense. Kawajiri definitely does. He is up there… he has been doing really well. His only recent losses are Aoki and Eddie Alvarez (which was a battle). He has beaten JZ and a lot of tough guys… He is a great fighter.

MA: What goes through your mind as you are waiting for a decision after a fight?

I’ve been in two fights where I didn’t know who was going to win. One time, I was on the positive end…the other I was on the negative of it, where I thought I got a “W”… it’s out of my hands and if you don’t finish it you have to leave it to the judges. And the judges make their decision. There is really not much going on at that time just the waiting part… just the outcome.

MA: You are the champ and a highly ranked fighter. Why do you feel no one is calling you out?

Sometimes I take it like a compliment. Maybe the guys know they don’t match up too well. Of course, some people may think that there are better match ups for them: Big name and better match ups. I am a big name but a tough match up. It’s tough… I am vice versa, I have to fight a bunch of guys with not much of a name and they have everything to gain against t me, but that comes with being the champ. I don’t know man… honestly I don’t want to say it but I think some of these guys are scared: they don’t want it… they want the easier road.

MA: You have expressed that you feel you have cleaned out your division. How do you deal with your loyalty to Strikeforce and your desire to fight the best?

I tell you what. I think I already fought the best. And some of the best in the UFC, it’s not like those guys are anything special or more special than the guys I have already beat. It just happens they’re in the UFC which is a popular organization.

To be honest, these guys need to come fight me. Who are they to say I should go there. I have been in the sport longer than any of these guys: than Frankie Edgar…Gray Maynard. I won in Japan against fifty thousand people booing me. I have traveled; these guys have never fought internationally. I have put myself in the shittiest positions ever. For me to say I should go there and fight them? I am done with that. Those guys need to come over here and fight me. They need to fight me … period! I am the guy to beat. They’re not the guys to beat. It just so happens they are under the UFC banner, so they get a little bit more love because of that.

MA: You always get asked that right? “When are you going to the UFC?”

Yeah, I am done with that question. If I go to the UFC: I go on it and do it. I can brand myself good there but it’s just like whatever dude. I think I am number one in the world and I will prove it in Strikeforce or wherever. It’s not like the tough guys are in the UFC, it’s just that they haven’t been able to fight me because they have been in that organization. I have taken out anyone that is tough… top ten … outside of the UFC. Clay Guida is a guy out there doing really well and I smashed that guy for five…five minute rounds.

MA: Best advice any coach has ever given you?

Best advice was from my Santa Ana wrestling team… We just lived by quotes: “In it to win it” and “Break em and take em” that’s it. The things that I learned from my coaches in Santa Ana High School: discipline and hard work ethics. We have to work twice as hard. They gave me my work ethic and that translates into everything I do to this day. I have to thank my high school wrestling coaches for showing me how to work hard.

MA: Are you still in contact with them?

Oh definitely! Coach Scott Glabb from Santa Ana High School … that’s my High School right there, Glabb was the coach there. I’ve worked with Joe Gonzales and even Joe Silva a little bit in Santa Ana College: that’s what has given me my base for what I do. We started wrestling as a freshman out of high school and we had to go against kids that were wrestling since they were eight years old. When I got down to the state tournament, so we always got told to work harder… to break’em and take’em and to never give up. They made me work twice as hard, every year I had to work twice as hard so I can catch up. They taught me the mental toughness: Being down 10-2 and coming back in better shape and stronger so they helped me build my strong will.

MA: Do you feel you have reached your peak or do you have more to go?

I feel like I am getting smarter every day. Now I am just working in some other muscle categories that I feel that I am weaker and breaking it down scientifically. My diet is improving, I feel like I am more intelligent out there, at times I am in the matrix when I spar. I feel like I am getting smarter and I am playing the game a lot more, it’s not just about going in there and fighting… letting my instincts take over… It’s about creating opening and seeing what the guy is giving me. I feel like a chess match in there. To be able to do that in all that chaos is what’s tough about it and I think I am putting that together now. That comes with experience as well. I feel like I will be in my prime for the next four years. Maybe in the next two and half years I will be peaking. I can see myself fighting for a long time. My body is responding really well and I feel like a tougher fighter.

MA: Do you have nutritionist?

Just trial and error but I have my strength coach, I have people like Jake he is a vegetarian, and Nick Diaz is almost vegan. I eat pretty good and really healthy and I find what works for me but yes my strength coach helps me as well. And my girl is also a real good cook and we brainstorm what I like and keep it healthy. It’s not rocket science, chicken breasts… salads…fruits. I put a list of things that I love and you put the things that are not good for you and you put those to the side. I do have a doctor who will measure were I lack vitamins or where I am low, that helps me with my diet. I have a really good team behind me and more so now.

MA: When does your episode Fighting Words with Mike Straka on HDNET air?

I don’t know. They said sometime in February but they didn’t give me the exact time. I had a great time with him and I thought we flowed really well. He had some good questions.

MA: Final words?

Yeah a shout out to my fans for supporting me, everyone in Santa Ana, everyone in San Francisco…everyone in California and to all my sponsors… All right take it easy.

(Lead Interviewers Note: I would like to give a special thanks to  Eduardo Vargas for helping to set up this interview.)

Gilbert Melendez
Nickname: “El Nino”
Division: Lightweight
Professional Record: 20- 2-0, (11 Knockouts) (1 Submission)

Win Shinya Aoki Decision (Unanimous) 2010-04-17 Round 5 5:00 Nashville, Tennessee Defended the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship

Win Josh Thomson Decision (Unanimous) 2009-12-19 Round 5 5:00 San Jose, California, Won and Unified Strikeforce Lightweight Championship
Win Mitsuhiro Ishida TKO (Punches) 2009-08-15 Round 3 3:56 San Jose, California Defended the Strikeforce Interim Lightweight Championship
Win Rodrigo Damm KO (Punches) 2009-04-11 Round 2 2:02 San Jose, California Won the Strikeforce Interim Lightweight Championship

Loss Josh Thomson Decision (Unanimous) 2008-06-27 Round 5 5:00 San Jose, California Lost the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship
Win Gabe Lemley TKO (Punches) 2008-03-29 Round 2 2:18 San Jose, California, Defended the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship

Loss Mitsuhiro Ishida Decision (Unanimous) 2007-12-31 Round 2 5:00 Saitama, Japan
Win Tetsuji Kato Decision (Unanimous) 2007-09-29 Round 3 5:00 Beverly Hills, California

Win Tatsuya Kawajiri Decision (Unanimous) 2006-12-31 Round 2 5:00 Saitama, Japan
Win Nobuhiro Obiya Decision (Unanimous) 2006-08-26 Round 2 5:00 Nagoya, Japan
Win Clay Guida Decision (Split) 2006-06-09 Round 5 5:00 San Jose, California Won Strikeforce Lightweight Championship
Win Harris Sarmiento Submission (Strikes) 2006-03-10 Round 2 0:44 San Jose, California,

Win Rumina Sato TKO (Cut) 2005-08-20 Round 1 1:32 Yokohama, Japan
Win Naoya Uematsu TKO (Cut) 2005-08-20 Round 2 4:30 Lemoore, California,

Win Hiroyuki Takaya Decision (Unanimous) 2004-12-14 Round 3 5:00 Tokyo, Japan
Win Kaynan Kaku TKO (Punches) 2004-11-20 Round 2 3:58 Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
Win Olaf Alfonso TKO (Punches) 2004-05-21 Round 3 4:54 Lemoore, California, Became first WEC Lightweight Champion

Win Stephen Palling TKO (Punches) 2003-10-10 Round 2 4:59 Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
Win Jeff Hougland TKO (Punches) 2003-03-27 Round 2 2:05 Lemoore, California,

Win Greg Quan TKO (Punches) 2002-10-18 Round 1 4:37 Lemoore, California,

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