UFC lightweight contender Gilbert Melendez says there’s no added pressure to win heading into his UFC on Fox 7 title bout with champion Benson Henderson, but the stakes are high and what’s on the line is more than simply a title.
Melendez, the last Strikeforce lightweight titleholder, has lobbied for years to get a shot in the UFC. Regarded as the best lightweight to have never fought in the Octagon, Melendez has spent the last seven years in Strikeforce. Contractual champion clauses kept him from making his long awaited debut, until now.
Melendez has been ranked in the top five for years. In 2006, Melendez first cracked the top five, when Henderson had only one professional fight. The April 20 title fight is a champion vs. champion match-up, but Melendez feels like the challenger.
“I feel like I am somewhat of a challenger and walking into new territory. It’s a whole new organization, different type stage. Ben Henderson is the champ in the UFC,” said Melendez on a media conference call promoting the event.
Henderson, in his last fight, defeated Melendez’s friend and long-time training partner Nate Diaz by unanimous decision. Melendez cornered Diaz that night, and has been itching for the opportunity to avenge his teammate’s loss.
“When your buddies fight you can’t help but get a little emotional out there and passionate. You’re bummed for your friend when he fights and if you can back your friend up you will. At that point I was like give me the opportunity to avenge my friend. Give me the opportunity to fight this dude. I can do it,” he said. “That was kind of going through my head, and I was just licking my chops hoping to get the opportunity, and I did.”
Melendez trains out of the Cesar Gracie camp, as well as his own gym, El Nino Sports, and the Fairtex Gym. Many of his Cesar Gracie training partners have had UFC title fights and all of them have come up short. A Cesar Gracie fighter has fought for a UFC title on six different occasions, and were defeated all six times.
Given the team’s title fight track record, Melendez would like to be the one to bring home UFC gold.
“I hope to win the title for my team, but I really try not to put too much pressure on myself. I go out there and fight and fight my fight,” he said.
“I think it’s a great accomplishment for my whole team just to even get title fights. Not many teams can say that. Dave Terrell, Gil Castillo, Nick (Diaz), Jake (Shields), and Nate (Diaz) have all had title fights. That’s great for our team. If anything, it’s an accomplishment for our team. But I’d love to be able to bring that title back to the gym and share it with those guys.”