It seems like almost a lifetime ago when Gilbert Melendez stepped through the ropes at Pride Fighting Championships and faced former title contender Tatsuya Kawajiri.
The two lightweights battled tooth and nail for 15 minutes with each of them gaining the upper hand at different moments in the fight. When it was all said and done, Melendez walked out with a unanimous decision win and, at the time, the biggest victory of his career.
In 2011, nearly five years removed from their first go round, Melendez and Kawajiri are set to do battle again, now with the Strikeforce lightweight title on the line. This time however, Melendez feels like he’s learned a lot, and if Kawajiri is expecting a similar fight, he’s going to be sorely mistaken.
Melendez was once known as a fighter who loved a good brawl. Now he looks at his game in a much more cerebral way. He’s ready to show that off when he steps back into the cage at Saturday night’s Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley.
“I hope so and that’s the plan and that’s the statement I want to make,” Melendez told MMAWeekly Radio when asked about his smarter approach to this fight. “I want to let him know, you shouldn’t have asked for this fight. I’m a different fighter, buddy.”
To get to this fight, Kawajiri had to bounce back from a devastating loss to Shinya Aoki last year in Japan. He did so by dominating former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson at Dream’s New Year’s Eve show to close out 2010.
Melendez has watched the tape on that fight, and while he’ll give credit where credit is due, he also believes Kawajiri fought a much different Josh Thomson than the one he’s faced two times in the last two years.
“Kawajiri looked great, and I thought Thomson could have fought him a little smarter and better. I thought I fought the tougher, smarter Josh Thomson,” said Melendez. “I think Kawajiri did look great, but I hope he thinks it’s going to be that easy against me because it’s not.”
Speaking of watching tape, for his fight preparation going into this title defense, Melendez did take some time to go back and watch his original fight with Kawajiri from 2006. The Gilbert Melendez in that fight, however, was not the man staring back at him when he looks in the mirror now.
“I watch the tape and I think he looks kind of the same, but I watch myself and I say I’m 100-percent different,” Melendez stated.
One thing the Strikeforce lightweight champion is very happy about is the chance to prove he’s a better fighter because people can compare this bout to the one they had in Pride.
Melendez has long stated he wanted to fight different competition and not get stuck in a revolving door of opponents, but this is one rematch he’s happy to get because it gives him the chance to show just how much he’s grown since 2006.
“I actually sent him some flowers saying ‘thanks Kawajiri, I wanted to fight someone new.’ No, not really, but it’s one of those fights that some question whether I won or lost or not,” Melendez commented.
“Even though I got the ‘W,’ it’s something I want to avenge, another statement I want to make.”
When you mix in the different mindset and the renewed focus that Melendez has coming into this fight, it could appear that the reigning Strikeforce champion might even be overlooking Kawajiri in some ways.
Make no mistake about it, Melendez plans on showing his dominance in the cage on Saturday night in San Diego, but he’s not underestimating Tatsuya Kawajiri in any way. That would be a sign that he hasn’t grown up, and Melendez is out to prove that he has.
“I get motivated for someone like this. There’s a lot of danger involved with this fight. This guy put me on my butt before, and we had a brawl the last time. He dominated Josh Thomson, he dominated JZ (Cavalcante), so it’s not an easy task.”