Undefeated Strikeforce World Lightweight (155 lb. limit) Champion Gilbert Melendez (12-0) will take on former Shooto star Tetsuji Kato (18-7) in a non-title bout during the Strikeforce event at The Playboy Mansion on Saturday in Beverly Hills, Calif.
“This is definitely a challenge because it’s a bigger guy dropping down in weight and he’s got a lot of experience,” said the 25-year-old Melendez. The fight will be his first of 2007. “It’s been a while since I fought so I’m super pumped about coming back.”
In his last fight, Melendez –currently the MMAWeekly.com #3 ranked lightweight in the world – won a unanimous decision over Tatsuya Kawajiri. Kawajiri is currently ranked #4 in the division by MMAWeekly.com.
“I take it as a compliment, but I just see myself in the top 10,” said Melendez of the recognition he has gained by the various outlets. “Any of the guys in the top 10 are capable of being number 1 on any given day. That’s how I see it and I think I have a lot more to prove. I really appreciate that people do give me that ranking and I want to prove them all right, but I think it’s gonna take a couple more wins to prove it.”
Melendez snatched the Strikeforce crown away from former junior collegiate wrestling star Clay Guida at San Jose, Calif.’s HP Pavilion on June 9 of last year.
The 29-year-old Kato, who has traditionally competed in the 167-pound limit welterweight class, is looking to re-establish himself as a force in mixed martial arts following a recent defeat at the hands of Joe Camacho. Kato had been forced to cut a substantial amount of weight after accepting the fight on only two weeks’ notice.
The historic Playboy Mansion event will also be highlighted by the Strikeforce debut of middleweight star Joe Riggs (26-9), who will battle fan favorite Eugene Jackson (15-7-1). Former NCAA Division I Stanford University wrestler Josh Thomson (34-2) will square off with former United States marine Adam Lynn (11-7) in a lightweight contest.
Strikeforce World Light Heavyweight (205 lb. limit) Champion and The Ultimate Fighter reality series semifinalist Bobby Southworth (7-4) will face Canadian striker Bill Mahood (15-5-1) in a non-title bout, while undefeated heavyweight and former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) star Daniel Puder (5-0) will lock horns with Richard Dalton (3-2).