by Mick Hammond & Ivan Canello – MMAWeekly.com
Gilbert Melendez, currently ranked No. 6 in the world at lightweight, will defend his Strikeforce lightweight championship on March 29 against Chute Boxe jiu-jitsu coach Cristiano Marcello.

The fight takes place as part of the co-promoted event by Strikeforce and EliteXC that will be televised on Showtime. The main event features Frank Shamrock defending his Strikeforce middleweight championship against rising star Cung Le.

Marcello himself confirmed the bout to MMAWeekly.com, saying, “Melendez is an excellent fighter and I am very happy to face him, especially on Strikeforce, which is a great event. We are going to travel together, me, (Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos), Master Rafael (Cordeiro) and Rudimar (Fedrigo). Cyborg will fight at the same event and we are going to make a huge presentation for the fans.”

Santos is scheduled to face Greg Jackson-trained fighter Joey Villasenor in a middleweight bout.

It’s been nearly three months since Melendez suffered the first defeat of his career, at the Yarennoka New Year’s Eve event in Japan, losing to current No. 5 lightweight Mitsuhiro Ishida.

In that time Melendez has been working hard, training and rededicating himself and is eager to return to action. Amidst much speculation – he had been rumored to be fighting both as part of the new Dream promotion’s Lightweight Grand Prix in Japan on March 15 and on the Strikeforce/EliteXC co-promotion – the question had been, just exactly where he would be fighting next?

The question has been answered, and Melendez gave his reasoning for why he chose to defend his Strikeforce belt instead of heading to Japan.

“This month, on March 29, I will be doing the EliteXC/Strikeforce show on Showtime,” he stated. “I’ve got a commitment with Strikeforce, and I look forward to fighting in the States and getting some respect out here.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to fight in the Dream tournament. I love fighting in Japan, but right now I have a commitment with Strikeforce. I’m looking to just put my focus on Strikeforce; I’ve got a contract there and want to fulfill it.”

Melendez was originally preparing to face Bodog Fight veteran Jorge Masvidal, and highly motivated to fight him. “I was looking forward to fighting Masvidal. I heard he wanted to fight the champ, so I was looking forward to that. I respect him a lot and he motivated me, but I heard he had an injury,” he said, explaining the change in opponents.

But more than anything, Melendez has been training hard and is ready to fight regardless of who steps into the cage with him, perhaps he’s even got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder coming off of a loss for the first time in his career.

“More than anyone, fans, people, my family, it’s important to me to come out ferocious, mean and show people I’m here to stay,” he exclaimed. “I’m focused and it means a lot to me to not only win, but win with bad intentions and put on a good show for the fans.”

Marcello, like Melendez, is a Pride Fighting Championships veteran and his long loss over the past two years was to Ishida. He has recently made a push to rededicate himself to his fighting career and is 3-1 over his past four bouts. His most recent victory was a submission of Hector Munoz at Art of War 3 in September of last year in Dallas, Texas.

“I am training for a long time, in fact I didn’t stop at all in 2007,” said Marcello. “Werdum needed to train for his bout at the UFC and I was there to help him. Then Cyborg needed to train for his fight at HCF in Canada and for Sengoku in Japan, and I was there also training and helping him. We are a family here at Chute Boxe and we all help each other, so I am ready to fight anytime anywhere.”