It’s been just over four years since Tatsuya Kawajiri and Gilbert Melendez first faced each other in mixed martial arts competition. The outcome of that fight, which was part of the Pride Shockwave 2006 card in Saitama, Japan, had Melendez winning the bout via unanimous decision.
Since then, both fighters have moved on to fight under different banners and collect numerous wins – not to mention a few losses – before agreeing to face each other, yet again, only this time on U.S. soil.
The fight will be for the Strikeforce lightweight championship and is billed as the co-main event at Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley, which is scheduled to take place at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. The bout will be Melendez’s second defense of his Strikeforce title after unifying the belts by defeating Josh Thomson in 2009. For Kawajiri, it will be his first professional fight in North America, as well as for Strikeforce.
The time between their first match-up and their pending Strikeforce bout was enough for both fighters to grow and mature as mixed martial artists. Specifically for Kawajiri, the time has given him an opportunity to nurture his intelligence enough to fight a smarter fight this time around.
“I feel that I have advanced as an MMA fighter and I will be able to fight a smarter fight this time,” Kawajiri said recently through his interpreter, Ryo Ishibashi. “And I am obviously training to become a better MMA fighter every day. So that’s what I am looking forward to in my second fight against Gilbert.”
One distinct difference between this fight and their first bout is the platform on which they will duel. At Pride Shockwave 2006, Kawajiri and Melendez met inside the traditional Pride ring where ropes enclosed the fighters for two rounds – the first round being 10 minutes, and the second being five. This Saturday at Strikeforce, the bout will be in a cage with five rounds, each round being five minutes long.
Kawajiri doesn’t see this as an issue. The Japanese fighter has spent the entirety of his camp training in Japan, yet dedicated no time to adapting to a cage fight versus the typical ring.
“I’ve been training as usual (with) no specific training geared towards a fight in the cage,” he said.
Despite giving no attention to the change in fighting atmosphere, Kawajiri is a man of the people. With Japan in disarray after the massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami in early March, the people of the country can use something to be positive about. A win over Melendez on Saturday is something Kawajiri can bring home to his countrymen. Perhaps then he can provide some form happiness to a region that has seen better days.
“I want to meet the expectations of my fans and my friends,” Kawajiri explained. “I’m looking forward to seeing my fans, friends, and family smiling after the fight.”
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