By Mick Hammond, MMAWeekly.com
Rising young lightweight fighter Gilbert Melendez of Team Cesar Gracie has announced his upcoming bout with Japanese MMA legend Rumina Sato is signed and set for the August 20th edition of Shooto taking place at the Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium in Kanagawa, Japan.
“We’ve worked out the negotiations and I’m glad to be getting this opportunity,” said an enthusiastic Melendez. “I’m very excited to be fighting Sato, he’s a legend and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Melendez has become one of Shooto’s premier fighters having risen quickly to the top of their rankings in the 143.5lb weight class over the past year. This fight will be Melendez’s first MMA appearance since dispatching Naoya Uematsu in May.
“With Pequeno (Alexandre Franca Nogueira) losing in Hero’s I’m ready to jump on the title. I have to get past Sato first, but I’m definitely looking for a title shot after this,” Melendez told MMAWeekly.
Sato is known for being one of the most entertaining and dominant fighters in Shooto over the late 90’s and early 2000’s. His unorthodox style and penchant for flying submissions made him quickly one of the most revered fighters in Japan.
For Melendez the opportunity to face such a fighter is met with a lot of admiration, but do not think for a minute that he’ll let his respect for Sato hinder him during the fight. “I’ve got mad respect for Sato. He’s one of the first guys whose highlight video I downloaded and watched over and over. Don’t get me wrong, I respect him, but I will bring the heat to him and beat him.”
When it comes to a gameplan Melendez intends to do what he’s always done, be aggressive and use his skills to overwhelm his opponent. “I’m confident on my feet, in my wrestling and with my BJJ. His best chance to beat me is with a submission but that’s not going to happen. If we go to the ground I’ll roll with him and ground ‘n pound him, but I want to stand with him and go with the flow.”
Gilbert continued, “I do what my instinct tells me to do, but I definitely want to bang with him. I’ll look for him to make his shots then I’ll counter him. I think my size for my stand up is a factor. He’s going to have to take far shots and is going to have to force action by clinching with me or something and that’s when I’m going to make him pay. Height is my main thing in this fight.”
Melendez has normally fought around 155lbs for his fights in the US but has been asked by Shooto to remain at their lightweight limit of 143.5lbs for the time being. While he’s reluctantly agreed in the past to fight below his normal weight Melendez is more comfortable now in making the cut.
“I’ve been maintaining a better diet of late,” commented Gilbert. “I’m walking around at about 160lbs and I’m able to maintain it a lot easier this time. I’m looking to make my name in Shooto at 143.5lbs, then when the opportunity comes to move up to 155 or 160lbs I can easily put on the weight and be strong enough to handle those fighters.”
Heralded by insiders as one of the top American stars in the division, Melendez is waiting for his chance to gain worldwide and fan attention. And if need be he’ll do it the hard way, by earning it.
“Hopefully this fight makes a statement,” said Melendez. “I beat (Hiroyuki) Takaya and he went to Hero’s, so beating Sato I hope will finally earn me a chance in an organization like Pride, K-1, or the UFC. Supposedly I get a title shot after this fight (with Nogueira), but I’ve heard that after my last two fights, so I hope this time it happens. No matter what, I feel that if I keep fighting and winning someone will have to give me my shot eventually.”
Melendez closed things out by saying, “I want to thank my sponsors Fairtex, Sprawl, R & R Plumberman, and all my peoples in Santa Ana, California. Like I said, I’ve got mad respect for Sato but I’m going to beat him. His time is over and my time is now. This is my opportunity to prove it’s my time.”