by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
Suffering the first loss of his professional career in December 2007, Gilbert Melendez has been chomping at the bit to get back into competition. After multiple opponent changes, the current Strikeforce lightweight champion is ready to face Gabe Lemley on March 29 in San Jose, Calif.

Originally, Melendez was set to face former UFC veteran Josh “The Punk” Thomson, but he had to drop out due to injury. Then it was almost squared away for him to face rising star Jorge Masvidal, but again the injury bug bit.

Now Gabe Lemley has stepped up to contend for the title, and while Gilbert has no problem facing the new opponent, he admits it can effect your mental preparation for the fight.

“Definitely the mental part, it kind of bothers me a little bit,” he said about the recent change of opponents. “I like to visualize my opponents, and I like to build aggression up against them, and then it switches on me and I was just right here getting pissed off at (Jorge) Masvidal and then the next day I’m fighting someone else.”

Former Pride and current Dream lightweight Mitsuhiro Ishida handed Melendez the first loss of his career last year. Melendez says he is now motivated more than ever and the loss will only make him fight that much harder.

“I’m definitely motivated. A loss is a big thing, it helps you grow,” he stated about the fight with Ishida. “It definitely helped me grow. It definitely helped me realize why I’m in this sport. I didn’t come all this way to be one of the best. I came all this way to be the best.”

Many fans were curious if they would see Melendez get a shot at redemption against Ishida in the Dream Lightweight Grand Prix taking place in Japan over the next few months. The California native discussed his decision to forgo the tournament and instead fight for Strikeforce.

“I made my mark in Japan. I love fighting out there. I would be honored to be in that tournament, but I’ve also got to think of myself. I’ve got a commitment with StrikeForce right now and a contract I need to fulfill. I don’t need another project,” said Melendez. “I can’t be jumping ship and jumping back and forth, that’s like 3 or 4 fights right there (in the tournament). Who knows where the sport’s going to be in a year?”

He also commented about building a name for himself in the U.S., where the sport is continuously growing and he wants to be a part of that.

“I’m ready to make my mark in the States,” Melendez stated. “I think I made my mark (in Japan) and it’s time for me to get some respect out here. It’s time for the United States to see me fight. It’s time for me to make my mark out here and show everyone what I’m about. I want some respect out here.”

Something else that he is willing to fight for is more gold to wrap around his waist. Currently the Strikeforce lightweight champion, he welcomes the opportunity to fight other titleholders in the future.

“I asked for K.J. Noons,” said Melendez. “Let’s do a ProElite vs. Strikeforce. I would have loved to fight K.J. for this fight and let’s unite the titles. I would have loved that.”

EliteXC Live Events President Gary Shaw also talked about the possibility of a cross promotion title unification bout during a recent conference call.

“You know, I have a lot of respect for Gilbert Melendez. I like him on a personal level,” said Shaw. “I think he’s a great kid. And I’d love to have him fight for an EliteXC belt against our top fighters as well.”

For now the focus is solely on Gabe Lemley, whom many fans may not be familiar with. Melendez, however, has already researched his opponent in preparation for his title defense.

“He’s won his last couple of fights,” Melendez commented. “Has he fought the level of competition I have? I don’t think so. Does he have a couple of submission finishes? Yeah. I feel he’s rounded, I wouldn’t say he’s well rounded. You can never tell. MMA is a tricky sport. No one is undefeated. On any given day anyone can have a great day.”

Despite the change in opponents, and despite the short notice, Melendez stays ready to avenge the thought of his last fight and that burden may fall square on the shoulders of Gabe Lemley.

“I’m coming to kill. That’s all I’ve got to say. I’m coming to kill.”