by MMAWeekly.com Staff
Over the last year it would be hard to find a young lightweight that’s gained as much momentum as Gilbert Melendez has. Since becoming the first man to defeat Olaf Alfonzo in the WEC last May, Gilbert has been on fire winning all his fights since, knocking off highly regarded BJ Penn student Kaynan Kaku, and standout Shooto stars Hiroyuki Takaya and Nayoya Uematsu.
Now in his second fight of the year Melendez has defeated an MMA legend, Rumina Sato, a former Shooto Champion. MMA Weekly spoke to Melendez as he returned home to San Francisco after taking a vacation of shorts in Thailand following his win over Sato and discussed the fight and what’s next for his blossoming career.
“It was short but sweet,” Melendez said of his win over Sato. “I knew we would stand on the feet and I was prepared to sprawl and brawl if he wanted to try to take me down. He hit me once with a hook and I clinched and threw knees. I hit him twice to the body with my right and then I came up and got him with a left knee to the head.”
From there it would spell doom for the former champion, as according to Melendez, “It’s quiet in the arena for shows in Japan so you could hear me hit his head pretty loud. I felt he was stunned and went for the kill but the referee jumped in and they checked the cut and ended the fight.”
Even though Melendez got the win, he feels let down, as he didn’t get a chance to show what he really could do in the fight. “I don’t understand why the ref jumped in so quick, I thought I would be able to pounce on him for the kill. I’m disappointed because I thought I could get the KO or end the fight myself, but overall I’m happy with the win.”
Next up for Gilbert could be his long awaited bout with reigning Shooto Lightweight Champion Alexandre “Pequeno” Nogueira. “I’m of the belief I finally get a title shot against Pequeno. I don’t know when he’ll be ready to fight, possibly December. If it works out and he gives the okay I’ll be ready to fight him in December, but if anything else comes along before then I’ll be interested. Basically I’m just waiting until I get a call to fight.”
If the fight with Pequeno does happen, Melendez feels that he is ready for his first major championship fight. “I have the same stand up strategy for him (Nogueira) that I did for Sato because I feel he’s weak on his feet and I can pick him apart if we stand.”
“I know he’s got a pretty quick shot so I’ll be ready to sprawl and brawl if it gets into those deep waters,” continued Gilbert. “I’m prepared for the ground if it goes there. I’d like to take it to the third round because I can tire him out and the longer it goes, the better for me.”
Nogueira sports an overall 13-2-2 record and will be looking to rebound after a loss in the first round of the K-1 Hero’s Lightweight Tournament earlier this year.
For right now though Melendez is enjoying the opportunities that will be afforded him after a win over an established MMA star. “I feel like the doors are finally opening up for me. I was excited to fight Sato and I feel I’m getting more respect from people. You know I’m just trying to get more respect and hopefully I am the ‘next big thing’ that some people feel I am.”
Gilbert continued, “I think I’m on the right gameplan for working out and training. I’m fortunate enough to have Jake Shields as my training partner. To get the opportunity to work with a guy that’s a top MMA contender and bigger than me only makes me stronger. Also being able to train with Jongsanan ‘The Wooden Man’ Fairtex (an ISKA World Muay Thai Champion) and the entire Cesar Gracie Fight Team has done a lot for my career.”
No matter what is next for Gilbert, his eyes are firmly fixed on his future; a future that he hopes will land him on the biggest stages in MMA. “My real goal is fighting the big guys in Pride at 160lbs. I’m at 167lbs right now and so I feel I could compete with the fighters at that weight. Takanori Gomi is my favorite fight and Jens Pulver, Yves Edwards and Josh Thomson are all top fighters and I want to be fighting the best so I can show I belong with the best. And you know the only way to do that is get in there with them and prove it.”
As the conversation closed out, Melendez wanted to make sure to give a shout out to all his supporters. “I want to first thank the fans that support me, because of them I’m going to keep on winning. I also want to thank my sponsors No Gi, Fairtex, BetZeus.net, and the people that train me, Jake Shields, Cesar Gracie, and ‘The Wooden Man’ of Fairtex, Jongsanan.”